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With joint efforts and a clear goal – let's realise Slovenia's sporting potential!

When sports came under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Economy, Tourism and Sport, the basis was created to seek increased synergies between these three fields. The newly appointed Minister of the Economy, Tourism and Sports, Matjaž Han, and his partners presented plans in the field of tourism and sports for the current year and highlighted the key measures.
Four persons (Matjaž Han, Maja Pak, Rok Capl, Petra Bezjak Cirman)

A joint press conference held on the topic of tourism and sports | Author Katja Kodba, STA

"The decision to connect sport with the economy and tourism for the first time in the history of our country is a turning point – I see it as a challenge, but at the same time also as an excellent opportunity for the further development and consolidation of Slovenia as one of the most successful countries," said Minister Han by way of introduction. According to the Minister, the high-quality sports programme and sports-related products are major motives for tourists visiting the country. Maja Pak, Director of the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB), added that the great potential of sports tourism was recognised by the STB years ago, so they launched a series of promotional activities: "Today, we successfully cooperate with sports ambassadors and other athletes, we promote tourism and the I Feel Slovenia brand at the most high-profile sports events, and by encouraging active holidays we inspire sports fans and lovers of an active lifestyle and invite them to Slovenia."

Results of the year 2022

The results of Slovenian tourism last year almost matched the record-breaking pre-pandemic year of 2019, and the Minister particularly highlighted the fact that "we have also recovered in terms of the arrivals of foreign guests, even more so than Europe and the world, but in this respect we have not yet reached the pre-pandemic level." Slovenia is being increasingly appreciated as an interesting tourist destination and is recommended as such by world-renowned tourist guides, which is an excellent springboard for the implementation of the Slovenian Tourism Strategy 2022-2028. The STB Director, Maja Pak, agreed with this view, adding that "in 2022, Slovenian tourism successfully recovered to the pre-pandemic level in terms of the number of tourist arrivals and overnight stays and the volume of inflows from travel exports. Despite the fact that there is no shortage of challenges in tourism, the expectations for 2023 are also positive, as we count on further moderate growth in tourist traffic."

Looking back, Minister Han pointed out tenders worth EUR 148 million, with which the Ministry aims to improve the quality of tourist facilities and services by transforming mountain resorts into year-round tourist destinations, and to increase the quality and sustainability of accommodation capacities and further develop the public tourist infrastructure. The Minister recalled that the Ministry also supported the existing air lines of eight air carriers with EUR 1.8 million, supported the establishment of two new air connections, and announced that the government, within the framework of the Act on assistance to ensure greater air connectivity, will earmark a further EUR 16.8 million for this purpose in the next three years. The Minister highlighted better human resource management as a key element in raising the quality of tourism and catering services and expressed optimism regarding the contribution made to this end by the new annex to the collective bargaining agreement for catering and tourism.

Plans for the year 2023

He also announced that this year, the Ministry plans to amend the Hospitality Industry Act with the aim of setting up a modern legal framework for the operation of the hospitality industry. It will also seek solutions to refurbishing the outdated cableway infrastructure on Kanin and to updating the Lipica Stud Farm Act, aimed at implementing a unified model of organisation, incorporating the principles of corporate governance and changing the model of investments in state-owned property. The Ministry is preparing a public tender for the co-financing of tourist attractions and projects near cultural heritage sites, to which it will allocate EUR seven million at the beginning of 2024 at the latest, while in the first quarter of 2023 it will provide public tender funds to support the implementation of environmental labels at tourist providers, for which it will earmark EUR 300,000.

