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.