Dubrovnik restaurants are largely outdoor seating, so the moratorium is an effective ban on new premises
CNN  — 

It has so far fought overtourism by limiting the number of cruise ships that dock in its ports, banning four in five souvenir stalls, and cutting the number of tables and chairs outside restaurants by 20%.

And now the Croatian port of Dubrovnik has suggested an even more stringent measure: an effective ban of all new restaurants.

The city has seen an substantial growth in visitor numbers in recent years, partly driven by its starring role in the popular “Game of Thrones” TV series.

Dubrovnik’s council will vote in December on the restaurant proposal, which would see a moratorium on any new outdoor chairs and tables in the Old Town for the next five years.

That doesn’t seem like much to most of us – but since most restaurants in Dubrovnik’s Old Town are built into the city walls, indoor seating is extremely limited.

Effectively, the move translates as a ban on new restaurants.

“Anyone wanting to open a restaurant in the Old Town cannot put down new tables and chairs for the next five years,” Mayor of Dubrovnik Mato Franković, who is proposing the move, told CNN of his plans.

“They can open inside, but knowing the Old City it’s very hard to find a place where you can work inside. Ninety nine percent of restaurants work mainly with outside tables.”

The city council owns all the public space in Dubrovnik, and can therefore decide whether or not a restaurant can be allocated space outside for tables.

If a restaurant closes, Franković said, it would be considered as fully closed – meaning other businesses would not be able to take over the space.

When asked if that would effectively mean a five-year ban on new restaurants, he said: “Correct.”

Graham Carter, founder and director of Unforgettable Croatia, told CNN Travel that “the majority” of Dubrovnik’s restaurants use outdoor seating, due to limited space indoors. He added, “Limiting new restaurants from opening is a smart move.

“Space is already at a huge premium in Dubrovnik, particularly in the peak season months. The increased space needed by restaurants means less area for pedestrians to walk through and overcrowded streets.”


The fight against overtourism

Franković has cast himself as a fighter against the negative effects of mass tourism. Last year, he announced that no more than two cruise ships per day would be allowed to dock in the city – something that the port has stuck to for 70% of the time in 2019.

He has also closed down 80% of souvenir stands in the town, and cut back on 20% of outdoor seating – with another 10% to be cut from January 1 2020, as voted on by the city council Monday night.

It is thought to be the first restaurant-related salvo in the fight against overtourism. Venice voted to ban new fast food outlets in 2017, but many Venetians claim that new take-out joints continue to open. The mayor of Venice was not available for comment.

The moratorium forms part of the “5x5x5” model that Franković introduced in October. Previously, contracts on business premises were renewed annually on 31 December.

But the new model will give five-year leases, in order to give owners “more business security” and the city a “strategic role in managing public space,” a spokesperson told CNN.

Dubrovnik locals seemed tentatively hopeful at the news.

“I think it is good to limit the number of restaurants as order is good,” Alan Mandić, the owner of boutique travel agency Secret Dalmatia – who refuses to work with tourists who take any kind of cruise in Croatia – told CNN, “Restaurants have both indoor and outdoor seating but of course it is far more attractive to sit outside.”

But he added: “It should not be just restaurants that should be in order.”

Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, which campaigns for sustainable tourism, told CNN: “A limit on the number of new restaurants may stop the overcrowding problem from worsening in the Old Town, which residents describe like living in the middle of Disneyland.

This is a welcome move as listening to and working with the residents is an essential step in having a successful tourism policy.”