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Bus battle highlights the challenges of overtourism

by | Jun 18, 2024 | Blog

It was about 4pm and the challenges of overtourism were right in front of our eyes. Things were really kicking off in the scramble to board bus no.6.

“No! You take taxi! She must get to school!” shouted the older (local) lady, one arm cradled protectively around a girl of 7 or thereabouts.

The object of her ire? The tourists crammed so tightly onto the bus that made it physically impossible for her and (I assumed) her granddaughter to clamber aboard.

I sympathised. It had been a dehumanising experience, and it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it on this popular route from the Pile Gate of Dubrovnik’s Old Town up to Babin Kuk, where many of the international resorts are located.

Despite the fact that buses run every 15 minutes, no-one wanted to wait under the powerful Dalmatian sun. Each time a no.6 pulled up a mass of tired, impatient people converged on the entrance. A favourite trick of several of them was reaching out to grab the door, not for balance but so that their arms acted as a barrier to others, often involving an elbow in the face for an unsuspecting fellow would-be passenger.

To be perfectly clear: Dubrovnik is special, and that’s on a coastline that has many, many highlights. Even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, its remarkable limestone streets, distinctive red rooftops and magnificent fortified city walls are a thrill to experience. It’s easy to see why so many visitors are drawn here. But that’s the problem.

In my 30-year travel career I have never visited anywhere that made me so viscerally aware of the challenges of overtourism. The sheer number of visitors on Stradun, the main thoroughfare of Old Town … the picturesque narrow alleyways crammed their entire length with outdoor restaurant tables … the lengthy queues (at least here there were queues) for Peppino’s famous gelato. And, of course, the bus queues.

Tourism is crucial to Croatia’s economy, accounting for around 20 percent of its GDP and that percentage continues to increase. It’s an undoubted success story.

But how much longer will the country’s people see it that way? We have already seen a growing protest movement in places like Barcelona, Venice, the Canaries and the Balearics, as visitor euros push prices beyond the budget of locals and more and more residential accommodation is lost to short-term tourism occupancy.

Meaningful solutions are difficult. Beyond using PR and marketing that will encourage international travellers to come in winter, which is viable in Dubrovnik if not in every European tourism hotspot, it’s hard to see how peak season pressures can be alleviated without decisive (and possibly dramatic) measures.

While I don’t have an answer, I am in no doubt that something has to change as we address the challenges of overtourism. Because when an elderly lady and a child can’t use their own public transport system, and tourists are too self-absorbed and impatient to care, surely we’re in danger of forgetting why we started travelling in the first place?