It was the great Mark twain who once famously write – there are lies, damned lies and statistics. How true. You can pretty much make your own statistics prove absolutely anything you want. Statistics can be manipulated, massaged and misstated. Just take this headline from the other day “Dubrovnik tops the list of the cheapest destinations in Europe.” Now anyone with half a brain knows this isn’t true. But the statistics had been bent to almost breaking point to prove this point. Anyone who has been to Rome, Venice, Paris or London will know that our prices are lagging behind these major cities, but are we the cheapest destination in Europe...no, far from it.
We aren’t even the cheapest city in Croatia; in fact we are probably one of the most expensive, let alone in Europe. Cheap and Dubrovnik are certainly not bedfellows.
However I am not particularly worried if we are cheap or expensive, no it isn’t a question of price, it is a question of values for money. Is a Ferrari cheap, no! Does it offer value for money; well it certainly has a brand awareness that makes you feel like you have got something special. Is a coffee on the Stradun cheap, no! But then neither is a coffee is St. Mark’s Square, Trafalgar Square or the Champs De Elysees. And the stupid argument that the Stradun isn’t up to the same level of any of these world known places is just that stupid.
Of course it is well known and of course you would expect to pay a premium to drink coffee there, that’s just common sense. If you are looking to save a few pennies then head up a side street and you’ll find a caffeine fix for half the price.
If you offer value for money, or a premium location then price is almost irrelevant. And price is always relative. Economics drives changes. It can be used as a barrier, to dissuade people to do something, which are probably arguments the cruise ship industry need to pay closer attention to, or it can be used as a motivator. And that leads onto the question – how much is too much? This is a dilemma that most struggle with.
Whilst there can be no doubt that Dubrovnik is currently riding on a wave of great interest and impressive tourist numbers, the question must be asked how sustainable is this current trend. Short term gains will and must destroy long term opportunities.
History has shown, from the financial crash in the USA in 2008 that sent the whole world into recession, that living for today and today alone means that tomorrow can only be uncertain. If you build a house on sand only one thing is certain, it is only a matter of time before that same house collapses. Statements that predict a huge increase in tourism figures in the coming years are basically worthless.
Tourism industry – the second word is the most important. Increasing numbers of tourists does not guarantee in any way an increase in the most important factor, income. It is the old Ferrari vs Fiat approach to business. Is it better to sell one Ferrari and earn X or one hundred Fiats to earn the same. Due to its geographical constrictions, historical importance, cultural worth and infrastructure deficiencies Dubrovnik is, and always has been, a Ferrari destination.
Balance is clearly what is required. Rather than having 3 million tourists a year spending X find a way to have 1 million tourists spending 2X. This is not done simply by hiking up prices every year, quite obviously this experiment isn’t working. It is more about offering a high quality product at correct market prices. Branding the destination from the very start as a high-end destination that isn’t an ice-cream and cheap souvenir destination, the raw materials are already there, they have been there since the 16th century. Embracing a modern approach that is respectful of traditional values is the key.
This constant comparison with other destinations is quite frankly a waste of time, to succeed you need to get to a position where other destinations are comparing themselves to you, not the other way around. Innovation not imitation is what is required. There are many young, bright minds with talents that are quite often left unheard or even worse allowed to blossom in other countries. The evolution need to start, and maybe even revolution. The time to be passive and wait has gone. The time to watch has gone it is now a time to act. Passivity is fatal.