Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the President of the Board of Gulliver Travel, Goran Hrnić, ahead of another busy tourist season in Dubrovnik. Gulliver Travel was founded in 1989 and is one of the iconic travel brands in the region. But this isn't an agency that is resting on its laurels, far from it, Gulliver has just relased a brand new website that offers guests the possibility of online booking, as Hrnić explained “with the explosion of the online bookings, as well as online reviews, agencies that have a strong digital presence have the upper hand.”
Gulliver Travel was the first private travel agency in Dubrovnik, now almost thirty years later you are the leading agency in the city. What are the keys to your success?
In fact we were the first private travel operator in the region, not only in Dubrovnik. We started in 1989, on the 1st of February; I can still remember those humble beginnings. Of course being the first travel agency in the region helped us get a head start on all of the competition. There were three partners in the foundation, and we all came from the travel industry. We always had many ideas and new projects that we worked on in those formative years, in fact we have always kept that innovative edge. We don’t want to follow – we want to lead.
How has Dubrovnik changed as a destination since those beginnings and how have you seen the travel business change in general?
You would have to say that the increase in modern technology, the internet and the digital era have completely changed the face of the travel business. Travel operators have either had to follow the trends or have gone out of business. And it isn’t enough just to follow the trends you also have to make your own developments, find a way to create your brand in a crowded market. We are proud at Gulliver Travel that we have been able to blossom in the digital world. There are many more specialised agencies than before, agencies that look after a small niche sector, so the competition is fierce.
As far as Dubrovnik as a destination is concerned you have to say that there are many more contents and attractions than before, although there is still lots of work to be done in my opinion. The rate of development of Dubrovnik, and the opening of new accommodation, hasn’t been followed by the development of the infrastructure. The market has opened much more in recent years and that has brought new investment and new developments. We have work to do, but I am sure that we are going in the right direction; I would just like it to move a little faster.
In these modern times how difficult is it for a travel operator to compete with “digital” tourists who arrange their travels online?
We have to follow all the new trends on the market, as the world changes so the travel industry changes as well. With the explosion of the online bookings, as well as online reviews, agencies that have a strong digital presence have the upper hand. In fact we have just released a new website and online booking system that we are particularly proud of. I am sure that our clients, and future clients, will recognise the advantages and benefits of this new website.
Is it difficult to invent new and innovative excursions and travel ideas in Dubrovnik, a city that is an international brand due to its historic old city?
Yes, Dubrovnik is an international brand, a name that is recognised in all the continents. With such a strong and iconic brand, as the historic Old City of Dubrovnik is, we are constantly thinking of new excursions and tours to present the other highlights that the region offers.
As I have already mentioned the digital age has drastically altered the way people travel. Today people tend to travel for shorter periods of time but more often throughout the year. In fact the average in stay in Dubrovnik was under three days last year. So we have a shorter time window to interest guests to experience other attractions apart from the Old City. You could say that this makes out work harder, but in fact in drives us on to make even better products for guests to enjoy. At the end of the day I love this region so I really want to present it to tourists in the right manner. Every year we introduce new excursions and new projects to showcase all of the hidden beauties.
What would be your top three recommendations for tourists to experience in Dubrovnik?
In my opinion the top three attractions are, the Old City walls, the island of Šipan and the picturesque Cavtat. I might be a little biased but these are my favourites. There are many more, in fact three is too small a number to make a shortlist. I would also recommend Korčula and Pelješac, in many ways these are still undiscovered destinations.
With so much choice for tourists on the market today why do you believe Gulliver Travel stands out from the crowd?
In the first place should always be value for money, I am a great believer in offering guests products that are great value for money. We are always trying to be ahead of the game, ahead of the business, bringing forward new ideas that many other business follow.
In my opinion reputation, as well as high levels of safety, are key elements when forging a successful travel operator. We work with many of the world leaders in tourism, and therefore our standards have to be extremely high. And with our new products and especially our new website I see a bright future for Gulliver Travel.
After the recent unsettled weather the summer has well and truly arrived in Dubrovnik. With endless blue skies and temperatures into the mid twenties Dubrovnik was in a summer glow today.
The forecast is for more sunshine and even warmer temperatures, grab the sun cream and iron your shorts, summer has come to Dubrovnik! But before you get too brave the sea temperature is still a “refreshing” 18 degrees.
