Several experts believe that a return to full normalcy after the shocks caused to societies by the two-year pandemic will be challenging and should be done gradually.
As part of a special report, EURACTIV and its pan-European network explore what EU Member States and local authorities plan to do to help this transition, in part by making urban settlements more attractive through innovative concepts involving tourism and the hospitality sector.
Euractiv Croatia addressed Mr. Mato Franković, the mayor of Dubrovnik, a city whose image in lexicons can be put under the term - tourism. And the old urban core.
What does your vision of Dubrovnik 2030 look like?
The mission and vision of this city administration is a pleasant city, responsible for its inhabitants, a city that is developing in a sustainable direction using modern digital technologies in an innovative and creative economy, efficient infrastructure, urban mobility and responsible tourism. A city proud of its history, focused on a secure and responsible future. Dubrovnik is a city that respects every guest, but at the same time a city in the center of which is each of its inhabitants, regardless of which part of the city he lives.
The City of Dubrovnik is focused on strengthening the economy by investing in research and innovation, supporting business competitiveness, digitalization through the projects Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads, Digitalization of Culture and Procurement of IT Equipment for Primary Schools. It is also aimed at becoming a Smarter City through the Smart Specialization Skills Development Project and strengthening digital connectivity through the Smart Islands and Open City projects.
At the same time, as a more sustainable and greener city, it will promote energy efficiency and renewable energy sources through energy renovation projects for schools, kindergartens and public buildings. Adaptations to climate change will be promoted through the project Recycling Yard Orašac and AIRSPOT, while risk prevention, environmental protection and sustainability of resources will be promoted through projects Pobrežje new business zone and center of cultural, creative and business tourism, Park Gradac, Park Pile - summer stage and Platana Park.
We see the TUP premises in Gruž, which the City recently bought, as a place of new development of cultural and other facilities needed by the city, and summer houses in Rijeka dubrovačka renovated and put into function of science, education, tourism.
One of the priorities is to make Dubrovnik a more connected city where the development of sustainable, smart and secure mobility will be promoted through investments in infrastructure and road relief. Dubrovnik will become a city with a more prominent social component by strengthening the health system and promoting social inclusion, education and lifelong learning and providing social services in the community with the aim of reducing and preventing institutionalization.
Projects that support risk groups such as the construction of the Home for the Elderly and the Infirm, Reconstruction and equipping of the therapeutic pool General Hospital Dubrovnik, Scholarship Program for people with disabilities and people with disabilities, construction of Sensory Park and projects such as Phase II City for Children, Center for Integrative Development Dubrovnik - Dubrovnik is a city of knowledge, Southerners of the Great Heart and Teaching Assistants in the Elementary School of the City of Dubrovnik, the city administration will achieve the goal of becoming a city with a more prominent social component.
Through the ITU (Integrated Territorial Investments) program of the mechanism, the City of Dubrovnik will implement a number of projects that will enable raising the quality of life of the citizens of Dubrovnik.
How does Dubrovnik plan to develop sustainable tourism?
This is something that the City of Dubrovnik is systematically working on, but it should be said that this is a comprehensive and thorough work that combines several measures, different approaches and it is not easy to respond to this challenge. But I think we are on the right track because our measures we are developing in this direction are already having quite visible results, which allows us to make a measurable shift towards more sustainable and responsible tourism and local development.
In 2017, the City of Dubrovnik began to develop the strategic project Respect the City - Respect the City, then faced with the great challenge of excessive tourism with all its consequences. The first steps were various measures to alleviate traffic jams and implement smart city solutions and in a relatively short time we started managing our destination. In addition to short-term measures, the Respect the City action plan includes medium-term measures such as sustainable urban mobility plans and urban development studies, Dubrovnik electric ships, as well as long-term ones such as polycentric urban development, new roads and infrastructure investments.
