How Dubrovnik is Becoming an Extension of Luxury Tourism in Montenegro

By 7 April 2019

April 7, 2019 - As more luxury developments are announced and being built in Montenegro, the relationship with neighbouring Dubrovnik is changing.

2019 has been a very stimulating year for me so far, with lots of fantastic new contacts made and some really fascinating conferences attended in the region. And the more I meet people, the more I listen to conference experts, and the more I move around, the clearer some of the patterns and trends become.  

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One of the most interesting conferences attended so far was Digital Takeover in Zagreb, whose international speakers provided attendees with a wealth of information and new concepts in the fast-changing digital world. 

One of the most arresting slides was the one above, a snapshot of some of the biggest global brands and influences in our daily lives that simply did not exist back in 2000. How different life was then just 19 years ago! The slide has stayed with me ever since, as I look around the region at how things have changed, and at things that simply did not exist in 2000.  

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Things like luxury tourism in Montenegro. With the very notable exception of Sveti Stefan and gorgeous Kotor and its UNESCO bay, Montenegro has always been regarded as the poorer cousin of the magnificent Croatian coast, 1000-plus islands, and spectacular walled town such as the Pearl of the Adriatic itself. A town like Tivat, for example, was a mere village with few attractions for tourists back then, and while it was common for tourists in Tivat to visit Dubrovnik, the very notion of Dubrovnik tourists making the journey in the opposite direction was laughable. 

No longer. 

The arrival of Porto Montenegro just over a decade ago started a process which is slowly redefining the map of quality tourism in the region. As Dubrovnik grapples with mass tourism and packing in the cruise ships which generate great tourist arrival numbers but an ever-decreasing quality of tourism experience, over the border in Montenegro (just 21 km from Dubrovnik Airport), an altogether different story is emerging. And if you take a closer look, as TCN did this week, the story is mightily impressive.

Porto Montenegro was the first luxury destination for superyachts in the region. Built at a cost of 200 million euro as the brainchild of Canadian entrepreneur, the late Peter Monk, Porto Montenegro quickly became the go-to destination for the rich and famous in the yachting world. Conversations were starting in the international media that Montenegro was the next big thing in luxury travel. 

Many people laughed. Montenegro? With its terrible roads, reputation as a Russian playground, and overbuilding? It is certainly true that the infrastructure needs a LOT of work, that there has been chronic overbuilding in places, much less so that it is a Russian playground these days. What is true is that a strategy of developing Montenegro as a luxury one is working. And far from being Russian investments, they are coming from all over the world - Canada, Qatar, Egypt and Azerbaijan, to name but four. 

But how can Montenegro develop its luxury tourism with such poor infrastructure and with the overbuilding on its coast? It was something I decided to look into this week during my visit to the country, and I spent time with the stakeholders of Porto Montenegro, Lustica Bay, The Chedi, the management team of Mamula, and senior management from Portonovi. And a combination of those projects was eye-opening indeed. 

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It was during my visit to Portonovi (of which more below) that it finally hit me how the Dubrovnik connection was not only going to provide Montenegro with an abundance of luxury guests in search of things they sadly cannot find in Croatia, but also that Croatia's jewel will serve as a wonderful addition to Montenegro's luxury offer. 

Walking around the impressive 900 million euro development, which is set to open its first Phase in July, I asked how guests would come from Croatia. The road from the border is not the most pleasant arrival experience, and there are often delays at the border (read the Total Croatia guide to crossing the border from Croatia to Montenegro). 

"We will have several options apart from land transfers," came the reply. "People wanting to visit us from the old town of Dubrovnik will be able to do so by speedboat. We have a full customs house and passport control at the resort (see photo above, taken on a cloudy day this week). With our helipad over there, a helicopter transfer direct from the airport will take just minutes. And there will also be an option for a transfer to the border village of Molunat from the airport, and onward speedboat from there."

No need to worry about the transfer issues or poor infrastructure on the roads for high-spending guests. Now Dubrovnik and its airport with its millions of tourists and arrivals is the perfect catchment area for Montenegro. 

The irony, of course, is that all this luxury tourism could - and should - be happening in Croatia, including Porto Montenegro itself. That project was supposed to happen in Croatia, but a certain politician allegedly required too much money to make it happen in Croatia. 

