For a small country, Slovenia has no problem attracting tourists to this compact corner of Central Europe. But it’s also finding ways to keep things sustainable, using everything from blockchain to green schemes
by Mary Novakovich, Click. Travel Writer
Home to the Julian Alps, one of Europe’s most magical lakes, an appealing capital city and even a slice of the Mediterranean coast, Slovenia hasn’t found it difficult to develop its tourism industry since it became independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Visitor numbers have been increasing every year, with a record 4.7 million tourist arrivals in 2017 – up from 11% the previous year.
But one thing this country of only 2 million people realised early on was the importance of sustainable development and tourism as a force for good. In 2009, it launched the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, in which destinations and service providers can label themselves Slovenia Green if they meet certain sustainability criteria.
“We are working towards innovatively intertwining the sustainable approach to tourism development,” says Maja Pak, Director of the Slovenian Tourist Board. “The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, which encourages sustainable, environmentally friendly tourism, has been perceived well on the global level. Slovenia now needs to build on the image of authentic experiences. This is why we are encouraging destinations and tourist facilities to create green five-star experiences, which will be graded based on their local character, authenticity and inclusion of local green specifics.”
Lake Bled, with its fairytale castle in the centre of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, is one of the country’s most visited sites. Yet to take the pressure off this and other heavily popular attractions, the Slovenian Tourist Board has been actively promoting sites, holidays and cultural heritage in other parts of the country.
One initiative has been to promote api-tourism – not surprising in this nation of 10,000 beekeepers. Not only does it raise awareness of the ecological importance of bees, but it also introduces visitors to food producers and winemakers along these “api-routes”. They can discover landscapes and experiences, such as visits to thermal baths, that might otherwise be overlooked.
Reducing the environmental impact of tourism on this landscape – two-thirds of which is covered by forests – is another priority. Cycling and hiking along 10,000km of marked trails are actively encouraged, and a new train link from Trieste to Ljubljana gives an environmentally friendly alternative to driving. Ljubljana itself, designated the European Green Capital in 2016, has a pedestrianised centre, but a free electric taxi buggy is offered for people transporting luggage to hotels.
The country is also stretching the boundaries of what technology can bring to travel and tourism. Blockchain is turning into a vital component of Slovenia’s tourism strategy. Mladen Ljubisic, who until recently was the UK and Ireland Director of the Slovenian Tourist Board, agrees: “I believe that blockchain technology can be used as a driver for good. It provides the infrastructure and an ecosystem to develop and implement more sustainable business models and practices. A perfect example of that is the European Blockchain Hub, whose sole purpose is to use blockchain technology to address the SDG (sustainable development goals) set by the UN by educating, promoting and showcasing great companies and startups that are doing just that.”
Blockchain technology can be used as a driver for good
It’s also used in a new review app, Futourist, which offers its users blockchain rewards. Futourists’s Co-Founder, Ziga Luksa, explains: “We are working on a pilot with the Slovenian Tourist Board which will reward people who leave their feedback, as well as direct tourists to less well-known sights in Slovenia. It’s the first complete travel review ecosystem that brings together content creators (people who share their reviews) and businesses in a mutually beneficial way.”
Users are rewarded for sharing their real-time reviews, which are also translated into readable business intelligence for business owners. Luksa adds: “With our Futourist Business dashboard tool, business owners can monitor their customers’ behaviour. They can communicate with them and create special offers.”
Virtual and augmented realities are also being used in travel. Ljubisic, whose new role is as the Chief Operating Officer of Slovenian-based company 505VR, is focusing on VR/MR/AR solutions in tourism as well as other fields. “Destinations, accommodation providers and activity providers can use the content to engage with their customers and provide a more immersive experience that creates higher emotional response,” he says.
Tiny in size, Slovenia is prepared to think big to maintain its attractiveness to visitors and locals alike.
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Hero image: credit to Peter Bucks, Unsplash
Mary Novakovich is a freelance travel journalist and has worked in the industry for more than 25 yearsMore by Mary Novakovich
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