The number of visitors descending on Dubrovnik each year mean students hang out at the disabled association, some churches no longer hold Mass and residents watch TV to establish when to leave home.
Every morning Marija Grazio drinks her coffee in a central bar, one of the oldest in Dubrovnik. It is situated in Town Hall building, with a view over the church of St. Blasius’, the patron saint of the city, and the Rector’s Palace, the symbol of the Republic of Ragusa. Grazio’s apartment is two minutes’ walk away; the music school where she teaches piano is a similar distance; it’s five minutes to the beach.
The reasons that Marija’s home is ideal for her, also make it ideal for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit her city every year. She is one of a dwindling band of Dubrovnik residents willing to fight the crowds for her right to her own city.
Dubrovnik’s 42,615 habitants are outnumbered more than 20 to 1 by the annual number of visitors to Croatia’s most popular destination. Listed as a part of UNESCO World Heritage site, its popularity has only grown in the past few years after it became one of the main locations of the popular TV show Game of Thrones. Every year about ten per cent more visitors arrive.
But ironically as the tourism brings jobs and economic benefits, particularly in the summer, the number of locals who benefit is diminishing. UNESCO has responded by demanding a restriction on the number of visitors coming to the city, urging a limit of 8,000 at a time. As a result, the city administration has installed a “people counter” at the main city entrance to monitor the number of tourists entering. So far the number has not exceeded 7,000 at a time.
“It is a fact that we need to reduce the number of tourists, especially ones coming from cruisers. Our aim for the next year is to reduce it to 4,000 at a time”, the new mayor of the city Mato Franković told Euronews. In 2016, there were 799,916 visitors only from cruise ships, according to the Dubrovnik Port Authority’s statistics.
Most of them come from May to October when the average is 112,000 visitors per month. But the problem is that they are not well distributed.
“When the ‘attack’ starts, we stay at home”, says Mirjana Puhjera, a journalist with an apartment looking onto the walls of Dubrovnik, referring to Thursdays and Fridays when cruise ships typically arrive. For example, last Thursday there were seven cruisers in the city with a capacity of more than 9,000 passengers. During these “occupations”, the police regulate the people flows through the main entrances and residents often watch a local TV streaming from a camera above the main street to see when they can leave the house.
Tonči Ivanović, from one of the main cruise agency – MSC cruise – points to the benefits of the industry for the city: “Dubrovnik Port Authority earns 10,000 euros per sailing, concessionaires 5,000 euros, service activities 25,000 euros, agencies, museums, etc. 25,000 euros, every visitor spends around 46 euros per day.”
But these earnings, especially from the restaurants and souvenir shops, do not mean much to the people living inside the walls. “We have no more grocery shops, there are only three or four left. And they have prices higher than in the rest of the city”, says Grazio. In 2016, there were 107 souvenir shops and 143 different types of restaurants according to the Institute for the restoration of Dubrovnik. The latter in particular produce large volumes of waste, unpleasant smells and pose challenges for the city’s 500-year -old sewage system.
“When I enter the walls, I feel like I am in my living room. I felt like that even during the war. If there was a state of danger announced, I just needed to come inside the walls to feel secure. So I want the city to be clean and pleasant for us and every tourist that comes”, says Puhjera.
Moreover, the tables of restaurants increasingly encroach on public spaces. And the streets in Dubrovnik are already very narrow. “In some parts disabled people or mothers with prams cannot pass”, says Grazio, adding that the noise from the venues disturbs her sleep.
‘Not much room’
Although some of the bars and restaurants offer lower prices for local people, most of the locals aren’t attracted by what is on offer. Petra Marčinko, a student working on a research paper entitled Revitalization of the historical part of Dubrovnik, says she struggles to find a nightlife where she feels comfortable: “There is not much room for us”. Now her friends go out to the association of disabled people. Their office is in the centre, it has a bar and good prices. “They have accepted us”, says Marčinko.
The other problem for the young generation is that during the winter Dubrovnik becomes a “city of ghosts”. The streets are empty, souvenir shops and restaurants closed and almost no cultural life exists. There is no other economy, except tourism where one can find a job. “I would like to come back in Dubrovnik after I graduate but I am not sure if I can develop professionally in this city”, says Marčinko, who is near the end of her studies of sociology and cultural anthropology at the University of Zagreb.
Another force encouraging people to move out of town are property prices – among the most expensive in Croatia. The average price according to the research of the website Poslovni.hr is 3,393 euro per square metre. According to a report from the Department for Reconstruction of Dubrovnik, the number of inhabitants in the past five years dropped by around 600 people. In 2011, there were 2,116 inhabitants and last year only 1,557 remained. But even people who want to live in Dubrovnik have a problem finding an apartment to rent. Most of them are touristic apartments that are available for longer term rent only during the six months where there are few tourists. That causes a problem especially for seasonal workers who cannot find a place to live during the touristic season. So this year, although Croatia has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, the restaurant industry in Dubrovnik faced a shortfall of 2,000 workers.
“Today everything is subordinated to profit”, says Grazio. Marčinko agrees, recalling how the tourist boom began around the year 2000 when the Kosovo crisis ended and the region became perceived as safe. “At that time everyone was very happy seeing tourists coming back in large numbers”, says Marčinko. From that period to now Dubrovnik has lost many of its urbanistic features. In the summer even some churches do not serve Mass because of the tourist tours as Puhjera explained.
“We need to return the city to the citizens”, says Grazio, who thinks that the major problems are the lack of political will and regulation by communal institutions and different inspections. With the new city government they are all waiting to see what will happen next season. “There are only a few of us madmen who will not leave the city”, says Puhjera.
By Mašenjka Bačić