This week is Chinese New Year, so what better time to read about the growth of Chinese tourism in Southeastern Europe? Dragon Trail has an interesting article titled “The Southeastern Europe Chinese Tourism Boom”, by Sienna Parulis-Cook. It looks at recent trends in travel from the Middle Kingdom to this part of the world, and the states of the former Yugoslavia in particular.
"My Green Travel" -Slovenia has a Chinese website
It notes that the region has seen some of the world’s highest growth rates for Chinese tourism in recent years, with Montenegro more than doubling its tourism numbers in the first nine months of 2019, while in the first half of the year Slovenia saw 46,032 arrivals and 71,571 overnight stays by Chinese tourists, up by 22.5% and 37.6%, respectively. To put those numbers in context, the entire Chinese outbound tourism market grew by just 12% in 2019.
Two of the most viewed Chinese language videos on Slovenia on YouTube
Why such growth? One reason is the ease of visa-free entry in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the fact that both Croatia and Montenegro allow entry to anyone holding a Schengen visa, while Slovenia is already within the free movement zone. Another is the growing business connections between the region and China, most notably via the Belt & Road Initiative to link Eurasia and Africa, with Southeastern Europe being a key route to Northern Europe.
A third is the growing sophistication of Chinese travellers. While those coming to Slovenia are likely still travelling in groups, they’ve probably already been to the AAA must-see sights and cities in Europe – with Paris now receiving some one million Chinese tourists a year. Lesser known destination are thus the new frontier, and with such travellers are said to be less interested in shopping for top brands in luxury stores than in having experiences in terms of culture and outdoors. And as Ana Špik, who works for the Slovenian Tourist Board, notes, Slovenia is increasingly popular for Chinese pre- and post-wedding photography, so it’s also attracting more couples.
The whole article contains a lot more of interest, on Slovenia and the wider region, and can be read here.
STA, 20 January 2020 - National motorway operator DARS sold toll stickers (vignette) worth EUR 195 million between 1 December 2018 and 30 November 2019, up almost four percent over the year before, as revenue across all segments rose.
The period roughly covers the validity of annual toll stickers, but DARS also sells monthly and weekly toll stickers, which are mostly used by tourists and for transit.
The company generates the bulk of toll revenue for personal vehicles from annual toll stickers, of which it sold more than 883,000 in this period, up 4% year-on-year.
Volume-wise the biggest seller were monthly toll stickers for cars, of which 1.5 million were sold, an increase of 3%.
In general toll-sticker revenue account for a smaller portion of total revenue than toll for lorries.
Learn more about the toll stickers at DARS
STA, 18 January 2020 - Intercontinental Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital's sole five-star hotel, is exceeding the expectations of its owner. Opened in August 2017, it has a higher-than-planned occupancy rate and it is among the best rated hotels in the group worldwide, according to general manager Miloš Cerović.
The EUR 42 million investment was initially expected to have a payback period of 16-18 years, but after two years of operation it is now closer to 13 and Cerović believes they could reach the point even sooner. "Before coming to Ljubljana the investor did its homework," he told the STA about the Serbian group Delta Holding.
Occupancy rate went from 65% in 2018, "extraordinary for a newly opened hotel," to 75% in 2019. "We're in no way behind the competition when it comes to occupancy but our prices are almost 70% higher. This shows how large the market for five-star hotels is in Ljubljana and how much people are willing to pay for quality."
Cerović considers Intercontinental "a pioneer of luxury tourism" in the Slovenian capital which has blazed the trail by showing other investors that this business pays.
He also thinks each hotel needs to have its identity and concept and is a big advocate of hotel chains. "It's not the same if you have an unrecognised hotel or one of the world brands. A brand places Ljubljana on the world map, which attracts other investments as well as new airlines."
In the coming years Intercontinental Ljubljana wants to improve occupancy and raise prices, but in order to do that the competition must follow suit.
"We have a product that we could sell for 600 pounds in London and 500 euros in Paris, but here we cannot even set the price at 200 euros. This is also the consequence of a small and undeveloped market. I therefore urge my colleagues not to be afraid to raise prices," he said.