Check out our super Sunday photo gallery by Niksa Duper
Sarah Brown was surprised when we asked her for an interview because she's just a ''normal person''. But we just knew that she's really special and way too modest. This 37 year old from Minneapolis has visited 49 countries, and her latest trip involved Croatia, especially Dubrovnik. She caught our attention on the Instagram profile ''whereivebeenwandering'', where she puts really nice and colorful photos from all over the world. ''Not all who wander are lost'', Tolkien wrote and this water quality specialist is a living proof of that.
You have a full time job and you travel, how do you combine those two?
Luckily, I've been at my job for 8 years now, so I have 6 weeks of vacation and the flexible schedule. It's important that I work 80 hours in 2 weeks, so I can work 10 hours a day and take 2 days off for free.
When did you start traveling?
Right after college. I've got done with the university and my gift to myself was going to Europe. That was my first trip.
How does it feel to travel alone, do you get lonely sometimes?
I travel 60 percent alone and 40 percent with my friends or my husband. I stay in the hostels and I always meet people. But at this trip, because it's the low season, a lot of the hostels have been empty. I had one room all to myself, six beds and just me! I haven't met as many people, but on the Korčula, I went out to lunch and met owners of the restaurant. They invited me back in the evening, so I hung out with them.
How do you plan your trips? Where to go, what to eat..?
I have a long list of what to see everywhere. It kind of depends on the season, because you want to come when it's the best season. I like places with lot of history, wonders of the world. I also like to hike and scuba dive, so a lot of times when I pick a place it would be because of that - like Peru and Argentina, because there's a lot of hiking, or Philippines for scuba diving.
Which one of your trips has affected you the most so far?
That's a hard one! Well, I really enjoyed China, a lot, it was a great country, but it affected me the most in seeing all the pollution. By the end of my trip I was ready to go home because I come from the place where the air is clean and the sky is blue. There, you blow your nose and it's black. You see the ugly side of commercialism and industrialization.
What was the most beautiful place that you have visited?
For underwater – Philippines and for natural beauty – New Zealand. I come from a green place, so when I go to places that they say they are green, I'm like ''That's not very green''. But when I went to New Zealand I was like ''Wow''.
How do you like Croatia?
There is so much going for Croatia, nature, beaches, nightlife, history. It is a great destination and, I'm sure this is why it is growing in popularity so much around the world. When I told everyone where I was going, Croatia came up the most as a destination that people were curious about and wanted to see. During my trip, I spent the most time in Croatia, and because of my interview with you, and the rain forcing me inside, I ended up having a lot of interesting conversations with many Croatians. Really learning about the people and the culture makes you appreciate a destination so much more. A lot of times travelers just see 'places' on a trip and not 'people'. Getting to know individuals really enhances the experience. I feel I really got to know Croatia because of this face-to-face interaction, and I love it even more because of this.
And you liked the people?
Yes! They were so nice and hospitable. For example, on the island of Hvar, when I was out scootering, I was up on a hill taking pictures and I ran into an older gentleman who started talking to me. He invited me into his home and showed me pictures of his family and was so hospitable. It was amazing. In America, someone would never invite a random stranger into their home! That is one thing that surprises me about Instagram. I always post photos of people, but they seem to get the least amount of likes/activity. If you really think about it, a place wouldn't be as special if it wasn't for the people.
Photo by Sarah Brown
What are your impressions of Dubrovnik?
It was so different in the sun compared to the first, rainy day. The sunshine dancing on the white stones of the buildings in Dubrovnik is something special. I always try to get up really early in destinations that are busy with tourists so that I can walk the streets in peace and really see the city for what it is without so many people. It was just me and the locals going about their business. I really enjoyed those few hours in the morning. You can see what the city must have been like ages ago. I love imagining what it would look like- back in time. That's one of the reasons I was drawn to Dubrovnik, I really like places that make me feel like I am in a time machine, going back and seeing what things were like in the past. I am sure this is why Game of Thrones likes Dubrovnik so much- it is beautiful, and you feel like you are really in the past.
How did you spend your time here? What was your favorite thing to do?
Walking the city walls was one of my favorite things to do in Dubrovnik. You get such amazing views of every spot in the city. I did a sea kayaking tour starting from Fort Lovrijenac that goes out along the city walls, around Lokrum Island and back. It was really fun seeing the city from the water level. Different perspectives alway make a place more interesting!
Photo by Sarah Brown
Do you watch Game of Thrones?
