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‘Game of Thrones’ lives on in Medieval Croatian city

HBO's blockbuster series, "Game of Thrones," broke records for Emmy nominations and wins before it ended this year. But in the small Croatian city of Dubrovnik, the series lives on. It was the backdrop for much of the fantasy thriller, helping its tourism numbers to explode. But some say the swashbuckling series has been a double-edged sword. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The HBO television series "Game of Thrones" set a record this year with 32 Emmy nominations* for its final season. They won in 12 of those categories.

    The success of the show is having an unintended consequence on the city where's it was filmed. Tourists are making the medieval walled city one of Europe's hot travel destinations. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay has the story.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Dubrovnik, Croatia. Even if you've never been to this gem of the Adriatic, chances are you've seen this cityscape straight out of a fantasy. Or recognize that music?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    With its sea, ancient history, and these Medieval walls, Dubrovnik was already a magnet for tourism. But then, virtually overnight, things went into hyperdrive. That's the day the dragons came.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    This is King's Landing, from Game of Thrones. For seven of the series eight seasons, Dubrovnik was the backdrop of this most important of settings in one of the most popular and praised TV series of all time. And it's brought this modest Balkan city a jolt of notoriety.

  • Tourist:

    I remember when I first watched it, it was just "Oh my God!"

  • Tourist:

    First we heard about the Game of Thrones and the show was shot here. And we were excited about that.

  • Tourists:

    Croatia, this is was like one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Literally the Game of Thrones tour.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    That's right. Now there are Game of Thrones tours. Our guide Ivan Vukovic says they're the most popular tours in a town visited by two million tourists a year, roughly double what it got before the HBO series took flight.

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    Now you're going to see the place where John Snow left King's Landing, and sent off, set off to the north.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    And what Game of Thrones tour would be complete without taking the Walk of Shame, the one that humiliated Queen Cersei before all of King's Landing?

  • Tourists:

    Shame! Shame!

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Today, tourists can re-enact the scene. And local vendors are cashing in…with shame food, shame drinks…

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Shame cocktails?

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    Shame cocktails, shame mojitos, shame burger.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    But for some here, what's a "shame" is something else entirely.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    I'm on a Game of Thrones tour in the heart of the Old Town of Dubrovnik. Now the people on the tour, they're having a blast. As far as the locals…not so convinced.

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    Somehow it got to be overtourism.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Overtourism?

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    Overtourism.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So that means there's too many?

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    There is too many. Sometimes there is way too many, because we live in a Medieval city which is surrounded by the walls. So you can't pack 20,000 people to be in a city which was designed for 7,000 people. So I call it in my way a blessing and a curse.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Waiter Lujo Jurecic is also of two minds.

  • Lujo Jurecic:

    It is a good thing, we earn our living from it. So it is a good thing.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    But the tourist economy means he can't afford to live in the neighborhood he grew up in, one that is getting harder to even recognize.

  • Lujo Jurecic:

    I think Dubrovnik has lost its interest as in a town, as its history, by it's become more like Game of Thrones, King's Landing. It's a step forward to bring more people here, but I think Dubrovnik is losing its authenticity.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Bar owner Stjepan Peric takes a more dire view.

  • Stjepan Peric:

    I think everyone who lives here will eventually move away. The city will be like a museum, and people will pay a ticket to get in. They won't see a living city.

  • Mato Frankovic:

    This town needs to live, and needs to continue for the future. No one wants to come in dead town.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Mato Frankovic is the mayor of Dubrovnik. He points out that the city as a whole has only 42,000 residents, roughly the same number it had back in the early 90s. That's the bloody period that saw the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the shocking bombardment of Dubrovnik during the Croatian-Serbian war. The scars are still visible today. But eventually, visitors couldn't resist. And when the rebound came, spurred by Game of Thrones, there were unintended consequences, particularly in the walled "old town." It had close to 3,000 residents a decade ago. Today, with homes being converted into vacation rentals, there's barely 1,000 full-timers living here – compare that to the 10,000 tourists who might come in a single day.

  • Mato Frankovic:

    We have a lot of visitors coming just because of Game of Thrones. Is that good? It's good! Because they're going to see something new and something unique. But this is again, we are coming in the beginning, and this is at the management of tourism.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    The city is managing tourism, he says, by limiting the number of cruise ships and tour buses. The city has also cut the number of souvenir stands by 80%, and banned loud music after 11:30 at night – measures it took after UNESCO, the cultural body of the United Nations, warned the city risked losing its special world heritage status in 2017.

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    They tried to kill King Joffrey in the riot scene, not this guy, the blond guy.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Of course, tour guide Ivan Vukovic says Dubrovnik can't afford to bite the tourist hand that feeds it either. Not after so many years of struggle. And not now that Game of Thrones aired its final season earlier this year, something he hopes won't hurt his business.

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    You talk about Dubrovnik as an amazing destination, and now everybody wants to see it. So ten years ago I was begging people, like can you visit us!

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So is Dubrovnik a victim of its own success?

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    Somehow like that, it's a victim of its own success. That's a problem. Don't gets too popular, if possible.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Oh is that your advice?

  • Ivan Vukovic:

    It's my advice, like you try to be sustainable, but it's very, very hard. Because you will not tell the people 'Don't visit us.'

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