Tomislav spent most of his life in Dubrovnik, where he grew up and lives today, working as a tour guide while working towards and M.A. Read his interview below to see what he has to say on his job, his experience, and his home town.
Where are you from, where did you grow up, where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Dubrovnik, about 10 minutes away from the ancient ramparts of the Old Town. Aside from Dubrovnik, I lived in Dublin for one year during a job placement program before earning my B.A. in Economics and I spent great deal of time in the United Kingdom while working for a renowned British tour operator – Bond Tours. Besides that, I also lived in Italy for a while, as I became romantically involved with an Italian girl I met in Ireland (long story), whom I eventually got married to few years ago.
Nevertheless, although I have spent most of my life in Dubrovnik, this town has never ceased to amaze me and this exhilaration with my hometown is usually most evident upon returning from a distant, longer-term voyage. I am also proud to say that one of the deciding factors that made my Italian wife change her address from Italy to Croatia was the contagious appeal of Dubrovnik, which has now become her town as well.
When and why did you become a tour guide?
It actually happened by chance, just like most of the best things in life! I have been working in tourism for a great deal of my professional career, first in the hotel industry and after that in the agency business, where I occasionally needed to hire tour guides for diverse holiday packages that our agency prepared.
Thanks to the materials that I used to prepare our tour packages, I became well acquainted with the historical and cultural particularities of the ancient Dubrovnik Republic, while my participation in the activities provided unique access to the local traditions in and around Dubrovnik. Also, I managed to learn a lot from the experienced local guides, whose narrations I listened to closely during the inspection of the mentioned tours.
Sometimes I had to struggle very hard to find a suitable guide for a specific tour and since sourcing a quality guide during the high season posed a serious challenge, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and apply for a course to gain certification as a tour guide. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
Do you do anything else?
After I stopped working for the British tour operator I mentioned, I spent a year on the nearby island of Lopud, where I ran a local travel agency. However, since I have also started working towards my M.A. in diplomacy and international relations at Dubrovnik International University (DIU), I decided to leave this post and dedicate myself to my studies.
In order to support myself while back in school, I decided to open up my own business as a tour guide and I haven’t regretted a minute of it.
Apart from studying at the DIU (which is located in the six-century-old premises of the Dominican Monastery in the historical center of Dubrovnik), I was also given the chance to share my knowledge about my hometown with the international students there as a teaching assistant for the History of Dubrovnik class in the spring semester of 2011/2012.
Do you travel outside Croatia? Where do you go? Where will your next trip be to?
As my wife is Italian, we often go to Rimini to visit her relatives; however we always use this opportunity to travel around Italy and discover other new and interesting locations which we haven’t yet seen. So far we just haven’t been to Sardinia or Campania, which both rank high on our “to do” list.
I am also quite familiar with the surrounding region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia…) where I travel more or less regularly because of work and sometimes leisure. Although there are some European countries that I haven’t still visited, in last few years I started making plans to visit more distant locations.
In 2009 I have spent three great weeks in South America, traveling through Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and this year, after the season finishes and I get my degree, I’m planning on going to Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Besides the basic essentials, what is something you simply could not live without on the road?
Lately I’ve realized that I rely greatly on my laptop and Internet access during my travels. Apart from that, I’ve always found good company to be the most essential ingredient of a great trip. However, even if I’m traveling with friends, I always try to hook up with “friends of friends” or acquaintances who live in the place that I’m planning to visit as I believe that local knowledge provides the best and most precise insight into the everyday life of the destination.
What makes a good tour group and what makes a bad one? What does it depend on?
I would say that a carefully planned itinerary and timely dosed information about the destination, prior to its arrival, is something that distinguishes the quality of the group. If these ingredients exist, the guide has a much easier task of conveying the history, traditions and the feel of the destination to the group.
In that way, the guide can delicately fill in the gaps and provide a much more intimate experience of the destination. Also, the homogeneity of the group can be a quite important factor as sometimes the travel agencies tend to combine together diverse people who belong to different cultures, nationalities and language groups in order to make more money. This can create many difficulties for the guide as he or she needs to adjust his or her approach to those members of the group with a minimal level of perception of the destination and language comprehension.
What subject are you expert at?
I have always found the history of Dubrovnik to be fascinating; after all, the diplomatic dealings of the ancient Dubrovnik Republic have made me develop a special affinity for diplomacy in general, and were the main reason I was steered towards diplomacy and international relations studies.
Although I try to pursue this historicist approach in my tours, I tend to combine it with intriguing sparks and amusing episodes of everyday life in this Mediterranean town as I learned that local legends and anecdotes make for the most interesting source of information.
What do you enjoy most about leading tours?
I would say that I find the positive reactions that I manage to get from the tourists to be most rewarding. The timely combination of an ideal setting (which, let’s face it, can’t get better than Dubrovnik), the guide’s flexibility and just the right amount of information usually does the trick. Sure, not all clients are the same and some of them can be quite demanding, but since I’ve been in this line of business for some time, I’ve managed to learn a lot about the tourist’s psychology. The key to a satisfactory tour is to work closely with the tourist and follow his or her pace. The best way to feel the destination is to simply have fun while exploring and my tours are therefore conducted in an informal, friendly and laid back manner.
Any nightmares from the field?
The previously acquired misinformation that the clients somehow received or picked up about the destination can be quite awkward. The guide needs to tread softly in order to break prejudices and has to avoid delicate situations that may make the client feel uncomfortable.
Also, sometimes the unorthodox behavior of clients can put the guide in a difficult position. I remember one time that I had to pay special attention with a group of drunken college students that insisted on going to the Dubrovnik City Walls… This was a tour that I will never forget, but it luckily ended with no serious consequences.
Are some groups more satisfying to work with? Which types of groups are most refreshing to work with or most interesting?
All groups are different and I don’t really have any special preferences. I do admit that working with some more demanding groups may be challenging, however I also find it equally satisfying to realize that their expectations have been adequately met by the end of the tour.
What about your home town are you most proud of?
Although the well preserved historical monuments which evoke the glorious past of the ancient Dubrovnik Republic are the first thing that come to one’s mind while thinking of Dubrovnik, its main and most important landmark are its citizens. Indeed, the Town (with a capital T) would have never gone far without its resourceful people – the people are what make this Town what it is: a true living and thriving monument.
Describe a perfect day in your favorite coastal or inland town.
For me a perfect day would have to be a cruise around the picturesque Elaphiti archipelago that would start with a departure from the Old Town port of Dubrovnik early in the morning and finish with a glass of Plavac Mali wine in Ston while the setting sun dyes the mighty Ston walls in a reddish hue.
A perfect vacation in Croatia ends with…
… a firm decision to return again!