I am a big Game of Thrones fan and it was really fun getting to see the spots where a lot of the filming took place. When I got home, I watched the first episode of the new season that just began and I was getting all excited and pausing the scenes when Dubrovnik was shown and I was pointing out what was real and what was CGI to my husband. It really makes you get into the show even more when you know what the place looks like in real life!
Do you take your own photos?
Yes. When I travel I don't buy souvenirs, so for me the photos are my souvenirs, my memory. One of the reasons why I travel so much is because in life you can buy cars, houses and fancy things, but you will never remember those. But, when I go on trips, those are the memories that last the whole lifetime and it's so fun to talk about places and meet people.
Have you met a lot of people on your trips?
Yes, I have many friends around the world on Facebook. I always tell them: ''Come to Minnesota'', but nobody wants to come because it's too cold! I keep in touch with them, it depends on the amount the time that we've spent together. For example, there was one guy in China that I've met in the first hostel I stayed and we travelled around together for a little bit, around week and a half. I've never had any bad experience with people, only positive.
Were you surprised with some of locations that you've visited?
One of the places that I really enjoyed and it was so much better than I imagined is Uzbekistan. It's still one of my favorite countries that I've been too, because there's not much tourists there and it was almost like I was an explorer, discovering the place. People were so interested in talking to me, seeing me, they wanted to practice English with me and take pictures. Architecture there was beautiful as well, I loved it.
Did you ever think of traveling only and making money out of that?
I think a lot of younger people are doing that but for me, I love my family and friends and that's why I choose to stay at home, travel and come back to my family, because that's the most important thing.
What do your trips mean to you?
It's a good thing to take a break from work, but I think the biggest thing you're getting out of it is that it changes your perspective of the world. A lot of people in America are closed and fearful because of the things in the media. But when you get to see the world, talk to other people, experience other foods and cultures, you can empathize with others and it all adds to your personality.
Do you have any ''dream country'' that you still have to visit?
I keep on wanting to go to India. I always wanted to go there, for photography. There are so much colors! And for nature, I really want to go to Norway. And Mianmar too... I want to go everywhere!
“Wait, wait, I think I can see them,” the passengers neck bent at a painful angle as he pushed his head towards the airplane window. “Yes, no, I am not sure,” it seemed liked he was informing the whole plane, acting as an in-flight guide. I was sitting two rows behind him, but to be honest I could have been sitting next to the pilot and still have heard him. We were arriving over Dubrovnik; in fact we were still flying over Primorje, with the islands out of the right windows and a sea of mountains out of the left windows.
I was unsure what he was so desperate to see, his excitement seemed like he was spotting for the Loch Ness monster. A shriek of ecstasy rang out through the fuselage, was he having an orgasm! “There they are…there they are…look Muriel,” he almost bellowed at his wife who seemed less than excited. “Look the orange tiles, the orange roof tiles of Dubrovnik,” he continued. So that was it, that was the mystery he was looking for, the tiles of the Old City.
I think that this was the first time that I had flown back from London to Dubrovnik on a flight exclusively made up of English passengers. It was probably due to the fact the flight had left at an ungodly hour of the morning, just as the sun was coming up. The flight, and it was a busy one, could probably be considered as one of the first of the season and was full of expectant English holidaymakers, probably after a relaxing holiday on the beach. If they were after a long weekend of sunshine over the May Day holidays then they were out of luck, they had brought the English rain with them.
I was sitting on the end of a row with Mr and Mrs Small from Luton. They might have been small by name but they weren’t small by nature. I felt like I would literally pop out into the aisle as the weight, or overweight of the Smalls, pushed me to one half of my seat. A flood of “oh, I am sorry,” and “you are so kind,” came from the Smalls as they apologized for taking up two and a half seats in a three seat row. To make matters worse Mr. Small, or Mr. Oversized, was either suffering from diarrhoea or had a bladder the size of a hazelnut. In a two and a half hour flight Mr. Small spent most of it in the toilet, how he actually squeezed into the toilet is beyond me.
And the Smalls were also on the lookout for the sights of Dubrovnik from a bird’s eye view. “Oh, look there is a huge white bridge,” Mrs. Small explained to me. I nodded in agreement. “I have heard that a train runs over that bridge,” she added. I had a decision to make, either explain that she was wrong and enter into a long-term conversation with half the plane, or pretend that I was a holidaymaker too. “Oh, that sounds great,” I answered, obviously taking plan B. I really wasn’t in the mood to start being a tourist guide, and it was fun just listening to the comments. “Oh, that looks like a beach…oh, another beach,” the initial in-flight guide was back in control of the plane. “That one looks nice Muriel,” he bellowed whilst looking down at the Bay of Zupa. I was starting to feel sorry for Muriel, another hour with this guy and I would have been looking for the ejector seat.
