It’s a drum that I have been banging on for so long that I have forgotten the tune...and even why I started banging! “How long does it take to get to Podgorica?” came the question from an English friend down the phone. “It’s a good three hour drive…but why are you asking?” was my reply. I soon discovered that he had friends visiting him and they had found that the best, or should I say cheapest and only, way to get to Dubrovnik in winter was through the capital of Montenegro.
Of course this immediately raised my eyebrows and my suspicions. Why were English tourists flying to Podgorica to get to Dubrovnik? Some online research and I discovered that the most famous low cost airline in the world, Ryanair, was flying from London twice a week throughout the winter months and of course at ridiculously low prices. The drum that I have been banging is the winter tourism in Dubrovnik drum. It seems that every year we circle around with the same problems, the same complaints and more importantly the same lack of solutions. Not only that but with all this work and research we are actually going backwards. If people can’t get here then we are still at square one. As a good friend explained to me the other day, “with any event the very first step is to get the registration,” he was right. You can make the best event in the world but if the doors are bolted shut then you are basically organizing it for yourself. Why did I say we are going backwards? Well just a few years we had direct links to two important European hubs, London and Frankfurt.
Why are these important? It is clear that we can’t have links to fifty destinations as we do in the summer, so the next best thing is to have links to two of the busiest European hubs. By having London you are open to tourists from the West and from Frankfurt you have the East. We were somewhere near working to that solution. We had, and I emphasize the word had, flights with Croatia Airlines to Frankfurt in the winter and three flights a week to London with British Airways. Although this was far from perfect it was at least a start. We had the chance to get tourists in rooms and spend money. However this is all in the past. As of this winter we have no direct flights to Frankfurt…so we have lost the East….and British Airways have dropped to one flight a week through the winter with no flights at all in January or February…we have lost the West. When I tried to book flights with British Airways to London to go and see my parents for Christmas I was greeted with the message “You may have requested a route that we do not operate at that time of year.” And yet we are trumpeting the Dubrovnik Winter Festival as an event to attract tourists out of the summer months. Who? Why? When? Who do we expect to market this event to? Are we hoping that people will drive or walk to Dubrovnik? Maybe we should start to attract hitchhikers! Let’s make the Dubrovnik International Hitchhiking Winter Festival. Or maybe extend the length of the Dubrovnik International Half Marathon to be a 1,000 mile marathon, with a start in London and the finish line on the Stradun. Why actually make a winter festival? Really why, I don’t understand the reasons or the goals. And when, why wait so long before organizing such a festival. When we had “regular” winter flights to Frankfurt and London we didn’t have a winter festival, and now that we don’t have any flights we have started a winter festival.
The moment has gone, the horse has run off into the distance and yet we have just started printing the advertising posters. Our timing is terrible. I am not saying the winter festival is a bad idea, far from it, it’s just seems we are waving the flags after the parade has finished. “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing,” said the author Joshua Harris. So this is how I came to be searching for flights with Ryanair from Podgorica this winter. I am living in one of the most visited, most recognized and most famous cities in this region and yet I am forced to take a three-hour drive to Montenegro. I would not define this as progress. If we are serious about attracting tourists in the winter then let’s get serious…if not let’s just hang up a “closed” sign on the door. Either option is viable, what isn’t viable is pretending we want winter tourism and I have to drive to Montenegro!
Text - Mark Thomas