Tourism overcrowding: two destination experiences

Travel Mole announced in an article Santorini closes its gates, caps visitor numbers as: Dubrovnik wonders if it’s been killed by tourism (Sept 4 2018)

Not only is the population in Santorini rapidly rising, as more and more people are searching for work on the island, but the birthrate here (about 150 per year) is the highest in Greece. More than 25,000 people are now permanent residents. Meanwhile, the island can’t keep up with infrastructure development and locals are growing increasingly frustrated by the growing tourist traffic. In addition to these social problems, the soaring tourist numbers are leaving an environmental impact as well. At least 11 per cent of the island has been experiencing construction, and water consumption has increased by 46 per cent.

In an attempt to exercise control over tourism, Santorini’s Mayor Nikolaos Zorzos is capping visitor numbers this year. He’s already limited the number of cruise ship passengers disembarking every day to 8000 — a dip compared to last year, when there were days that saw 18,000 passengers.

Dubrovnik too, along with Barcelona and Venice, is struggling to cope with the interest from foreign tourists. In the opening paragraph of an article in the Dubrovnik Times (August 18 2018) Mark Thomas refers to a new video released by Greg Dickinson, travel writer Telegraph Travel Has Tourism Killed Dubrovnik? Dickinson describes how the tourists have returned in droves following the war which ended 5 years ago. However he says that… “now the city faces a new challenge, how to keep that magic alive under the footsteps of thousands of daily visitors?”  He concludes that it is clear that the city opened its doors without a clear plan to manage tourism.

“They arrive on massive cruise ships, by plane and on day-trips and every day the Old City is a magnet for thousands upon thousands of visitors. Finding the correct balance, in a city that lives from the tourist dollar, has been challenging for the city’s authorities for years. Many would say that Dubrovnik is a victim of its own success……….Short term gains have impacted the long term strategy. “Within the city walls the population has decreased in recent years. It’s maybe due to the rising demand for tourist apartments, but also the lack of amenities for local people,” states Dickinson.

He spoke to a popular travel guide and local of the Old City of Dubrovnik Ivan Vukovi-‡….. When asked if tourism had killedDubrovnik he replied “No. This year is better. Less tourists. The results from the last year will never happen again but it is about sustainable tourism, not about numbers.” Vukovi  described how the content of his tours today are largely based on heritage and the popular Game of Thrones series. And in reality the numbers and statistics back him up. By the end of the year there will be less cruise ship passengers than in 2017 disembarking at the Port of Dubrovnik. Vukovi-‡ added “Less cruise ships, less crowds, this year. Or just better control of it and more things to do around like in Lapad, Cavtat, etc. To be honest it is much more enjoyable for me to live inside the walls. The strategy works.”

So what is this new strategy? One of the biggest problems facing the new Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovi-‡, was the crowds and the mass of negative publicity Dubrovnik was receiving from the world’s press. His solution came in the form of a project called “Respect the City.” And even though this project is still in its infancy it seems to be working. One of the points was to alter the arrival and departure times of cruise ships with the aim to ease the collapse of the infrastructure.

Director of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Romana Vlasi-‡, stated “What I want for Dubrovnik in the future is to have an all year round season. And the reason is not to have more tourists but more for the local people and for their employment. People will be employed all year round and there will be no need to move somewhere else to look for a job. Tourists want to visit a real city with real people.”

Interestingly two months before this article appeared Katherine Lavery in The Telegraph (June 18 2018)discussed the same topic referring to the Mayor of Dubrovnik’s strategy. However when asked about the situation Telegraph Travel’s Croatia expert, Jane Foster, said the problem was still acute when she visited the city in May (2018).“To me it still looked horribly busy, with a queue at Pile Gate to get into the Old Town. But it’s not only cruise ships that are the problem. There are also countless tour buses that roll into Dubrovnik each day on narrow roads that can’t cope with such traffic.”

She added: “The old town is tiny. Dubrovnik already has an enormous hotel capacity, and further big projects are now underway to reconstruct several abandoned hotels to the south east of town at Kupari and Plat. With this in mind, tourist numbers are only going to go up and up in the future.”

“Staggering coach visits was the next goal, said Mayor Frankovic. He was also lobbying cruise lines to use Dubrovnik as a home port, which would bring more financial benefits to the city from longer pre- or post-cruise stays. The city has a new EU-funded airport and a new highway is under construction linking the airport to Dubrovnik.

Today September 5, Hughes Morris reports in Telegraph Travel  on Mayor Frankovi-‡’s aim to cap “the number of cruise ship visitors to 4000 per day, half the UNESCO recommendation of 8,000, in an effort to protect the heritage site and improve the tourist experience. He admitted that one of the key battlegrounds in achieving this would be moderating the arrival of cruise ships and their thousands of day-trippers”.

Morris describes how Mayor Frankovi-‡ has written to members of Cruise Lines International Association stating; “Our intention is to offer a better quality of service which is currently under much strain due the simultaneous arrival of so many guests from cruise ships, he said. Therefore, a better planning of the daily arrivals of ships to Dubrovnik is in everyone’s interests”.

September 5 2018