Thrones of contention: Dubrovnik resets its relationship with the cruise industry

Ross Davies 26 November 2019 (Last Updated October 29th, 2019 12:05)

Dubrovnik has come together with the CLIA to improve the spiky relationship between the Croatian city and the cruise industry. In the name of sustainable tourism, both parties are set to benefit.

Thrones of contention: Dubrovnik resets its relationship with the cruise industry
Some 1.2 million people descended on Dubrovnik last year – many of whom arrived on cruise ships. Credit: Jim Werner (via Flickr).

So bereft were fans of Game of Thrones when the fantasy drama concluded in April of this year that emergency helplines were set up across the world.

While obsessives took to social media to emote over the show’s finale, for some of the people of Dubrovnik, the denouement was a cause for celebration.

Over the previous eight years, the Croatian city, which perches on the edge of the Adriatic, had been one of Game of Thrones’ main filming locations, standing in as the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

Unsurprisingly, the city’s tour guides recognised a cash cow early on, with Game of Thrones walks becoming increasingly popular with visitors. Some have seen it as a mixed blessing, though. Long described as ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’, Dubrovnik’s picturesque setting and laid-back charm has always made it attractive to tourists, who pump millions of Euros into the local economy each year.

However, the added influx has led to cries of overtourism from residents. While home to only 42,000 people, some 1.2 million people descended on the city last year – many of whom arrived on cruise ships. Critics believe crowded streets have come at the expense of the city’s very soul.

This has also created tension between the authorities of Dubrovnik and the cruise industry, which came to a head last year when mayor Mato Franković announced a cap on the number of ships that could dock at the city’s harbour. Choosing to forego any consultation with cruise lines, Franković promised that only two ships could dock per day, with each allowed to carry a maximum of 5,000 passengers.

Détente: Dubrovnik and CLIA come to an agreement

One year on, however, tensions appear to be thawing between the City of Dubrovnik and the cruise sector. In July, Franković pressed the flesh of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) president and CEO Kelly Craighead, as part of a new memorandum of understanding between the two parties to create a more sustainable model of tourism for the city.

According to the CLIA, the MoU promises to “preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Dubrovnik”, while focussing on “investment, collaboration and best practices for long-term destination management to the benefit [of] residents and visitors alike.”

“The MoU promises to ‘preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Dubrovnik’.”

Actions set to take place forthwith in the Adriatic include the engagement of “key stakeholders, including the local community and international organisations”; the collaboration of a “destination stewardship roadmap”, based on UN guidelines; the implementation of a new berthing policy; and the development of a new “respect the city” education campaign for tourists.

Elsewhere, city authorities and the CLIA are also said to be throwing around the idea of creating a new “world heritage visitor centre” and intermodal transportation centre in Gruž Port.

While the exact details of the action plan remain sketchy, it is understood that Franković is happy with the joint approach with the CLIA – particularly the “respect the city” project.

“We want to welcome guests and share our amazing home in a way that protects and preserves it,” he said at the time. “We hope this pioneering cooperation agreement will show the way to all relevant stakeholders including other destinations to work together to make our tourism and communities more sustainable, and our local people and our guests more satisfied.”

Welcome news: evidence of a more proactive cruise industry

The agreement has also been welcomed by other parties, including the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. According to Randy Durband, the body’s CEO, it can be seen as evidence of cities and port authorities becoming more proactive in the name of sustainable tourism.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of cities and other types of cruise ports placing more emphasis on visitor management.”

“We’ve seen quite recently – especially the past year – an increase in the number of cities and other types of cruise ports placing more emphasis on visitor management, and also responding to their residents’ growing concerns about the impacts of tourism,” wrote Durband in an email.

“We expect exponential growth in ports taking action based on the stirring of interest we’re hearing from many of them.”

So, could it be that the cruise industry has also developed a keener understanding of the role it has to play in not only contributing to local economies – but respecting culture and the wishes of residents?

“Indeed, as with the public sector, we’re seeing the cruise industry acting much more proactively in collaborating with port managers to better manage visitor flows,” says Durband. “The industry recognises the need to protect their product quality and also their reputations and brands, all of which is motivating them to learn and act upon these issues.”

Righting wrongs: could other cities follow in Dubrovnik’s footsteps?

It seems likely that Dubrovnik won’t be the last city with which the CLIA will need to meet halfway. Flames of anti-cruise tourism were stoked in Venice in June after the MSC Opera liner collided with a tourist riverboat. Elsewhere, Dublin’s port authority has revealed plans to halve the number of cruise calls to the city from 2021, while Amsterdam has introduced a tourist tax specifically aimed at cruise visitors.

Perhaps, in the past, the cruise industry was too reactive in dealing with the impact it has on the cities in which its vessels dock (the CLIA could not be reached for comment regarding this charge). However, the MoU signed in Dubrovnik has arguably shown that it recognises an opportunity to right past wrongs.