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An interview with the Mayor of Dubrovnik Mato Franković
Mato Franković was born in Dubrovnik on 23 February 1982. He graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology and obtained the qualification “Associate in Applied Science”. Beyond this, he has extensive experience in both management and tourism.
In 2017, Franković became Mayor of Dubrovnik and was subsequently re-elected in the summer of 2021. In addition to this, he was a representative of the Croatian Parliament from 2016 to 2017, and then again from 2020.
Now, he has spoken to TheMayor.EU to discuss the Croatian city, the impact of COVID, and the projects which the administration has launched to make Dubrovnik a more attractive and sustainable city.
Mr Mayor, how would you describe Dubrovnik?
Dubrovnik is primarily my home, one of the most beautiful places on Earth and a perfect place to visit. But I can also repeat the words spoken by George Bernard Shaw when he arrived in Dubrovnik: "Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik".
You assumed office in 2017. How has the city changed under your administration?
A lot has changed, mostly in tourism management. When I took over the office, we were greeted by the headlines of the world media which talked about the collapse of Dubrovnik, overtourism and the city that is dying under the number of tourists.
We have changed the way we manage, involved and coordinated all stakeholders, and made new decisions that enabled a better flow of tourists. With decisions such as limiting the number of cruise ships, mandatory booking of bus arrivals in front of the historic centre and the entire “Respect The City” project, we have achieved a better balance between the everyday life of our citizens and a pleasant stay for our guests.
Besides that, we had a number of investments that increased the quality of life of our citizens. The first new school was built after more than 30 years, a new road which created a precondition for the expansion of the housing zone, we opened a drinking water purifier plant, and began the construction of the first new retirement home.
I have to point out that in less than four years, we withdrew a billion kuna (over 132.8 million euros) in non-refundable funds from European funds, and that is just the beginning. Recently, with EU funds, we started the reconstruction of an important road in the narrower area of the city, which will help the better organisation of traffic and flow on the streets of the City.
The city is definitely changing for the better and I think both residents and visitors are noticing it.
The success of the city’s economy heavily relies on tourism. How did COVID affect this and what projects have attracted tourists this year?
Due to the impact of the pandemic, we were one of the hardest-hit cities in Croatia economically, precisely because we rely on tourism, and tourism has suffered the most. The 2020 season was very difficult, but already this year we had a big return of tourists in the second part of the year, from July. We focused a lot of efforts on the USA market and in the end, it paid off because we managed to establish direct flights (Dubrovnik - New York) with two American airlines, which is extremely important for Dubrovnik because we are primarily an air destination.
The American market is extremely important for us, and this new connection is a great success and would be a great success even if we were not in a pandemic. I would say that we learned that advertising on the domestic market is also a must, and we have had an active campaign and a reasonable number of domestic visits to Dubrovnik lately.
Also, in these new working conditions in the world, we turned to some new markets, such as digital nomads who have recognized Croatia as an excellent destination for remote work. Dubrovnik was the first city to launch certain initiatives in this regard, and Croatia was the second country in Europe to open the possibility of visas for digital nomads.
This year, the world media had a great interest in us, which excellently promoted Dubrovnik globally.
Dubrovnik is working on becoming a more sustainable city. Can you comment on the initiatives you have launched to accelerate this transformation?
We work on projects of sustainability a lot. Regarding tourism, the key project is “Respect the City”, which is based on sustainability as the main goal. The city policy was that it was never a problem in the number of people but the flow.
A better flow was achieved by organizing a cruise ship arrivals timetable more carefully, both daily and throughout the year. The maximum number of cruise ships was set to two ships at once and the limit of visitors coming from cruise ships was set at 4,000 – half the number suggested by UNESCO. The harmonisation of arrival times has relieved the pressure from the historic core in the summer seasons of 2018 and 2019 (pre-COVID years), compared to 2017 and earlier.
In other fields, we are also striving for sustainability, and we have launched a number of smart city projects to make Dubrovnik a sustainable city. A lot of attention is paid to green smart city solutions, such as the “Smart parking Dubrovnik” project or the service of the electric car-sharing system. Also, we started with the project “Plastic Smart Cities” to limit the use of disposable plastic, which applies to institutions and companies too.
Finally, you were recently re-elected as mayor. What do you envision for the future of Dubrovnik?
The goal is to fully fulfil the idea of a city in which citizens come first. The conservation of cultural heritage, enhancing the quality of citizens' daily lives, and ensuring the best possible experience of Dubrovnik as a destination for its visitors – all are motives for a shift in destination management in the future.
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