May 20, 2019 – An early start for TCN’s Ivana Sepak this morning, as she attended the exclusive screening of the final Game of Thrones episode in Dubrovnik. I caught up with Ivana over the weekend to learn more about being a GoT guide.
End of an Era
Is it possible? After 8 seasons and 8 years of being present on TV, Game of Thrones is becoming a part of history. The plot thickened, at the time of writing these lines, we still do not know who the conqueror of the elusive Iron Throne will be, who’ll become the ruler of the 7 kingdoms. So far Martin, Benioff and Weiss did their best in surprising us, we don’t doubt the same will be now. I am very proud Dubrovnik was a part of this story and our medieval town was in fact the capital city – King’s Landing, making us recognized around the world by having HBO airing the tv show in more than 170 countries! No advertising budget can ever top this!
1. A new season of Game of Thrones is about to finish with airing for good. Obviously as a fan you are excited. How much does Dubrovnik feature in this series?
Well, it’s a sad moment when one comes to realize GoT is over. I am curious about the spin-offs, but from what I’ve read so far, none of the surviving cast shall be rehired. Will any of the spin-offs supersede the original? I highly doubt it. Anyways, HBO is always unpredictable and until the end it was uncertain just how much of Dubrovnik would be in the show. We saw a little bit of Dubrovnik in the 1st episode, then a bit more in episode 4, a whole lot in episode 5 and we have to see in the final episode where the plot shall resolve, in King’s Landing or elsewhere. Of course, I am cheering for Dubrovnik, that the final scene includes our magnificent city, that will be the most memorable scene viewers will take away from the show. I am also waiting to see if any scenes from last year’s shooting in Dubrovnik will find their way to the last episode, but if it’s to judge by episode 5, Dubrovnik’s filming was a decoy for fans. Well done HBO, you fooled us! I’ll be watching the finale on Monday, early in the morning, probably before anyone else in Croatia, just to avoid the spoilers. Can’t wait to see how it’ll end!
2. You have been around when the GoT stars are filming. Can you explain a little what that was like?
If you recall, I sent photos from the set 4 years ago when I was lucky enough to witness up close, with my guests, filming of a random scene on a random October day in 2015. It was Thursday and it was a national holiday; I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was even able to see some of the cast from up close that time, Lena Heady and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson. What appeared as a very complex scene when I was watching it behind the scenes, live, turned out to be a section that went on for roughly a minute in the big screen.
Many questions started bothering me – why on Earth would you come to a location that could have been easily featured in any global studio, less remote to HBO than Dubrovnik? The filming started early in the morning, the weather wasn’t the brightest, you should have seen the amount of logistics and sacrifice from the production for that small act. The production didn’t bother closing the set like they did, for instance, for the Walk of Shame, which immediately told us the scene is not that big or ground-breaking.
Nevertheless, it was very exciting. Later on I realized, what if HBO decides to cut out that scene and it never survives the final cut?! I’d turn out as a big fat liar 😀 😀 😀 luckily, the scene made it to season 6, episode 1.
3. Lots has been written about ‘the Game of Thrones effect’ on tourism in Dubrovnik, when in reality, those numbers are small compared to cruise tourism to the city – can you tell us a little about how it looks from your perspective?
We have to lessen the animosity towards cruise ship guests. It’s not their fault our city’s infrastructure is obsolete. Us locals get very agitated when we see hoards of those guests get on our public transportation, not knowing that you can enter the buses only at the front entrance. Everywhere else in the world you enter at all entrances, and for 90% of those guests it’s the first time in Dubrovnik. How should those guests know the local public transportation etiquette – by osmosis? No one made it clear to them in any way and that should be the job of our local tourist board, in my opinion. There’s a lot of place for improvement in all fields for enabling our guests’ better experiences while they’re in Dubrovnik. We’re still waiting to see if the cruise ships schedules shall remain as dense as they were in previous years. One thing is certain – the popularity of the city is growing, we’ll get this year more guests than ever, my guess is we’ll have 2 million single visitors. We’ll see in December how right I was.
4. What are the most common expectations and requests from GoT tourists, and what advice do you have for them to prepare for their tour?
