The Slovenia Times

Slovenia is Not a Place of Mass Tourism


Tourism, in its essence, is a complex struggle between revealing and preserving. No one knows this better than Marjan Batagelj, the chairman of the board of Postojna Cave, a tourist attraction that welcomed its 39 millionth visitor this year. But because more is not necessarily better, Vila Planinka was born as a sustainable boutique project and stands as a real experiment in the field of luxury tourism in Slovenia.

Why have you have decided to initiate a smaller project in the sphere of boutique tourism, something very different from the Postojna Cave? The famous caves are the most visited tourist attraction in the country, after all.

Slovenia has formed a tourism strategy that includes concepts of five-star boutique accommodation and unique experiences. While the strategy is very well-conceived, there are quite a few issues with the implementation, especially on economic subjects. Luxury means a higher bill, one can not offer a boutique experience for the regular price. Those of us, who know well, how mass tourism works-where numerous people admire natural sights and cultural heritage-accepted the challenge of this boutique approach with the idea of preserving the most exquisite corners of Slovenia in all their unique glory. So we approached the project within limits dictated by the environment. By a smaller hotel than has existed in the past, along with an emphasis on local materials, architecture, and cultural heritage. Our main goal was to prove that a tiny hotel like this can be just as successful as bigger ones.

You had built a strong relationship with the locals before Vila Planinka was built, deeply immersing in traditions and the local mind. Why?

One can not create such a project without the help of the locals. Some skeptical people warned me that the locals from Jezersko won't have the desire to work for us. That might be the case if the hotel was neglected, but how about the villa we built, a beautiful landmark where people recognize a piece of themselves? No one from the Postojna Cave is employed in Vila Planinka, all of the employees live nearby. In some way, Vila Planinka is now the pride of the people of Jezersko. They used to have a very distorted self-image before, seeing themselves as a narrow-minded community in an underdeveloped area. I told them to change the perspective and see how many unique things they have to offer in an environment that is very original and still untouched. Maybe some things are the same as fifty years ago, but that can be a good thing! In Jezersko, we see that even in a place where the local public is initially reserved, you can achieve acceptance. If you manage to explain the concept correctly. The locals are an incredible asset of the place, uncovering the secret corners of the area. Having respect for the people and the surrounding area is the key to successful boutique tourism. These hotels are usually not built by the local residents, but foreign investors, which can be a very slippery slope.

Slovenia, as a country, has a very ambivalent attitude towards tourists. We have always felt overlooked by foreign travellers, but now with the masses arriving, many people complain about numbers being too high.

I tried to expose this problem in the past, that an exceptional location such as Slovenia should not allow itself to become a place of mass tourism. With our knowledge of the profession, we are well aware that no matter how widely we promote Jezersko, the site has limited capacities, which will not be any bigger due to advertising. Until now, the locals were happy to have visitors, so they were afraid to lay clear ground rules, which are much needed in a natural environment like this. I am not scared to say motorcyclists are not welcome in Jezersko since they interrupt peace and quiet. Why is this even allowed? This is not tourism for me. Bohinj should be an adequate lesson on its own, with the locals having extreme difficulties because of an increasing number of visitors. If we attract people who destroy the area, what good did we create? Nothing.

Vila Planinka is promoted only abroad, not across the country?

That is right, we are not advertising at home, but it is true that we currently have mostly Slovenian guests. The word spread so quickly among those who visited us already! Foreign guests will arrive with a little delay. One of the main reasons we decided against promotion in Slovenia-although it would be simple with the promotional channels we already have established for Postojna Cave-is because we don't want the phenomena of curious people who come only to observe, but don't stay in the hotel. Unfortunately, they do not add additional value to Jezersko. I am very cautious here, such a hotel is fully developed in three years. Why would we take the easy road in the first season it is opened?

Instead, you are just expecting a journalist from Condé Nast Traveller to write a story about Vila Planinka.

If you dare to invite someone like him, you risk candid feedback, your accommodation could be average. These people are well-seasoned connoisseurs, after all. But Vila Planinka is an essence of everything good my wife Katja and I experienced on our numerous travels around the globe. That is why I hope many more guests like this will come, to explain how rooms for $1500 differ from ours. There is another problem with the prices in Slovenia, we are so reluctant to charge the full value of our work. The global guest is also the one who is segmented by the price range; somebody can set up a filter and is only interested in rooms over €400. Where exactly will they stay in Slovenia? They have nowhere to go! The wine list in Vila Planinka contains a hundred and fifty different labels of Slovenian wines, for example, where else can you find something like this? And the food, which is fresh, local, and sustainable, has traceability from start to finish. If I develop the concept here, to the point that I can easily transfer it elsewhere, it can be applicable again and again. Because we will know very well how it works! That is why Vila Planinka is an incredible challenge for Slovenian tourism.



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