However, 2020, with the emergence of the COVID-19 situation around the world, brought completely new perspectives and challenges to tourism and overall socio-economic development, with the issue of sustainability of the economy based on the monoculture of tourism. Therefore, the City of Dubrovnik, with its new Action Plan of the Respect the City Program for the period until 2025, which was adopted at the end of last year, looks at this very demanding situation. The plan also includes strategic projects such as the development of Gruž as a future intermodal urban center, the reconstruction of the Lapad coast, the Park & Ride system on the Coast.
According to the final sustainability report of the destination, presented on June 2, 2020 in Dubrovnik, based on the assessment of the destination conducted in November and December 2019 by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the City of Dubrovnik achieved an excellent 70 percent on the scale which assesses the overall performance of the destination in sustainability. The GSTC standard encompasses four main pillars of destination sustainability: destination policy and planning, community involvement and benefits, management of cultural and natural assets, and management of environmental and natural resources. The GSTC also said that the assessment conducted in Dubrovnik was "the most transparent that the Global Council for Sustainable Tourism has conducted so far", with great involvement of both the city administration and the entire community. The report was also used as a basis for the development of a further 'Respect the City' action document.
How to prevent the old town from turning into a space just for renters? How do you plan to keep the city center "alive" as opposed to modern shopping habits in shopping malls located outside that center or through online shopping?
Preserving the "living city" is one of our priorities, and one of the basic steps of systematic thinking and planning in this regard was the adoption of the UNESCO World Heritage Management Plan "Old Town of Dubrovnik", the first such document for the overall historic urban landscape of Dubrovnik , also the first of its kind in the Republic of Croatia. The purpose of this Plan is to ensure a long-term management system that will preserve the quality, originality and integrity of the world's good, while maintaining the quality of life of citizens and active multifunctional use of the city center. It also contains measures that will help keep residents within the historic core, which we will apply over time and opportunities. We have already started with some, such as the new Decision that will oblige caterers to install noise emission limiters on electroacoustic devices, because they work within the space where people live and must be able to sleep at night to go to work in the morning. We are currently building a new school in the historic core, that is, we are renovating and reconstructing one historic palace for that purpose. In addition to the existing one, it will be the second space in the city center intended for primary school and I believe that says a lot about our direction.
However, in the area of the historic core of the city there are several owners of buildings that, in addition to public bodies, have a significant impact on the way it is well used in terms of its purpose. The City of Dubrovnik cannot influence the use of private property, in a way that would limit, for example, the number of apartments for rent or the exclusive purpose of a business space of private owners. We can and are doing this with spaces owned by the City, so we have, for example, reduced public areas that may be occupied by tables of catering facilities and thus expanded pedestrian corridors, but we have also reduced the profit from renting public spaces.
The fact is that most of the offer of shops in the city center is aimed at tourists, but what the City is doing to help locals who have an offer and for residents to be more competitive are incentives for traditional crafts operating in the city. There is again the issue of private property and the free economy, and the City for the premises it owns can and does offer them on more favorable terms, sometimes completely without paying for some of the facilities that citizens need.
What is your vision of the role of the old town in the conception of the development of Dubrovnik?
The historical core is the nucleus of Dubrovnik, its starting point in every sense. It was with the adoption of the mentioned Management Plan that we determined the direction of this development, i.e. we emphasized the importance of the role of the city core in the future life of the city. We see the city center as a living space for the people of Dubrovnik, a space for public needs such as schools, city administration, public cultural facilities, but also a space for active economic activity, in terms of visits to city museums and attractions, hotel and private accommodation and catering. What needs to be achieved is a measure in this regard in a way that everyone functions in such a way that it is possible for the city to continue to live, but also for the economic activities from which this city lives.
The city within the walls should continue to be the urban center from which the city's identity derives, a center that sensitizes the entire local community to respect and preserve the city as its heritage, as part of the community's inherent identity. Only in this way will they be able to preserve and pass on this heritage to new generations. For this reason, the primary focus of the Management Plan is on preserving the "living city" and developing an adequate governance structure.
To what extent are the potentials of catering included in the development plans of Dubrovnik? How to fit the tradition of Dubrovnik cafes and restaurants into the modern vision of the city? Is the city government planning to develop gastronomy as part of the city brand? What are the plans?