Those guests are usually relaxed by default and they don’t have any requests. I believe their biggest expectation is to have fun and that we most certainly deliver. Our Game of Thrones tours take guests to some locations which require walking up a lot of stairs; we go slowly, but if any of the guests had some surgery or if they’re on crutches, it’d be good to let me know beforehand. It may sound silly, but even if you hadn’t seen a single GoT episode, you’ll enjoy the tour very much because we go to the best sites in Dubrovnik, locations that have a phenomenal view, so take the plunge and let’s explore the locations together. A general GoT tour lasts for about 2 hours.
5. While GoT has undoubtedly raised the profile of this already famous city, some say that such a show cheapens the heritage of this historic city. What are your thoughts?
Show a glass that’s half full to 10 people, ask them what they see, and you’ll most likely get 10 different responses. I am certain plenty of locals are not very happy with our city getting recognized as King’s Landing, but we must use it as our advantage. We were the capital city of an imaginary kingdom in a tv show that was aired in almost every country on the planet. I have guests telling me when they were watching certain scenes they were wondering if there was a place on this planet that beautiful and imagine their shock when they learn just how real filming locations around Dubrovnik are. Us locals take the beauty of our city for granted. Even if we’re not happy with this fake history being set in our actual and proud historical town, let’s display our hospitality, great cuisine and beautiful locations to guests and let’s get them acquainted with Dubrovnik beyond the King’s Landing frame.
6. Interest in Dubrovnik obviously increases when the episodes are shown – how is that reflected in your business in terms of traffic and enquiries?
Well, last year HBO took a break in airing Game of Thrones episodes and we had a lot of guests wanting to do the GoT tour regardless. This year, of course, the demand is on the rise, which was expected. The biggest difference from, let’s say, last year to this would be the guests are more acquainted with the plot and the details.
7. Top 5 highlights of a GoT tour in Dubrovnik?
a) The best views and best locations in Dubrovnik are featured on this tour
b) Light topics – if you like present times and you’re not much of a history fan, this is the best tour for you; still, you’ll hear a little bit about Dubrovnik because the city’s history is truly remarkable, and we hope you’ll take a historical tour as well to get the full story
c) Moderate exercise – I know you spend too much time sitting behind the computer at your office, taking this tour is an ideal way to explore beautiful sites and get a little bit of a workout
d) Even if you’re not a fan, you can join the tour – not knowing about Game of Thrones is impossible if you have internet and watch TV. Without seeing a single episode, you can find a lot of relatable scenes and characters to memes and pop-culture. A big bonus is seeing phenomenal locations which wouldn’t be on a regular historical tour route. Walk of Shame, anyone?
e) If you’re a fan, this tour is a dream come true. You’ll see where Joffrey was poisoned, where Sansa and Littlefinger were plotting, Cersei’s walk of atonement and many many more. A lot of the scenes remain concealed to guests exploring King’s Landing sites on their own, which is why taking a tour is mandatory for you to cover all scenes taken in Dubrovnik. As well, at the end of the tour, we take you to the Iron Throne, for you to rule King’s Landing in a righteous manner for a day, unlike the disastrous previous kings and queens. You can sit on the throne and take photos.
8. Do you think Croatia is maximising its Game of Thrones tourism potential in the way that New Zealand did with Lord of the Rings?
I don’t know how popular GoT tours in other Croatian cities are where the series was filmed, but I can say Dubrovnik is definitely utilizing GoT potential to the maximum; still, with all our effort, we’re nowhere near New Zealand. For instance, if there wasn’t for a guest asking me about a restaurant in the old town that was recommended to him by his friend who visited Dubrovnik 2 years ago and ate a Game of Thrones menu, I would have no idea such a thing existed. I inspected, called the restaurant and the manager explained to me the menu was not popular amongst the guests at all so the owner decided this year to not offer it anymore. Was the menu not popular because nobody knew of it, because the restaurant did not advertise it, or because the food selection was not good? It’ll remain a mystery. Also, we must wait and see for how much longer shall the GoT hype go on.
9. And finally, TCN would not be talking to you if you were not the best – what makes your tours so special compared to the rest?
My tours are led by the best guides available in Dubrovnik. My team is young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and witty.
Regardless of how big the group of guests attending the tour is (and we like to keep our groups small), we always dedicate attention and time to each individual. We make sure we give excellent service from the very first contact until the guest’s departure from our city. We also care about your opinion and you can see on Trip Advisor what everyone else said of us so far. I hope you’ll join me in walking the King Landing’s streets!
You can learn more about Ivana’s tours on Dubrovnik Private Tours.
To learn more about Game of Thrones in Croatia, check the Total Croatia guide.