"Five Stars Stand for Taking Guests from a Material to an Empirical Level"
"A green boutique global destination for high-end visitors seeking diverse and active experiences, peace, and personal benefits. A destination of five-star experiences." This is your official vision of Slovenia as a tourist destination, which you wish to present to affluent foreign visitors. Which Slovenian destinations and related tourist offers or services would you place in the five-star category with certainty?
Lately, Slovenia has soared in terms of the experiences it provides to support this vision. Wonderful boutique hotels have been established-among the most recently opened ones is also Vila Planinka in Jezersko. The existing ones have started developing boutique experiences. An innovative, intimate and back-to-the-nature offer is provided by glamping resorts, such as Garden Village Bled, Herbal Glamping Resort Ljubno, Glamping Resort Olimia Adria Village, and many others. We have exceptional restaurants with chefs par excellence-for instance Hiša Franko with Chef Ana Roš, the most famous Slovenian chef in the world-and wonderful wine cellars. At the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB), we encourage green development with our unique programme called The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, which awards the Slovenia Green certificate for sustainability based on internationally comparable criteria. At the STB, we have also established a national development and marketing platform for the identification and development of five-star experiences under the brand Slovenia Unique Experiences. Based on 40 criteria and committee rankings, this certificate has already been awarded to the aforementioned Garden Village, as well as to the vintage gourmet tour of the Lisjak olive oil mill, underground kayaking tour of the Peca mine and the Fonda fish farm. If I were to list additional examples of five-star experiences, we might as well look outside our Slovenia Unique Experiences collection and focus on the broader boutique offer.
You've been working in tourism one way or another for more than 20 years. How has Slovenia evolved in this period in terms of five-star tourism? When did it begin, how did it continue, and what is it like today?
Upon gaining independence, Slovenia was a relatively unknown country. When the STB was established 24 years ago (back then, it was known as the Centre for Tourism Promotion of Slovenia), Slovenia was yet to be placed on the world map. A continuous and systemic marketing throughout the years has paid off. Five stars also represent a tourist offer based on a sustainable concept and the development of high-quality and innovative tourist products with high added value. The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism under the so-called Slovenia Green umbrella brand brings together all the sustainable efforts of Slovenian tourism at the levels of destinations, providers, national parks, tourist agencies, and attractions. The previously mentioned national development and marketing platform Slovenia Unique Experiences encourages the development of five-star experiences. However, gastronomy contributes to the five-star experience in Slovenia as well. In recent years, Slovenia has made a substantial breakthrough thanks to the many talented master chefs and our exceptional offer of wines. Boosting our recognition were definitely Ana Roš, the best master chef of 2017 in the world, her restaurant Hiša Franko ranking among The World's 50 Best Restaurants, the now-regular highest Decanter World Wine Awards, the publishing of the established Gault & Millau guide, and the title of the European Gastronomic Region 2021. I can say without doubt that we have made significant progress in terms of development and recognition, but there are still many challenges ahead.
When it comes to tourism-especially five-star tourism-we must constantly keep up with the trends. How are you addressing this issue at STB, and where do you find the inspiration for the ever-emerging new ideas?
Our team at STB monitors global trends by means of regular trainings, cooperation with different field experts, participation in the most important global exchanges and other global tourist offer presentations, active cooperation with organizations such as the European Travel Commission, the World Tourist Organization UNWTO, the Pacific Asia Tourist Association and Green Destination, Virtuoso membership, and more. At the same time, it must be noted that the STB and the Slovenian tourism in general share a widely accepted common vision. I am talking about the vision of a green boutique destination of five-star experiences. All the activities and projects that we organize support this vision-they are not some changeable stand-alone ideas. The listed and memberships are definitely our source of information, but it is important that we remain true to ourselves and that we focus on the long-term realization of our vision in cooperation with our partners.
Which are the factors that define the five-star category, and do five stars in Slovenia differ from five stars in Dubai?
Aside from the aforementioned, let me stress that five stars stand for taking visitors from a material to an empirical level and experiences, which ultimately leads to personal transformation. As a green and responsible destination of non-mass tourism, Slovenia has this potential. If I quote the strategic vision of Slovenian tourism, "Slovenia is a green boutique global destination for high-end visitors seeking diverse and active experiences, peace, and personal benefits." Slovenia amazes precisely due to the vast diversity of experiences made possible at the meeting point of the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Karst and the Pannonian Basin (let us not overlook the fact that we are the only country with this advantage)-and all this within an easily manageable distance. This sets us apart from other destinations, especially destinations like the one you highlight in your question. In Slovenia, activities take place in our inspiring nature, which is why there is no need for artificial indoor attractions. You can just step out of the hotel and engage yourself, become part of the nature and drink tap water regardless of where in Slovenia you are located. Nature and culture walk hand in hand. We could go on for hours on end. Nevertheless, we need more excellent and modern attractions as well as interpretation centres placed at meaningful sites according to the principles of sustainable development, a well-maintained sports infrastructure, additional educational facilities at all levels, and so on.
Which category do destinations such as Bled and Postojna Caves belong to? We know that they are must-see destinations on the bucket lists of foreign visitors coming to Slovenia, but can these destinations offer five-star experiences? And how?
They are the icons of Slovenian tourism, representative of our country much like a visit of St. Mark's Square is of Venice, the view from atop the Eiffel Tower is of Paris and the view of the Cliffs of Moher is of Ireland. These destinations are normally on the list of the most desirable destinations among tourists - at least when they are visiting the country for the first time. We cannot change this, but we can develop boutique contents and approaches to accompany such destinations and landmarks, systematically upgrading them with thought-out models so as to increase their value and not their quantity. This way, we can have a five-star experience at the highly frequented Bled Castle or in the Postojna Cave. The latter, for instance, has already developed a special experience. Visitors can discover the cave by following the trails of the first cave explorers, which allows them to avoid the queues and crowds to enter the parts of the caves that are off-limits to other visitors. Additionally, they also have the opportunity to see the olm in its natural habitat. The experience is organized for small groups, provides highly advanced guidance, has a great empirical feel to it and, of course, comes at a higher price.
Even though we do not have a Michelin-star restaurant, Slovenia is rapidly gaining in recognition among high-end culinary destinations. Why is that so? Why are we not seeing Michelin Guide inspectors in our parts and how do affluent visitors manage to discover Slovenia as a culinary destination nonetheless?
Everything demands time and-let us be honest-it was not until now that Slovenia has become ready for the arrival of big gastronomy guides. We finally have a wider offer of quality cuisine, which is scattered around the entire country and taken care of by innovative chefs. Additionally, the awareness of how important the origin and local production of ingredients are is increasing as well. There are more and more gastronomy events, which attract local and foreign visitors with their high-quality offers. One great example would be Odprta kuhna in Ljubljana.
Do you believe Slovenian cuisine belongs to the category five-star tourism? Which restaurants would you point out?
Gastronomy can be a five-star experience in itself. But most importantly, it provides wonderful opportunities for the development of authentic experiences with added value, because it functions especially well when it is used as an essential and complementary part of a comprehensive tourist programme. By utilizing gastronomy, we can develop exceptional and innovative products, which will set us apart us from other destinations. Many of our restaurants and master chefs deserve to be labelled with five stars, but the best of them have been highlighted in the Slovenian edition of the Gault & Millau gastronomy guide.