The Slovenia Times

Only where civilization ends, does paradise begin!



What would you highlight as the key to your success in the management of Postojna Cave which today hosts visitors from 156 countries?

Upon taking over in 2010, we got a company in a very poor state and it was important to set the development strategy for the next 10 to 20 years. At the same time, public expectations were very high and most of them thought that we would not succeed because we were new entrants in the tourism industry which I had not yet dealt with. At the centre of our strategy and vision is the principle that we will do only what is good for the cave - its natural value - and for the guest we set the goal of turning him into an "admirer." This was a solid development foundation as we began to interpret the natural and cultural heritage in a very sincere and understandable way, while being very respectful to the value itself. At Postojna Cave Park we are committed to sustainable development, to retaining the natural environment as much as possible. This is also probably a reason for the success because setting exclusive economic goals for natural and cultural heritage is an impenetrable path. The key is also our business model, we invest everything we earn and we are not financially indebted. This is how we achieve financial stability and security, and for the past five years we have been the most successful tourist company in Slovenia.

For Postojna Cave, 2018 is a special milestone as it marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery and the beginning of modern tourism. How will you celebrate this significant anniversary?

This is a very important anniversary for one of the most important tourist destinations in Southeast Europe. 200 years of tourism, 38 million visitors, five different countries and still today Postojna Cave is very well preserved. We have labelled the celebration as the "Tribute to Postojna Cave". The cave has driven tourism development in this part of Europe, it is the axis between Vienna and Venice! The cave has so many attributes and we were really surprised that everyone knew that this year is the 200th anniversary however, at the same time, the attitude of those who should take care of this celebration is very lukewarm. Since there was no interest in celebrating this important turning point at the national level, we decided to make a great celebration in November and finance it. We want it to be a great event!

What is the change in visitor numbers since you have been managing Postojna Cave?

Total visitor numbers prior to our management were around 490,000; last year all visits were in sight of 1.2 million, of which 94% were foreign guests and only 6% were domestic. This certainly confirms our important role in the development of Slovenian tourism, we are an icon of Slovenian tourism. At the same time, a global guest no longer looks at the country, he looks for something that attracts him to a certain part of Europe and then goes there. It is important to highlight our depth of understanding and management of the tourist visits so that there are not too many guests at any time. For good tourism, it is vital that you feel good. Every tourist to Postojna Cave can have the experience they want - either live-guided or in their mother tongue with an audio guide available in 18 languages, which I think is the highest in Europe. The language in which a person meets natural or cultural heritage is very important. In addition, we meet the needs of tourists, we create a need for beauty. When a tourist observes something beautiful then he begins to discover and therefore we say that a satisfied customer is the best and the cheapest marketing because he talks about his experience and encourages his friends to visit.

How much have you invested in the Postojna Cave project?

We invested EUR 8m in the Jama hotel and EUR 7m in other facilities in the surrounding area. The investment in new trains will cost EUR 3m with EUR 2m for the accompanying facilities. The total amount is about EUR 20m. Our investments are not limited to Postojna Cave, we also invest in the Jezersko and Cerkno ski resorts with the hotel and thermal spas. We invest everything we earn which is why our development is significantly faster than any other in Slovenia. Slovenian tourism had and still has the problem of overindebtedness. Tourist infrastructure has become old when today the global guest is looking for freshness, order and cleanliness. This is also the reason why brownfield investments in tourism are indispensable, otherwise things quickly become outdated and you do not even know when your destination is off the tourist map.

Batagel & Co. has recently invested quite intensively in tourism projects, what is your investment philosophy?

It needs to be said that the owner of all of the companies that we are talking about is mine and my wife's company, Batagel & Co., which also bought the Postojnska jama company. It is true that by investments, we are by far the best in times of crisis. In fact, people and businesses do not distinguish between the price and value. Today, there is a lot of talk about price but nobody is asking whether the price also reflects the acceptable value. I do not decide on investments on the basis of in-depth analyses, which of course are necessary, but there is no calculation that endorses or discourages you, it is only instinct and I have been following instinct for 30 years! When I feel that something needs to be done, no mathematics convinces me, it's only what I believe. I believe in Postojna Cave, in Jezersko, in Cerkno, and if I start to believe in something I will do it tomorrow. But if I do not feel or I am not attracted to invest in Ljubljana, Bled or Portorož, I will not do it. Otherwise, this can be done by anyone who reviews the excel tour tables and tourism growth in these destinations. Generally, I do what nobody else does.

An important milestone in the past year has been the investment in Certa Holding, part of which is Hotel Cerkno with a ski resort and thermal spas. What is your investment criteria?

The first criterion is the unspoilt nature that we can offer to the guest. In Slovenia it is often mentioned that there are "undeveloped" corners which, in fact, is their biggest attribute! Not their "underdevelopment," but the preservation of their authenticity. The second criterion is remoteness/distance where the goal is not mass tourism, but exclusivity and boutique, with an exceptionally high level of service. And the third reason is distinctly business since Postojna Cave has an extremely strong summer season and low winter. By purchasing Cerkno we compensate for seasonal fluctuations and so we have one summer and one winter destination in operation. Cerkno is also interesting as it is one of the most western thermal spas that Italian guests like very much. We will develop the destination as a thermal centre with a lot of unspoilt nature.

You mention "remoteness" among the investment criteria - what about accessibility?

This is a completely missed Slovenian perception! Slovenians create problems with distance, with one hour defined as difficult access. I will illustrate the perception of the global guest through my own experience - when I landed in Patagonia after three hours in South America and asked the driver how long it was to the hotel, he answered six hours - it did not seem far to me because the ride itself was an experience! It is necessary to understand that when we move guests off the main roads, the journey to the destination becomes an experience. For this reason, we can't talk to a global guest about the 'large' distances in Slovenia, which attributes everything on a "small piece of land". The valley of the Soča River is so far away only for Slovenes, for visitors who come to Slovenia it is very close. Only where civilization ends, does paradise begin!. In addition, for us airports are important, Ljubljana a little but foremost Venice, Zagreb and Vienna. A modern guest views all these airports as flying within Europe - he does not want a border, he is free but at the same time responds to the information he receives during his trip. That's why our advertising is global.

In Jezersko you are soon going to open the Planika Hotel with the vision of pricing rooms at EUR 500 per night. What is the basis for this price and what is the value of the investment in this project?

Jezersko is an example of a boutique destination: prices are higher, the service is comprehensive and personalised. It is a fact that, in the future, tourism will be increasingly personalised and boutique; the guest's name and surname will be important and you know more about the tourist before his arrival. It is only in this way that you will be able to prepare a program that will appeal to the guest. In today's society we are overwhelmed, therefore planning our free time needs to be more and more accurate and we want this to be taken over by professionals. These guests have money, they want superior service regardless of how much it costs. They are looking for small, boutique hotels with the highest level of service. There are many people in the world who are ready to pay EUR 500 or more for a room, but if you do not offer this then you will not even have them. Comprehensive service means that when the guest pays for a room you take care from the morning to evening, including visits that are tailored to the individual wishes of the guest. At the entrance to Planinka Hotel I want the guest to feel as if they have entered a living room. In the hotel it will not be clearly indicated where the reception or bar is... at home it is not - and it will not be clearly seen who is a waitress, receptionist or concierge - but we will clearly define and communicate the quality of the hotel.

The value of the investment will be around two or three million euros. We have not restricted it financially as, for us, the most important is the quality of implementation. The materials and the offer are from the local environment and we will make a boutique hotel that will have only 23 rooms, extremely sustainable and ecologically oriented.


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