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.
2015 was one of the best years on record for the Croatian tourism industry with a growth of over 8 percent on the previous year. Official figures show that 14.1 million tourists visited Croatia last year and achieved an impressive 78.5 million overnight stays.
According to the Croatian Ministry of Tourism the tourism industry in Croatia last year saw overall revenues reach 8 billion Euros.
The Croatian Adriatic coastline was the leader in tourism figures again, with Istria recoding the most tourists, a total of 3.5 million, and 23.6 overnight stays.
The most numerous tourists in Croatia last year were German guests, in total 2.1 million arrived in the country which is an increase of 6.3 percent over 2014.
Croatia has received a donation of laptops, camera and software to assist in dealing with the thousands of migrants that are flooding through the country. The donation, thought to be worth around 100,000 Euros was given to the Croatian Deputy Police Chief Drazen Vitez by the German Ambassador to Croatia, Thomas Eberhard Schultze.
“This equipment will have an impact on the border police performance in mobile situations,” commented the Croatian Interior Ministry on the German donation. It is planned that the new technical equipment will be installed at the transit centres in Croatia as well as the refugee reception area.
Since the beginning of the refugee crises around 610,000 migrants have passed through Europe, the majority of their way to Germany.
Dubrovnik’s tourism could have another explosion this year after news that the eighth episode of Star Wars may well be filmed in Dubrovnik!
Reports in the Croatian media suggest that the latest episode of Star Wars could be partly filmed in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik emerged on the radar of international film production companies after hosting the popular HBO serial Game of Thrones. HBO have used Dubrovnik, which acts as Kings Landing, in the Game of Thrones for the past five seasons and this has generated global interest in Dubrovnik as a location. In recent years various serials and films have been recorded, even a Bollywood blockbuster.
It is rumoured that Dubrovnik will be used for several scenes in the new eighth episode. According to the website makingstarwars.net “A few different people have dropped this same piece of news that Star Wars: Episode VIII will film in an interesting location. The location was used for HBO’s Game of Thrones as the King’s Landing locations. Apparently the location is really pleasant at which to shoot and offers tax breaks and incentives to new productions. The gist: Star Wars: Episode VIII will film in Dubrovnik, Croatia later in the year.”
The Croatian Audiovisual Centre declined to either confirm or deny the rumour that the next Star Wars wills be filmed in Croatia. The City of Dubrovnik confirmed to The Dubrovnik Times that they are aware of the rumours that Dubrovnik will be used as a location for Star Wars after an “American blog wrote about the possibility.” However they declined to comment further. When asked if the City of Dubrovnik had signed a “contract of silence” the City confirmed that they hadn’t signed any contract.
From an inside source The Dubrovnik Times has discovered that producers of Star Wars met with the Mayor of Dubrovnik and representatives of the city before Christmas.
Filming of Star Wars, the eighth episode, will begin in March this year, we will soon discover if indeed Dubrovnik a location.
The famous Croatian actor Goran Visnjic, who is now based in Los Angeles, is on a short visit to Croatia and one of the reasons for the trip is thought to be to visit the dog shelter at Zarkovica. Goran, who sprung to fame around the world for his role in ER, and his wife Ivana have been donating money for abandoned dogs in Croatia for many years, the couple have also adopted rescue dogs.
Visnjic will only be in Croatia for a short period of time as he has to fly back to America to start filming on a new movie with Jennifer Garde who he played alongside in “Elektra” ten years ago.
In late December last year Visnjic wrote an open letter to the mayor of Dubrovnik, Andro Vlahusic, regarding the poor treatment and removal of 65 dogs from the Dubrovnik dog shelter. Visnjic is also a very active ambassador of the International Foundation for Animal Welfare and in March 2015 he made a video with many other celebrities to alert the public to the threat to Kenyan elephants.
Last year was a successful one for the camp-sites of Croatia according to information from the Croatian Camping Union. In 2015 Croatian camps achieved just over 17 million overnight stays, which is an increase of 4 percent compared to 2014. The majority of guests came from Germany, 33 percent, followed by Austrian with 9 percent.
Croatia has 571 camps, of which 185 are medium-sized campsites, 86 small camps and 300 family camping in households and rural households. The total capacity of camp-sites in Croatia is 237,758, while the average Croatian camp can accommodate 416 guests.
Most of Croatia’s camping facilities are in Istria, followed by the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and Dalmatia.
The Mljet National Park has been having a busy winter period preparing for another tourists season. A number of projects are underway to improve the infrastructure for visitors to the island, the most significant being the construction of a stone bridge that will connect the banks of the lakes.
With the construction of the new bridge, an investment of around 2.2 million Kuna, will mean that guests will once again be able to walk the complete circle around the lakes. The original bridge was destroyed centuries ago and the new bridge will connect the shores of the larger of the two lakes inside the National Park.
“With this project we will provide a quality service to visitors and enable the sustainable development of the local population,” commented Nenad Strizrep the Deputy Minister for the Environment and Nature Protection after visiting the site.
The construction of the bridge is worth 2.2 million Kuna and is financed by the Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency and the Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection.
The new bridge will now form a key part in an 11 kilometre long walkway around the large lake and benches, waste bins and signposts have also been installed. Now visitors to the Mljet National Park will have the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular walk on one of the most stunning islands in the Adriatic.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with one of the leading American tour operators, Wanda Radetti, who specialises in tours to Croatia. She was born in Rijeka in northern Croatia, grew up in Italy and now is a resident of New York. “My journeys are about creating bridges of cultures, friendships, as well as expansion of the heart and mind,” comments Radetti. Well known throughout the whole region she is also recognised as one of the leading specialists for Croatia and was awarded "The World Top Travel Specialist for Croatia" by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine since 2006. We discovered why she believes that Croatia is so popular on the US market.