“Have you ever been to Dubrovnik before,” asked Mr. Small. I felt like saying “Almost as many times as you have been to the WC on this flight,” but caught my tongue, “no, this is my first time,” I lied through my teeth. “Oh, it is great, the people are friendly and the beer is cheap,” he added. Blimey imagine how long Mr. Small would spend in the WC after a few beers! “Sounds great, I can’t wait,” I answered. “We are staying in a small fishing village called Lapad,” he said, adding “made me laugh as it sounds like Lapland.” I hope he enjoyed the small fishing village!
“Wow, look at the castle halfway up the hill,” screamed the in-flight guide. “It is amazing…look Muriel,” again a scream. What was he looking at; I can’t remember even seeing a castle in Zupa. I peered past the Smalls, not an easy task, to find out what he was screaming about. “I don’t think that’s a castle,” I heard from the row in front of me. “Yes, it is, I read about it in the guide book,” replied the in-flight guide. I finally got a glance past Mrs. Small, it wasn’t a castle as I had expected. I am not sure what guide book he had been reading but he had just announced to the whole plane that Zupa had a castle, when in fact what he was looking at was the hydroelectric power station.
After succesful pilot project of the Red Cross in Dubrovnik last summer, when they were taking care of the people in need on their walk around the City Walls and in the Old Town in general, educated volunteers will take the role of lifeguards at the public beaches, including Lokrum this summer.
Volunteers of the Red Cross usually monitor and help in the cases of dehydration, exhaustion and unconsciousness caused often by the very high temperatures, and also help in case of scratches and blisters. Last year, they had over 300 interventions per month. It is expected that they will be a great help on the beaches too.
All programs should begin June 15 and last until September 15 this year.
Dubrovnik was full of strawberries today! Locals and tourists didn't hide their happiness when they saw one of the most favorite fruits being sold in front of the Saint Blaise Church. And those were not just regular strawberries, but the ones that some say are ''the best in the world'', strawberries from Ston, municipality located at the south of the peninsula Pelješac, around 59 kilometers away from Dubrovnik. Actually, this is so called ''Day of Ston strawberries'', and because of that they were sold at promo price of only 10 kuna. Many people used the opportunity to enjoy this fruit and make this sunny spring day even more perfect.
On Thursday the mayor of Dubrovnik, Andro Vlahusic, received an official visit from the Governor of the South Korean province of Gyeonggi, Kyung Pil. The governor and his delegation also met with the director of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Romana Vlasic. Kyung Pil travelled to Dubrovnik on the recommendation of the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, Chung Ui-hwa, with whom the mayor of Dubrovnik met in mid-April in Seoul. Gyeonggi Province is the most populous province in South Korea.
The interest in Dubrovnik as a holiday destination for tourists from South Korea can be traced back to a hit television show that presented the attractions of the region. The South Korea TV show was broadcast a few years ago and even since then Dubrovnik has been well and truly on the map for South Korean guests. Last year an amazing 46,000 South Koreans visited Dubrovnik, without a doubt one of the largest growth markets for the city. And many of these tourists come outside of the main tourist season, through the summer months, helping to extend the season.
The mayor explained that with the introduction of year-round direct flights by Turkish Airlines to Istanbul tourists from the Far East will have an easier route to European and Mediterranean destinations.
The respected travel publication, Conde Nast Traveler, has placed Dubrovnik on their list of the fifty most beautiful cities in the world. Dubrovnik was placed in fortieth position on the travel list, with Venice voted as the most beautiful.
“There are few places that better capture the grand soul of maritime Old Europe,” wrote the Conde Nast Traveler in a short article on Dubrovnik. Adding that “The city currently plays King's Landing in Game of Thrones, and was formerly the capital of the Maritime Republic of Ragusa, rival to Italy's Venice and Amalfi. Dubrovnik's crown jewel is the sternly lovely old town of Stari Grad, whose convents, palaces, and fountains were cut from the same lightly coloured stone.”
The top three in the most beautiful cities in the world list were - Venice, Hong Kong and Istanbul.
See the full list here