According to Cerović, tourists still see Ljubljana as a low-cost destination with cheap restaurants, limited entertainment options, a city dominated by three- or four-star hotels.
Ljubljana does not need to become a luxurious or boutique destination, it does however need to have clear goals. "There should not be three- or four-star hotels in the very centre of the city... There are places that are not five-star destinations, but it is clear what the hotels in the very centre are like."
He also thinks the city needs a clear vision to extend the tourism season to the whole year. Currently, the majority of guests arrive from May to October and in the off-season everyone is drawing from the same limited supply of guests, competing on price.
"Everyone thinks the only way to attract guests is with a lower price. We're not getting into that. We have quality, products and service, and this is the basis of our offer. The impact [of price competition] on the market is very detrimental."
Riding on the success of Intercontinental Ljubljana, Delta Holding is already drawing up plans to launch a four- to five-star hotel that would operate under the Holiday Inn brand. Cerović said this would be a futuristic, technological hotel that would open in 2021 or 2022.
You can now add another thing to the list of things to do in Bled, with the ski slope Straža Bled opening tomorrow, 18 January 2020. At weekends the opening hours are from 09:00 to 16:00, with night skiing an option from 17:00 to 20:00, while on weekdays there’s only night skiing, the same time as Saturday and Sunday.
You can also go to Bled, park you car, and take the ski bus to Vogel and Pokljuka, while the Julian Alps International Ski Pass gives holders access to 14 resorts in three countries and more than 260 km of ski runs at: Soriška planina, Krvavec, Kranjska Gora, Cerkno, Kanin/Sella Nevea (Slovenia), Tarvisio, Sella Nevea/Kanin, Zoncolan, Pinacavallo, Forni di Sopra, Sappada, Sauris (Italy), 3ländereck, Innerkrems and Goldeck (Austria). This pass means you can use the Bled winter shuttle transport from Bled to Krvavec, Kranjska Gora, Tarvisio (I) and 3ländereck (A) free of charge.
STA, 16 January 2020 - Slovenian NBA star Luka Dončić has become an ambassador of Slovenia's tourism. Apart from popularising basketball moves, he will now promote the country's unique attractions and investment opportunities. Slovenia also plans to put an ad in the special All-star Weekend magazine.
The 20-year-old will promote his country on social media, sharing photos, videos, links and information.
Meanwhile, the launch of the country's special All-Star mid-February issue ad will coincide with the highly-publicized event where Dončić is expected to be one of the main draws.
?Slovenian NBA star Luka Dončić (@dallasmavs) has become an ambassador of Slovenia's tourism?— Feel Slovenia (@SloveniaInfo) January 16, 2020
?He will promote the country's unique attractions and investment opportunities.
?Slovenia will also be included in the @NBAAllstar game!#ifeelsLOVEnia #TexasFeelSlovenia pic.twitter.com/tgCAS7t15a
The business promotion project between Slovenia and the Dallas Mavericks club is a result of his extraordinary NBA record and ensuing popularity.
The project aims to raise awareness about Slovenia and its national tourism brand "I feel Slovenia", showcasing the country's investment, business and tourism opportunities.
Apart from the NBA club and the Slovenian Tourism Board (STO), the partnership includes the Government Communication Office (UKOM), the SPIRIT business and tourism promotion agency, and Ljubljana Tourism.
The Mavericks have authorised the communication company Sport Media Focus to manage promotional activities, including a business event titled Texas Feels Slovenia on 12 March following the Mavericks' game with the Denver Nuggets.
Some 15 Slovenian companies will be showcased at the event, held under the slogan I Feel Slovenia Night. The partnership's price tag amounts to some EUR 100,000.
Slovenia's tourism is to be promoted at a minimum of 20 Mavericks' home games, including ten games in this season and another ten in the 2020-2021 season.
"Dončić's arrival to Dallas, Texas, has provided a rare opportunity for Slovenia to promote itself in a place where it is already a rather familiar name compared to the rest of the US," said Sport Media Focus CEO Tomaž Ambrožič.
He believes the country will capitalise on that and forge long-term ties.
STO head Maja Pak said that Slovenia would be promoted as a sustainable, green country boasting 5-star experiences in the US market, known for its big spenders.
