How the force of film tourism is with Dubrovnik

As a Star Wars crew prepares to shoot a scene within the medieval walls of this ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, Pamela Whitby ponders the pros and cons of film tourism

In late 1991, the red roofs of Dubrovnik came under fire by Serbian-Montenegrin forces in a siege that lasted until June the following year. Two and a half decades later, this Unesco World Heritage site is the scene of a very different invasion- that of a Star Wars film crew.

Over the past few weeks, set decorators, prop men, sparks, riggers and more have been transforming this medieval walled city for a scene in the latest Disney production, which rumour has it involves a rooftop chase!

A view from the north of the city walls

Word on the street is that the city is also being eyed as a location for next Bond film, which will no doubt also include some rooftop action!

Top secret

If Disney thought it possible to keep all this action under wraps it was, given how easy the internet and mobile technology makes it to broadcast information, a little naïve. Already there is a dedicated Star Wars Dubrovnik blog  and crew members, apparently sworn to secrecy, have been captured hard at work, as this YouTube video highlights.

Website, which last week sent Darth Vader and Stormtroopers on mission impossible to establish which actors will soon be arriving in Dubrovnik next week, has succeeded – well unofficially at least! The website reports that the actors are “probably” Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Daisy Ridley (Rey).

Not the first time

It isn’t first time that Dubrovnik has been chosen as a location. Kings Landing, the capital city in the popular cult fantasy TV show Game of Thrones, is set here and a whole tourism industry has sprung up as a result. On dedicated Game of Thronestours, groups and individuals are promised access to guides, movie buffs, fans and extras, who willingly share firsthand knowledge about the sets, actors and "backstage intrigue". At the same time, metasearch engines like Skyscanner have hopped on the bandwagon to promote destinations featured in the series.

A location seen in Game of Thrones being captured on a selfie-stick!

Less well known - in the West at least - is the 2012 South Korean soap opera Romantic, which featured 20 and 30-somethings visiting some of Croatia’s top spots. A later Korean show, Noonas over Flowers, saw older ‘sisters’ [noonas] backpacking through Croatia, with Dubrovnik featuring strongly.

Over 300,000 Koreans visited Croatia between January and October 2015, up from just 10,000 in 2009

Since then South Korean fans, armed with selfie-sticks and the latest technology, have flocked to the country. According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, over 300,000 Koreans visited Croatia between January and October 2015, up from just 10,000 in 2009, with Dubronnik topping that list. Today you can even find a Korean restaurant in Dubrovnik’s old town.

South Koreans armed with the latest technology prepare to enter the city for a guided tour

Film tourism may not be for everybody, but it is certainly helping to drive tourists to Dubrovnik who may otherwise never have come, says Marko Bajagić, Food & Beverage Manager for two popular local restaurants. Among his most loyal visitors are Korean tourists, who even visit the city out of season; tourism here is fairly seasonal with many restaurants and hotels closing for the winter. Last Saturday, however, one of Bajagić’s restaurants, Dubrakva 1836, which sits just outside the Pile gate, hosted a lively party of about 50 middle-aged Koreans, a welcome boost to revenues in a typically slow month. 

Dubrakva 1836 recently played host to a large crowd of South Koreans

Hotels benefit too. Aside from visiting film buffs, crews also need accommodation. For the past few weeks, the Star Wars crew has been hosted by Adriatic Luxury Hotels. When not working, they also need to eat, drink and relax and after a hard day’s work that might just be in the hotel restaurant, bar or spa.  An added bonus is that friends and family, only too happy to visit a beautiful city like Dubrovnik, can help lift hotel revenues further.

A view from the city wall towards hotels Excelsior and Argentina, both members of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels group 

Tax incentives and compensation 

While some tourists may be none too happy to discover Stradun, the city’s main drag, off limits for the Star Wars shoot in the coming weeks, Dubrovnik’s mayor is reportedly delighted. His hope is that all this action will do for Dubrovnik what Lord of the Rings has done for New Zealand tourism.

But is it a problem for restaurants when the town gets closed off; surely this means lost business? No, says Bajagić. Affected businesses are adequately compensated and employees are happy to have the days off, he says.

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main drag, will close for filming

So how do countries like Croatia lure film and TV producers?

Not only does Croatia have its own strong record of international and domestic film production and a talented skills base, there are also financial incentives.  

Since 2012, the country has offered a 20% rebate to film and television companies shooting here, and production costs are among the lowest in Europe, says Croatian Audio Visual Centre (HAVC), the agency responsible for encouraging film production.

Although the application process is as rigorous as elsewhere in Europe, it’s also transparent, the agency claims, and once you are in, permission to close off a road, or even an entire city is granted quickly. Of course, certain requirements must be met including a minimum local spend per project of €300,000 and the maximum qualifying spend of €3m. And to be eligible, foreign producers are expected to work with a Croatian co-producer and to take a cultural test.

Perhaps, not such a big ask for the opportunity to work in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Images: Pamela Whitby

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