And so Croatia's loss sadly looks set to be very much Montenegro's gain. For there is plenty more happening just a short boat ride away from the Pearl of the Adriatic and its accessible airport. 


The biggest investment in Montenegro is Lustica Bay, a 1.1 billion euro project from Egyptian company, Orascom. A greenfield site of no less than 7 million m2 is being transformed into one of the luxury destinations in Europe. 7 luxury hotels, 2 marinas, one village of 2,500 inhabitants, and a Gary Player 18-hole golf course are but some of the highlights. 

Also accessible by boat from Dubrovnik, and also with its own customs house, Lustica Bay is one more massive piece in Montenegro's crown. It was recently voted the Best European Property Development at the Luxury Network International Awards in Dubai. The opening of its flagship 5-star hotel, The Chedi Lustica Bay, last July has taken Montenegro's luxury tourism story one step further. Check out the opening party in the video above.

A key component of the strategy of all these major investments in Montenegro is the concept of building a community and injecting life into the developments, rather than just selling an apartment which is used two weeks a year. I am not aware of any such projects which have successfully managed to do this in Croatia, but Porto Montenegro, for example, has become an accepted extension of life in Tivat. 

Lustica Bay will take that concept to the next level. Construction in Centrale has begun, a village of 2,500 inhabitants which will have many of the facilities one would expect to find for everyday life, including a school. And far from this being a Russian playground, Lustica Bay has so far sold to over 30 nationalities, with growing purchases from local Montenegrin buyers. 

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We will be doing a big feature on golf in Croatia and Montenegro shortly, but as the Croatian government faces an imminent $500 million arbitration loss over the failed Srdj golf project above Dubrovnik, construction of the 18-hole Gary Player championship course on Lustica continues apace. One more luxury addition that Dubrovnik's guests and airport passengers will be able to enjoy in the 'poorer cousin' over the border.  

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Accessibility to Lustica Bay and the other resorts is also possible from nearby Tivat, which is just a 10-minute drive away. With more than 1.2 million passengers in 2018, airlines such as Lufthansa have begun servicing Tivat, and airlines are waking up the possibilities of this year-round luxury destination. 

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And while the exclusive Aman resort of Sveti Stefan the other side of Budva may be the current poster child for heritage top-end tourism on the Montenegrin coast, there is a new kid on the block, as Mamula Fortress looks set to open as a 5-star resort in 2021. 

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An even shorter distance from Dubrovnik and its airport. 


Although I know Porto Montenegro and Lustica Bay quite well, I had never been to Portonovi, and was very grateful to Chief Sales Officer Sherri Motazed for giving us an extended tour of the project, which will open this summer with its first phase, with the addition of the first One&Only resort in Europe in 2020. 

You can get an idea of how it will look when finished from the animated video above.

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And Dubrovnik and its airport really are quite handy... 

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(Photo credit Marko Stefanek) 

The slogan of the Montenegro Tourist Board is 'Wild Beauty' - the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Bay of Kotor is just one outstanding attraction for those looking to explore. 

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(Photo by Romulic & Stojcic)

As is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik, just across the border. 

Dubrovnik will always be the number one attraction in the region (learn more in our Total Croatia 'Dubrovnik in a Page' guide), it is simply too fabulous to be anything but number one. But as the famous city grapples with over-tourism and lack of luxury quality offer, the neighbours are watching and set to take advantage. 

Aman, The Chedi, One&Only are some of the names which are already in luxury tourism in Montenegro, but not in Croatia. Word on the street in Montenegro from industry insiders this week will soon see Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and Raffles added to that list, as well as others.

The Kings of Accidental Tourism in Croatia are busy trumpeting increasing tourism numbers from lower-spending guests. The cramming of tourists into its destinations is reducing the quality of the experience, while the battle for the luxury tourism market is all but lost. Business Insider recognised the strides Montenegro is making, listing it (along with places like Rwanda - learn about their incredible progress 25 years after a genocide before you judge) in the top 15 destinations for billionaires to visit in 2019.

Will any of the decision-makers in Croatia notice, or even care, let alone do something about it? For more information on just how far behind Croatia is in the luxury foreign investment scene in comparison to its 'poorer cousin', read more in Lessons from Montenegro: Penthouse Haludovo in 1971, Croatia's Biggest Foreign Adriatic Investment

Me, I am off to buy a speedboat to start my transfer business from Dubrovnik to Montenegro.