Minister Han paid tribute to the achievements of all Slovenian athletes, saying that the citizens of Slovenia also strongly identify with them and therein find daily motivation: "That is why it is time to give back to sport what sport has always been giving to Slovenia." In order for this to be possible, the Minister listed four key steps, i.e. ensuring systemic investments in sports infrastructure and areas for sports in nature, the systematic planning and co-financing of the organisation of large international sports events, the development of new top athletes and their coaches, and encouraging cooperation between sports, the economy and tourism to multiply the positive effects. As an example of the latter, he cited the Nordic World Ski Championships in Planica 2023. "More than 450,000,000 individuals from 90 countries around the world will follow the event through the media. We simply will no longer miss such opportunities to promote the country and our economy," the Minister clearly stated.

According to Director Pak, the STB staff are currently focused on the Nordic World Ski Championships in Planica, the largest sports event in the history of Slovenia. "We will take up an active role in Planica through the intensive promotion and implementation of numerous accompanying events. The I Feel Slovenia brand will be promoted, among other things, on the starting number bibs and in the most visible places of the competition venues, for example at the start and finish installations, at the medal awards and at press conferences." She adds that a number of other events with a major impact on tourism, such as the European Youth Olympics Festival, the European Women Basketball Championship and the (Bicycle) Tour of Slovenia are ahead of them. At the beginning of February, the STB will also announce a new public call for organisers of international sports competitions in Slovenia, where Slovenian tourism and the I Feel Slovenia brand will be promoted.

Importance of sport tourism

Sports tourism is also the main topic of the STB's communication activities in 2022 and 2023. Among other things, the STB is highlighting sports tourism in a global digital campaign in 20 foreign markets and in the domestic market campaign Moja Slovenija, in partnerships with global brands such as Eurosport, National Geographic and Lonely Planet, and in the context of more than 120 business events annually. The STB strengthens the recognition of Slovenia in cooperation with sports ambassadors such as Luka Dončić, Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič, Janja Garnbret and Ilka Štuhec, as well as the Jumbo Visma and Dallas Mavericks clubs, and annually prepares more than 250 social media posts on the topic of sports and the successes of Slovenian athletes. It is planned that a special website for sports tourism will be launched this year within the portal.

As the Acting Director of the Government Communication Office of the Republic of Slovenia, Petra Bezjak Cirman, pointed out that "we are a nation of exceptional athletes, in both individual sports and team sports." She says that we are probably one of the smallest nations to have achieved such results, so we are well aware that it is athletes who are the first to bring the name of our country to the world and are thus the first ambassadors of our country. "Athletes connect us all with their successes – we who cheer for them at home, and the fans who cheer for them around the world. In the past, they have demonstrated their courage and enthusiasm and provided an incredible background at sports events countless times, thereby ensuring that the world got to know us," emphasised Bezjak Cirman. In addition to top athletes who are ambassadors of our country, the Acting Director of the Public Agency SPIRIT Slovenia, Rok Capl, also highlighted the ambassadors of the Slovenian economy, whom the agency identified among 41 breakthrough Slovenian companies. "These testify to the advanced technological solutions, the high quality of products and the top innovations of our country," says Capl.

In order to achieve synergies between the economy, tourism and sport, this year the Public Agency SPIRIT Slovenia will upgrade its activities with advertising at seven major international winter sports events in Slovenia. "At all seven winter sports events we will provide a comprehensive presentation of the Slovenian business environment, business networking and promotional material, and at some of them we will also organise business events," announced Capl. At the same time, he highlighted the 59th Golden Fox FIS ski competition, where the Public Agency SPIRIT Slovenia used an innovative promotional approach, which was seen by more than 167 million viewers through 18 television stations on five continents. "For greater visibility and recognition of the I Feel Slovenia national brand and its economy, we placed the slogan of the Green. Creative. Smart. campaign on the LED starting gate, which was used for the first time at this very event. The starting gate was equipped with the selected icons of Slovenian tourism, which were displayed alternately before the start of each competitor," says Capl, adding that the gate received a great deal of enthusiasm and praise. "We will use the same approach at the Vitranc Cup in Kranjska Gora in March this year," announced Capl, and at the same time listed business events that the Public Agency SPIRIT Slovenia will organise on the sidelines of the most prominent international winter sports events.