The mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovic, has hailed his plan to cap the number of cruise passengers visiting the Croatian city at any one time a resounding success.
He implemented a strategy to stagger cruise arrivals shortly after being elected in June last year. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which has more than 60 members, facilitated the coordination of schedules.
Frankovic was speaking at the 17th annual Responsible Business Summit Europe in London, where he was joined on stage by Gloria Guevara Manzo, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, and cruise analyst Thomas P Illes to debate the growing issue of overcrowding in major travel destinations – and possible solutions.
While Dubrovnik hasn’t seen a reduction in the overall number of cruise ship, visits have been more evenly spaced throughout the week, with staggered arrival and departure times.
His office has taken more drastic measures to ease the crush within the city walls, such as reducing the number of souvenir stands by 80 per cent and cutting the number of restaurant tables and chairs by 30 per cent, and Frankovic said locals had welcomed the move to ease overcrowding.
“We are ready to lose some money,” he said. “But we will have a better quality of life for citizens and tourists.”
Overcrowding in Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a World Heritage Site, has been steadily worsening in the last few years. Have the changes really made a difference? Telegraph Travel’s Croatia expert, Jane Foster, said the problem was still acute when she visited the city in May.
“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.”
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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 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.
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At the summit Thomas P Illes argued that the cruise industry was being made a scapegoat for issues that needed to be addressed by the global shipping industry – including emissions.
“There’s been a lot of cruise bashing in the last couple of years.” he said. “Cruise ships are a very visible symbol of tourists sweeping in [to a destination] in their masses. But cruise ships make up less than 0.75 per cent of all merchant fleets in the world. It’s a tiny part of the shipping industry and it does not have the power alone to change the rules for the whole industry.”
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He said legislation was the only way to stem the environmental crisis. Given that 90 per cent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, this must happen sooner rather than later.
“The pilot project in Dubrovnik shows that change can happen but my fear is it’s not fast enough. We need more collaboration between ports, logistics and all types of shipping companies.
“Worryingly a lot of cargo companies do not have the funds to develop the new technology needed.”
The International Maritime Organization IMO has committed to reducing greenhouse emissions from ships by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared with 2008 levels. But lobbyists say that’s not fast enough, according to Illes.
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In the North Sea and the Baltic operators are required either to fit their ships with an exhaust gas cleaning system (known as scrubbers) or switch to more expensive, low-sulphur fuels.
“There are no such [emission controls] in the Mediterranean,” said Illes. “It would need France, Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and others to find agreement.”
Guevara Manzo agreed that longer term planning and collaboration between governments, the private sector and communities were all key to addressing this issue of overtourism.
“The WTTC is working with communities, sharing best practice,” she said. “Local residents need to see the benefits [of tourism]. When communities are not engaged [with tourism], they move out and the area becomes a ghost town. It’s the community that keeps the culture, traditions and festivals alive.”