Were you aware that American tourists are the second most numerous in Dubrovnik last year? Does this surprise you?
No, not really surprised, as the recognized Conde Nast Travellers specialist for Croatia, I have seen the numbers of our travellers steadily increase in the last several years and Dubrovnik has been, and remains, the centrepiece of everyone’s interest when considering a visit to Croatia. Dubrovnik is a “brand” and is extremely well recognized as a desired “must see and experience” destination for the travellers that reach out to Tasteful Croatian Journeys from around the world. So much so, that until very recently, I ceased to be surprised to learn that Dubrovnik is often considered as a most attractive destination independent and separate from a visit to Croatia as if it was still the Republic of Ragusa. Although Dubrovnik, historically is not a “new” attraction/destination, I think that the National Tourist Board of Croatia has very cleverly used the visual seductions of Dubrovnik in photos, brochures, film and posters as the “pearl” of most international marketing campaigns intended to illuminate Croatia as a tourist destination. It may not be a coincidence that for many years the National Tourist Board was managed and run by some of the most brilliant minds that just happened to have roots in Dubrovnik.
Why do you think Dubrovnik is such a magnet for US tourists?
Dubrovnik is a complete, self-contained destination, it reflects the grandeur and magnificence of a city state, the glory of one of the most respected and acknowledged Republics that ruled the Mediterranean, and yet, today, it is still a city that is measurable by a human’s foot-steps. A most attractive curiosity that entertains and seduces the world traveller, especially the American traveller. The American, well informed, sophisticated traveller that we serve, enjoys every beautiful facet that is Dubrovnik as a wonderful collection of art, history, culture, wrapped in one extraordinary wonder of world architecture. To the citizens of the “New World”, Dubrovnik speaks to the individual’s soul because it is a place where dreams, fantasy and fairy tales happen to become and experienced reality.
What more can we do to attract even more tourists from the USA?
I have been working on developing the interest of travellers, in cooperation with the desired results of the Croatia National Tourist Board, on bringing travellers to Croatia year round. Although it is not a simple feat, I think that Dubrovnik will develop as the focal point for a seven- eight days, tailor designed itinerary that can be organized during the late fall, winter and early spring for our US travellers. Dubrovnik to be used as the base from which the traveller explores, via organized daily excursions, the surrounding points of interest, such as the perfect island of Korcula, the wine, truffles and fruits of the sea pleasures, of the Pelješac Peninsula, the silk culture of the Neretva Valley, where I believe the tastiest mandarins of the world can be found, and, of course an overview of the adjacent country of Montenegro. Personally, I hope that Dubrovnik is not looking to attract “more” US tourist, but would invest in developing a year round “season” for the most sophisticated discerning travellers of the world. We are already seeing, with concern, that the success of huge numbers of visitors that are already arriving in the city cannot be classified as sustainable and we are hearing comments that are not in contrast with what travellers have been reporting about the inconvenience of visiting Venice. Although I am in the business of tourism, whereas increasing numbers of visitors to a location is the goal that can lead to success, I have learned that destinations that continue to well serve the needs and life style of their citizens as paramount considerations of their government, retain and, predictably remain, the most valuable and attractive destinations for travellers that are ever more looking for that local, authentic experience. So, it is with pleasure that I expresses sincere gratitude to one of the most valid local tourist boards that is equal to Zagreb and Istria, to all our extraordinary partners that contribute to our success by presenting Dubrovnik as the beautiful jewel that travellers enjoy, I cautiously ring the bell of admonishment for Dubrovnik that it is not always about numbers, but it is always about quality.
Do you know what the most popular profession in Dubrovnik this season is? The answer can be found on every step of your day as you walk around the city. Villas, houses, cellars, shops, flats in high-rise buildings, all with blue signs outside with yellow stars and the inevitable mark of Wi-Fi. The rooms and apartments of private renters from April to October are the most sought after commodity among tourists with both deep and shallow pockets.
Every metre, no centimetre, of usable space is used with renters counting on a quick summer profit with which they will safely enjoy the colder part of the year. Following this philosophy, in 2015 the number of beds in private accommodation in Dubrovnik increased to at least 15 thousand, while analysts have also calculated that the private rental business in Dubrovnik makes up a third of every household.
Some people of Dubrovnik have left their well-paid jobs to jump into the private accommodation business, others are renovated the family estate with swimming pools, others have opened rural ranches with traditional local food...while hotel companies are looking for ways to respond to the unfair competition from the private rental business, tourism experts warn of potential hazards. The economic crisis is still ongoing. A wave of refugees is circulating in the Western Balkans. The threat of global terrorism is omnipresent. And tourism is sensitive to even small shocks. It would be enough that someone threw a firecracker on the Stradun and the resulting panic would see the tourist season perish. Although tourism professionals praise the rise of private accommodation as a positive indicator, it is true that it says a lot about the lack of a strategy which could easily backfire.
I am one of the very few citizens of Dubrovnik who is still resisting the temptation of renting privately. I live in an old mansion overlooking the Old City, and many friends and acquaintances have urged me to renovate it and rent it out to guests. I respond with “maybe one day.” And then, of course, take no action. It seems that I am not "genetically predetermined" to rent. I don’t even like staying in private accommodation when I travel. I always prefer to choose a little more expensive hotel than a cheaper warehouse three days ride away from the historic centre. The unfortunate thing is that I feel like a minority in my own city. Just like Tom Cruise in the sci-fi movie Minority Report. Dubrovnik is running out of balance in the accommodation offer. But that's a problem for another film script.
Text - Gabrijela Bijelic