Gastronomy is, of course, a very important part of the modern tourist offer. It should also be said that we have a Michelin-starred restaurant and several restaurants that were included in the Michelin guide. Dubrovnik caterers follow world trends, constantly enrich the gastronomic offer and adapt it to the requirements of guests, and the City of Dubrovnik and the Dubrovnik Tourist Board promote the Dubrovnik gastronomic story through various projects.
Although today in Dubrovnik you can find a diverse offer of world cuisines, various fusions, excellent new restaurants, we are still best known for traditional Mediterranean cuisine, where food quality is the basis of the whole story and in that sense we work to encourage local family farms and supply chains. table. We are lucky that in our environment, from Konavle, through the islands, Primorje, Pelješac peninsula and Neretva, we have quality farmers, producers, growers, whether we are talking about fruits and vegetables, excellent Peljesac and Konavle wines, Mali Ston oyster with protected designation of origin. Also, rural tourism is developing more and more in these areas, which is an additional value to the offer of tourist Dubrovnik.
And during the year, in the time before and after the season, we organize gastronomic events in order to offer our guests, who visit us outside the peak season, additional attractions. Here we especially emphasize the "Good food festival" in October and the event "Easter in the Littoral" in April, which also includes a culinary story.
We are working on all these values, and catering has a long tradition in Dubrovnik, and we are still developing them, for example through the EU project "Establishment of a regional center of competence in tourism and catering Dubrovnik". The City of Dubrovnik is participating as one of the partners, and for the implementation of this project we have given the valuable building of Villa Čingrija, where this Center will be realized in which our young people, but also their professors, will continue their education.
Digitization, what do you want and hope to achieve with it? Are there any problems with the infrastructure?
We are quite advanced in this, one of the leading cities in Croatia that is at the forefront of implementing Smart City solutions. We have developed a number of applications and projects aimed at efficient and environmentally responsible management of the transport system with the aim of reducing congestion, but also environmental protection and preservation of our valuable monumental heritage.
We have, for example, a web platform for predicting the number of visitors to the historic center of Dubrovnik Visitors, which with the help of artificial intelligence predicts crowds in the historic center on a specific date and part of the day and directs visitors to the best time to visit. There is also smart parking, an application that covers every public parking space and gives an overview of free parking spaces, so as not to unnecessarily circle the car looking for a free space. A total of 2,016 parking sensors were installed in parking spaces throughout the city, which is also the largest number of installed sensors of this technology in the world in one city. We have also installed webcams on city roads, and we are the first city in Croatia to offer a 100% electric car sharing system service since October 2019. This functions as an upgrade of public transport and in an environmentally friendly way without noise and harmful emissions contributes to relieving the city's transport infrastructure.
An online store has also been set up to purchase online vouchers for stops in the special traffic regime zone in the contact zone of the old town, which is the busiest during traffic jams. A system for establishing a traffic congestion zone around the historic core of the city has been implemented, which with equipment and innovative software solution enables traffic system management and automatic inspection of tourist buses subject to parking fees on the Pile plateau. The system is the basis for further regulation of traffic in the area of the contact zone of Dubrovnik's historic core under the protection of UNESCO.
In addition to traffic, we are working on the Park & Ride system project in Pobrežje, an administratively peripheral city area, which includes arranging a public parking lot with a capacity of 624 places for cars and taxis and buses with transport connections and public transport to the city center. The preparation of the main project has been completed, and the city administration intends to use EU funds for its implementation.
All this is aimed at both citizens and tourists, and for citizens we have developed the Open City system, available for the last year. It is the central city portal for access to public information, open data and digital services, which provides citizens with an insight into the financial operations of the City of Dubrovnik, access to digital forms, online applications, administrative and other procedures.
Which city / cities in Europe do you see as a model that Dubrovnik should follow, whose experiences should be applied? And what experiences of Dubrovnik would you offer to colleagues from Europe?
