Poor fan attendance in Planica taking shine off well organised championships
The underwhelming visitor figures at the ongoing Nordic World Ski Championships in Planica have been a popular debate topic in Slovenia in recent days, casting a shadow over what has otherwise been seen as an impeccably organised event.
Half-way into the two-week championships, the organisers scaled down the initial projections of 150,000 to 200,000 visitors in total to between 70,000 and 80,000, with organising committee head Enzo Smrekar saying the reasons were still being analysed.
Fellow committee members have acknowledged they had not been sufficiently successful in the promotion of the event abroad, while also listing the continuing impact of Covid-19, the energy price hike that has driven up service costs, as well as the share of the winter sports tourism pie claimed by the football World Cup in Qatar among the reasons.
The prices of tickets, accommodation and food, not all of which are in the domain of the organisers, have meanwhile been highlighted in the media, with reports suggesting the organisers had falsely equated the championships with Planica's annual crowd-packed Ski Jumping World Cup finale.
Smrekar, who is also the president of the Slovenian Ski Association, said the prices had been set after consulting national and international partners and that they were comparable to similar events around the world.
The first responses were good, but then everything stopped, said Smrekar, adding that initial reactions had also been positive abroad but were followed by cancellations. "We are still analysing the possible reasons, but many smaller problems have become clear," Smrekar said, listing the issue of accessibility as an example.
According to Smrekar, relatively poor performances by German and Austrian athletes ahead of the world championships were another reason for the poorer attendance.
"With Slovenian visitors we wonder if the only problem are the prices. We expected to see them at the ski jumping competitions," Smrekar said. He understands that attending such an event may not be affordable to many people in the face of the rising costs of living.
"Planica is near and dear to Slovenians and we have to accept criticism, listen to people and understand them," he added.
The event, taking place in a glacial valley in the north-west best known for its gigantic ski flying hill, has otherwise received very positive responses from partners, athletes and media representatives.
"Planica has one of the best Nordic centres in the world. The organisation is perfect and as you know, we all want more visitors. We are disappointed but it will not be the end of the world," said FIS Secretary General Michel Vion, adding that "from the viewpoint of sports and TV broadcasts, the event is perfect".
TV broadcasts in Germany in the first week reached 150% of views for the entire FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. TV ratings in Scandinavian countries have also been looking good.
Meanwhile, the lower-than-expected visitor numbers at the championships are also showing in Kranjska Gora, a nearby ski resort. The number of guests is lower than normally in the winter season and restaurants are seeing below par revenue due to visitors being away in Planica or eating in hotels.
However, reflecting the view of the Planica organisers, who have pointed to the impact of reaching such a large TV audience, local tourism official Mojca Mežek has stressed that the championships are nonetheless a great opportunity for the resort's long-term promotion.