The best source for news on air travel in the region, Ex-Yu Aviation, has more good news for those still worried about holes in the schedule due to the collapse of the (perhaps soon to be revived) Adria Airways.
First, Turkish Airlines has announced plans to increase capacity for the summer season, starting late March 2020, by using a 178-seat Airbus A321 on its morning and evening services. Moreover, for the peak season – 3 May to 23 October – the second flight of the day will be served by a 289-seat Airbus A330-300, giving a total daily capacity of 467 seats each way from Ljubljana to Istanbul.
The website also reports that Air Serbia is boosting its schedule this summer, with 17 weekly flights planned between Ljubljana and Belgrade, up from 12 in summer 2019.
A lot of journalists, bloggers and “influencers” are helicoptered into Slovenia for a short trip and then go home and to spread the good news about their travels, with liberal use of the terms charming, green, hidden gem, best kept secret and so on. But not all of them, you may be surprised to hear, appear to be any great match for the trip they’re sent on, but that’s not the case with Owen Clarke, a writer for Outside Magazine.
This is a title that, as the name indicates, focuses on the great outdoors and the activities it affords, and is the publication that helped the launch the careers of, among others, Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger. So its writers, editors and readers know what’s what when it comes to hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing and more – the kind of activities that the Slovenian landscape really is world class in with regard to the opportunities it presents to get outside and have a good time.
The focus of Owen Clarke’s trip was the newly opened Juliana Trail, which is a 270-km long circular route in 16 stages, with the highlights including Triglav National Park, Bled and Bohinj Lakes, Soča River Valley, Radovljica, Kranjska Gora and Pokljuka Plateau.
We wrote about this before, but from the comfort of an armchair, in a dressing gown, while Clarke takes the more traditional approach and gets fully dressed, leaves the building – in that order, like a pro – and actually walks the route, staying overnight in unfamiliar beds, his diet at the mercy of whatever he carries or finds on the way, be it stale bread, restaurant food or, as his story opens, what an old woman in Log pod Mangartom offered him: a meal of “meat, cheese, bread, and sweet wine until my stomach ached”.
It’s a story that’s well worth reading to get a flavour of the trail, with lots of local colour and nice observations. For example, as Janko Humar, director of the Soča Valley Tourism Board and one the people who helped develop the route, tells Clarke: “The Julian Alps are an incredibly diverse region culturally. In the north, you will find communities which appear more Austrian, in the south, a style of life which is more Italian.” But, as befits a writer for Outside, Clarke doesn’t just talk to people and eat their cheese, but also notes the opportunities for climbing, canyoning and so on, and how the Juliana Trail can be used as stepping off point to other adventures – including historical as well sporting side trips.
It really is a great advertisement for Slovenia, and the Soča Valley area in particular, with Clarke concluding, in words to cheer the heart and encourage the more sedate armchair traveller; “The Juliana Trail won’t be the most challenging hike you’ve ever done, but you won’t find an experience quite like it anywhere else.”
Finally, since the trail is best experienced in spring and autumn, now’s the time to start planning a trip, if not to all 16 stages then at least to one or two. If you need more inspiration then you can read Owen Clarke’s full story here and learn more about what you can see and do on the way, while the official trail website is here.
STA, 9 January 2020 - The new operator of Bovec airport, a grass airfield in the Julian Alps, has decided to bring skiers from around Slovenia to the town of Bovec in the north-west by plane. The town hopes this service will help it stand out in Europe.
The airport's operator Aviofun intends to partner up with other smaller airfields around Slovenia in providing the full service to visitors of the Kanin-Sella Nevea ski slopes.
From Bovec, skiers will be taken to the ski slopes on Mt Kanin, the highest ski slopes in the country, by van.
The first flight took place on 2 January, and according to the Bovec municipality, which owns the airfield, the flight from the other part of Slovenia, Libeliče in the north, took 35 minutes.
"We want to offer something new to Bovec locals and visitors to the Soča Valley, so we'll also operate the route with small planes in the summer," Aviofun director Damjan Cehner told the STA.
The company expects to receive a licence to operate commercial passenger flights shortly, he added.
