Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

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This Sept. 4, 2018 photo shows the old town of Dubrovnik from a hill above the city. Crowds of tourist are clogging the entrances into the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. (AP)
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People observe the walled Old Town of Dubrovnik in Croatia, on September 1, 2018. (AFP)
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In this Sept. 7, 2018 photo, tourists walk through Dubrovnik old town. Crowds of tourist are clogging the entrances into the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. (AP)
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In this Sept. 7, 2018 photo, a cruise ship sails off as another one is moored in Dubrovnik. Crowds of tourist are clogging the entrances into the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. (AP)
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Tourists stroll in a street as they visit the center of Dubrovnik on August 6, 2018. (AFP)
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In this Sept. 7, 2018 photo, tourists walk through Dubrovnik old town. Crowds of tourist are clogging the entrances into the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2018

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“


Jeddah souvenir shop offers a window to city’s history

Mohammed Sales Albadni fought for his passion and love for his city. (AN Photo by Abdulrahman Mira)
Updated 11 July 2020

Jeddah souvenir shop offers a window to city’s history

  • Shop crafts versions of Jeddah’s historical buildings in miniature size

JEDDAH: Of the most prominent features of old town Jeddah is its historic buildings. With their intricate wooden designed windows and balconies, Made in Jeddah lets you take a part of history back home in miniature size.

Made in Jeddah, a quaint souvenir shop owned by Mohammed Sales Albadni — a native of the city who grew up with a passion for showing its most unique features — is one of the only souvenir shops with original works in the city.

Growing up selling goods in his father’s shop, Albadni was accustomed to seeing foreigners walking around and taking pictures of buildings in Jeddah’s historical downtown. He befriended many tourists and learned some English. With time, many of the neighboring shop owners and their families moved uptown for better opportunities, but Mohammed remained.

“Living in Al-balad is different, you see foreigners walking and taking pictures of the buildings and the life of the locals, it’s something that made me think that there is something much more special about this area,” he said.

In 2014, he decided to pursue his dream and opened his souvenir shop “Tethkar Jeddah,” which roughly translates to Jeddah Souvenirs, hoping that it would become a significant part of the area.

He began by importing low-cost goods from China but was disappointed by the shop’s performance; it wasn’t doing as well as he’d hoped. But one visitor changed everything.

A Saudi customer from the central region entered his store one day and said: “Why open a souvenir shop, when there is nothing special to show about Jeddah?” That question moved Albadni to bring a little bit of Jeddah to his costumers.

Surrounded by buildings that date back over 300 years, the unique homes of Jeddah’s historical downtown tell a story. Builders would mine for coral limestones in the nearby coastline for building foundations. The woodwork was intricately designed by architects from the Levant region and each window or balcony — known as the Roshan — would be painted in green, blue or brown.

Mohammed turned his shop’s story upside down by crafting his own version of the buildings in miniature size, using the same material in the buildings surrounding him today. He would extract the same coral limestone and even carved the miniature Roshan works on his pieces.

Made using local craftsmen and materials, these miniature gifts were bestsellers as soon as he added them to his store.

“I wish business owners walked an extra step and worked hard to localize their products. It will enhance the Saudi economy and encourage companies to make Saudi products since the government has eased the process of starting businesses,” said Albadni.

Mohammed’s path wasn’t easy, but his financial shortage didn’t stop him. Instead, he fought for his passion and his love for his city. He wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped when he opened the shop, but things picked up for the better. “Made in Jeddah” is not a common tagline, but Albadni’s belief in it is what made the difference to his now-popular store.