Dubrovnik is specific because it is a small city, but a large tourist destination. In terms of the importance of tourism, we stand alongside other UNESCO European destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, Bruges, but we are much smaller in terms of population. When we talk about role models and efforts related to sustainable development, digital transformation, green transition, I think that our example can be Scandinavian examples. For example, the Danish Aarhus, which is also not a city of millions, but is a favorite tourist destination, and which is extremely successful in exactly what we want to achieve in the future. Namely, they were declared the third most sustainable city in the world.
On the other hand, Dubrovnik certainly has something to offer as an example to other tourist cities in Europe. For example, our collaboration with the CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), the world's largest cruise trade association, stands out as an example of good practice worldwide. Since a significant part of the problem of over-tourism in Dubrovnik is related to cruise ships and daily visitors, the City turned to CLIA to work together to solve the problem. We were the first local government unit to do such a thing, but we had a very good response from the CLIA and in a very short time we developed guidelines for cooperation. They realized that it was in our common interest because the guests from the cruise ship were not satisfied with the crowded streets, which diminished their experience of Dubrovnik. In the short term, the city managed to make adjustments to various measures to alleviate traffic congestion in the historic center and started working on a long-term solution that basically means carefully planning cruise arrivals / departures daily, weekly and annually. In this sense, cooperation with the Dubrovnik Port Authority is very important to us, which is our partner in the implementation of measures all the time. The results are excellent and we continue to cooperate and implement measures.
What is your view on the development of tourism in the upcoming, post-COVID period? Has there been a change in the needs of tourists and how will Dubrovnik adjust its offer?
Tourism, like all other economic activities, must adapt to the moment, follow development trends, adapt to the market and circumstances. The time of the COVID crisis for us was a period of restart, which gave us time to rearrange, to rethink. This remains our core economic activity, and since we are not a big city, we can easily adapt to new requirements, which was shown during the pandemic. However, we are also working on diversified forms of tourism, such as digital nomads and film tourism.
Especially during the pandemic, the focus was on working from home, away from the workplace, so in digital nomads, i.e. people who have such jobs that they can work remotely, and at the same time like to travel and stay longer in a destination we saw the potential for Dubrovnik. We started with this story two years ago, as the first in Croatia, when we organized a conference for digital nomads, followed by several other events and launched initiatives to be included in the TOP 10 Savills Real Estate Executive Nomad List this week. In this sense, Dubrovnik has a lot to offer, especially in the months outside the main tourist season.
Another type of tourism proved to be good during the pandemic - screen tourism. In the midst of the crisis, in September and October 2020, three film production companies were shooting in Dubrovnik. In 2021 alone, over 25 camera crews stayed here, most of them foreign, including the team of CNN Travel's "Quest's World of Wonder" TV show. In it, the world-famous journalist Richard Quest portrayed Dubrovnik through a story with people, as a tourist and partly a film destination. Also, the City of Dubrovnik has prepared the project framework "Television and film studio complex and game-development center DUBROVNIK". It is designed as an entrepreneurial incubator, highly equipped and specialized in the development of video games and professionalization of filming in which companies of this profile would operate, and make Dubrovnik even more recognizable on the gaming and film world scene. The project should establish a specialized business incubator that will contribute to the development of the creative industry in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County with a focus on the audiovisual and IT industry. This will contribute to strengthening the competitiveness of this sector of the economy and increase employment. The complex would allow for the rental of space, audiovisual equipment and teams. In the complex are planned rooms for visiting teams / experts, coworking offices / spaces for game-development start. That is certainly one of the directions we are going.
As for this year's season, the City of Dubrovnik and its partners have made all the preliminary work in order to realize the 2022 season in full, as far as objective possibilities allow. We are extremely well connected by air, marketing activities in key markets have been done in a timely manner, the epidemiological situation is good, and interest in Dubrovnik is strong and steady. I think we can expect a really good season that will bring the continuation of the economic recovery that began last year and give a respite to the economy, but also to the city budget, which has suffered significant losses in the past two years.