Aviofun was founded in 2005 and offers charter flights, panoramic flights, skydiving, maintenance, continuing airworthiness (CAMO) and aerial photography, according to its website. It operates Pilatus PC-6, Cessna Caravan C208 and Cessna C172 planes.
Cehnar believes flights will be a huge advantage for Bovec.
"Since we believe in the project we will shortly bring in another, bigger 15-seat plane with a special area for skiing equipment," he said when the first flight was organised.
The project was also welcomed by Mayor Valter Mlekuž, who hopes it would better connect the Kanin ski slopes and the municipality with the world.
More than 3,000 skiers skied on Kanin's ski slopes between 31 December and 2 January, with many also crossing onto the Slovenian side from Italy.
Several years ago a joint ski pass was introduced with the near-by Italian ski slope of Sella Nevea.
While tourism is booming in Slovenia, to the point where over-tourism is now an issue at the most visited locations, figures from August 2019, at the heart of the high season, show that the average visitor spends just 2.5 nights in the country.
There’s thus much room for growth, and for encouraging people to go out and see more than Bled, Postojna and Ljubljana Castle. Not only see more, but do more, be it through food tourism, cycling, hiking or any of the hundreds of other activities the varied climate and topography of the country enable, along with the infrastructure that exists to support them.
One such activity is fly-fishing, a meditative sport that requires the participant to go out in nature and watch and wait, gaining a deeper understanding of their immediate environment, and – in Slovenia – an appreciation for the clean waters that run over the riverbeds and play a vital role in various ecosystems.
Eager to learn more about this sport without getting wet, we got in touch with Matej Godec, of Flyfishingodec, a boutique tourist agency specialized in organizing fishing and other excursions around Slovenia, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.
How long have you been fly-fishing?
I’ve been fly-fishing since 2005. When I started I found it offered me a new dimension on life, and a new way of seeing myself. With fly-fishing, I realized that it pays to be persistent and committed to the things you love.
Of course, back then I never imagined that this commitment would mean I’d eventually have my own travel agency that could offer guest first-class guided fly-fishing tours and an excellent fly-fishing school, one that can organize complete fly-fishing holidays and other excursions around Slovenia.
When did you start running fly-fishing tours?
At the beginning of 2019 I decided to offer my guests a full service through my own boutique fly-fishing tourist agency. Flyfishingodec Slovenia is now fly-fishing tourist agency specialized in the organization of guided fly-fishing adventures, accommodation, daily fly-fishing trips and fly-fishing courses.
What different parts of Slovenia do the tours go to, and how are they different?
My organized fly-fishing tours or daily guided trips and fly-fishing school take place on all Slovenian rivers.
In my organized tours, I want to offer my guests only the best that the country has to offer for such holidays: excellent fishing, beautiful nature, outstanding cuisine and friendly people.
With the Best of Slovenia Fly-fishing Tour package my guests have the opportunity to enjoy fly-fishing on the top 7 rivers in Slovenia. The package offers the best that a guest can wish for when deciding on a fly-fishing holiday in Slovenia.
All the best fly-fishing areas in the country are included in the package: the Soča River with its tributaries Lepena and Kal-Koritnica, the Sava Bohinjka River, the Unica, the Krka, the Idrijca River and the Savinja.
It’s the River Soča that’s the most in demand among my guests, though, and the number one destination.
The Soča fly-fishing tour package is intended for anyone who wants to spend their fishing holidays in the Soča River Valley, enjoy the crystal clear alpine beauty of the air and water, and the high-quality fly-fishing.
I’d also like to highlight the Wild & Pure Package, which is designed for anglers in better physical condition who aren’t looking for the easiest places to fish. The Wild & Pure package covers fly-fishing in deep gorges and canyons of alpine rivers, which are sometimes very difficult to access and require well-prepared anglers. But in the end, the effort is always worth it, with beautiful catches of wild marble trout and brown trout, as well as incredible views and the peace and quiet that come with such locations.
What fish can people catch?
The fish that people go for the most during the regular season is still marble trout. The second most desirable fish is grayling, and then brown trout.
A marble trout
Do you do custom tours, if people want more than fishing?
