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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on February 24, 2010

Growing places

Oliver Clark catches up with Dubrovnik Airport’s new general manager, Roko Tolic, to discuss his
vision for the gateway.

To fill the shoes of an airport boss of 16 years standing is tough – to manage the biggest reconstruction project in your airport’s history a real challenge – but to perform both and at the age of just 34 seems a daunting task.

Yet that’s the challenge that Roko Tolic, the new general manager of Dubrovnik Airport faces, and it’s one that he feels well prepared to take on, not as a maverick, he is keen to point out, but as the head of a highly experienced team.

“I might be running an airport at the age of 34 but I am no miracle worker. It’s a great job, which carries with it many challenges and responsibilities, but I am very fortunate that from the very beginning of my career here I have had the support of a great team,” he enthuses.

Tolic, who headed security and general services at Dubrovnik from 2001 to 2009, took over from his predecessor Tonci Peović in September, and will oversee the final stages of an ambitious expansion plan to double or potentially triple capacity by 2011.

Carried out in five stages between 2005–2011, the project includes the construction of two brand new facilities – the 10,000sqm Terminal A and 13,500sqm Terminal B – and the reconstruction of Terminal C.

Designed by renowned Croatian architect, Ante Kuzmanić, the new facilities come with a €22 million price tag and between them will boast 35 check-in desks, the latest security technology and a Vanderlande baggage handling system with three carousels each capable of handling 1,200 bags per hour.

“After the reconstruction is completed, we will be able to provide high quality service to over two million passengers per annum, but as sustainable development is the hallmark of all our projects and plans we would be capable of processing three million passengers if market conditions allow,” says Tolic.

Terminal B is divided into five floors with international arrivals and domestic departures handled at ground floor and four baggage conveyor belts. International departures will operate from the first and second floors where passengers will choose from five gates and two boarding bridges.

The work has been driven by steady traffic growth at Dubrovnik as the airport benefits from growing European charter and holiday flights.

Indeed, a healthy 1.2 million passengers used the airport last year and throughput is expected to rise again in 2010, although it may still be a few years before Dubrovnik matches the record 1.6 million passengers it handled in 1987.

The expansion programme has also provided the gateway with the opportunity to take its small, outdated concessions offering to another level through the creation of bigger and better retail and F&B spaces.

In fact more than 1,500sqm of space has been earmarked for new restaurants and cafés in partnership with the Newrest Group and duty free stores in partnership with Gebr Heinemann.

This is expected to be a driver of new revenue in coming years and, according to preliminary data, non-aeronautical revenue streams now account for 28% of the airport’s income.

“Because Croatia is still not a member of the EU, duty free provides a high proportion of non-aeronautical revenue for us, once the new shopping area in Terminal B is up and running, we expect to have even better results,” enthuses Tolic.

One positive trend is the increasing sales of traditional Croatian wines and souvenirs, which will no doubt be boosted by the planned opening of the airport’s Skycellar (See box story).

While tourists provide the bulk of traffic, Dubrovnik is also experiencing an increase in business and premium traffic, which led planners to add a third floor to the terminal that includes a brand new 500sqm business lounge and gallery.

Currently earmarked for use by nine airlines, the lounge will cater to long-haul passengers, government dignitaries and the odd holidaying movie star, as the recent visits by Brad Pitt, Beyoncé and Jay-Z to the city testify.

The picturesque Adriatic coastline and medieval city of Dubrovnik are the main draw for visitors to the airport and, although Croatian Airlines and British Airways operate year-round services, other carriers operate seasonal services to the city to meet tourist demand. They include Iberia, Czech Airlines, and Aer Lingus.

However, it is the rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) in Europe that has had the most dramatic effect on Dubrovnik Airport, with airlines such as easyJet, Norwegian Air Shuttle, TUIfly and Vueling now providing 24% of total traffic.

“The structure of our traffic has changed considerably in recent years with the arrival of low-cost carriers that are taking market share from charter airlines,” comments Tolic.

Nevertheless, there are currently no plans to provide dedicated LLC facilities at the airport he says. If it happens at all it will be after reconstruction of Terminal C.

“We think this trend will continue in the future but we are aware we must maintain a symbiosis between network carriers, low-cost carriers and charters; we are not planning to provide a separate part of the terminal in the near future,” adds the airport boss.

Tolic makes it clear that when it comes to long-term plans Dubrovnik is not seeking to become a regional hub, he’s leaving that to neighbours like Zagreb, Budapest or Belgrade. Instead, the airport is concentrating on its strengths as a tourist gateway to what is described as the Pearl of the Adriatic.

Yet Dubrovnik’s growing importance in the region and within Europe as a whole is well illustrated through its hosting of the 3rd ACI Europe Small and Medium size Airport action Group (SMAG) conference and exhibition.

The annual event, which provides small and medium size airports with a unique platform for ideas and a voice within the wider aviation community, will provide the gateway with the opportunity to showcase its ambitious development plans to the world.

Hidden charms
Few airports can boast a natural wonder among their facilities, especially not one buried deep under its foundations, but Dubrovnik does and it’s turned it into a unique tourism attraction.

Running some 156 metres below the airport and at times no more than 25 metres below the runway surface, Djurovica Spilja, or Đurović’s Cave had been sealed since the 1960s during part of the construction of the airport, but has since been reopened as a public visitor centre.

Boasting a wealth of historical finds, from archaeological remnants (bones and ceramics) dating from as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages to signs of habitation right into modern times – the caves are an important site in understanding Croatia’s history.

The prehistoric site also provides abundant rock formations, including impressive formations of stalactites and stalagmites of scientific interest.

Under the guidance of Tonci Peović, the caves were developed into a visitor attraction to illustrate its scientific and archeological finds and officially opened to the public in August 2008.


Now a new phase in the cave’s long history is envisaged – a wine cellar. With a constant air temperature of 16°C, the cave offers a respite from the heat during the summer months and will provide an ideal cellar for local Konavle wines, hence its new nickname, ‘Skycellar’.

Airport World 2010 - Issue 1

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