As a travel agency, we specialize in organizing fishing holidays. However, in addition to fly-fishing, guests sometimes want to experience more than just spending a day by the water. That’s why we also offer a combination of guided fly-fishing tours with sightseeing and visits to major attractions near at fishing location.
For example, guests can fly-fish in the morning on the Sava Bohinjka, and in the afternoon spend the day at Lake Bohinj or Lake Bled, where they can bathe and enjoy their free time with some sightseeing, hiking, or whatever they want. Anyone interested just needs to send me a message and let me know their wishes.
We also offer daily guided tours, which are intended for all travellers and others who want to spend at least one day of their vacation fly-fishing, experiencing nature that way. For those trips there’s free rental of fly-fishing equipment – a fly rod and boots/waders – so people don’t need to bring anything special with them.
A Danube Salmon
It’s now winter, can you fly fish at this time of year?
The winter is very special time in our regular fly-fishing off-season. The winter is reserved for the King of Fish in Slovenia – Danube Salmon aka Huchen (Latin name Hucho hucho).
In recent years it’s become very popular to go fishing for Danube Salmon with a fly-fishing rod. Of course, you need to know some of the peculiarities involved in fishing for this remarkable species, but this is something we can teach you.
Anything else you want to say?
As I said at the start, fly-fishing is one of the most beautiful things that has happened to me in my life, and someone who fishes in a river is really spending quality time in nature, at the kind of slow pace that’s hard to find today.
As such, fly-fishing is a great form of anti-stress therapy, one that’s open to anyone who wants to go outside and try something new. Also, I think that if you haven’t been to Slovenia before then you can’t postpone your visit any longer. Fly-fishing is great, we have beautiful rivers and the landscape is just amazing. And we, the people of Slovenia are very welcoming and kind. So come and visit us soon, before the rest of the world discovers us. You won’t be sorry!
You learn more about Matej’s work, and book a tour, at his website, and see more pictures on Instagram. If your planning a fishing trip and not everyone in your party is an angler, then check out some of the other ways you can enjoy the River Soča and its surroundings - the ideal location for an active vacation.
Slovenia is seeing a growing number of tourists, but where do they come from, and how long do they stay? You might be surprised at the answers.
Using SURS data for August 2019, the peak month, a total of 879,291 tourist arrivals were recorded. The top two countries, by far, were Germany and Italy. With regard to the number of overnight stays, the shortest trips to the sunny side of the Alps were made by visitors from South Korea – just 1.22 nights, on average – with the average overall being 2.48. An outlier here is Malta, with an average of 5.01 nights, and visitors from Iceland (3.94), Russia (3.80), and Israel (3.66) also seeming to adopt a more leisurely pace to enjoying the country.
The full list, from most tourist arrivals to least, can be seen below, with more data to explore on SURS. Note that the figures are based on hotel, hostel and other accomodation registrations, which may explain the relatrively low numbers from next door Croatia
|Other Asian countries||15,090||2.52|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||5,536||2.81|
|Other countries of South & Central America||3,674||1.85|
|Other European countries||3,416||2.10|
|Other African countries||1,259||3.16|
|Other countries of Oceania||47||2.15|
We’re used to seeing Slovenia appear in lists of up and coming destinations, but rarely does it make the top. True, “top” here means the first on the list and in the main image used, but since not everyone reads to the end of every listicle occupying such prime real estate on the page is important.
Along with a picture of Lake Bled there’s a short text by Jane Dunford that begins:
Slovenia’s landscape of mountains and lakes lends itself to outdoor adventure: nearly 60% of the country is covered in forests, and there are more than 40 parks and reserves. Some areas, such as Lake Bled, have seen an influx of tourists over recent years but much remains off the beaten track - and the government has a strategy for sustainable tourism growth.
Continuing in this theme, Dunford highlights the recently opened 270km Juliana Hiking Trail; and Bike Slovenia Green, with its multi-day cycling itinerary through the Julian Alps, around Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled and down to the Adriatic coast – a mini “Tour de Slovenia” where you can choose the colour of your shirt and take things at your own pace.
You can see what else she recommends, along with the other 19 destinations – all chosen because of their inspiring conservation and community projects – here.