FOREIGNERS often characterise Slovakia as one of those small countries, which still has to learn how to advertise its treasures at a time when the tourism sector hungers for substantial investments.
The new Slovak government said it recognises this challenge and will try to increase the share of tourism at the gross domestic product level in Slovakia. The team of Robert Fico included this goal in its programme for the next four years.
"To fulfil the target, the government will create conditions for invigorating this industry, it will set up rules for the development of state policy for tourism," reads the cabinet's programme.
The government wants to establish a separate "account" of tourism to quantify the real results of tourism and its contribution to GDP.
The emphasis, the government says, should be put on domestic and active foreign tourism. This means inspiring Slovaks to spend their holiday in Slovakia and attracting foreigners to come to Slovakia.
The government also promises new legislation in the tourism sector and speeding up the process of setting up new zones in protected areas.
The plans include the creation of a system of financial support for the activities of regional government, municipalities and business entities engaged in preferred sectors of tourism, such as spas, mountain tourism centres, municipal and culture tourism and country tourism. EU Structural Funds will be one of the main resources for financial assistance.
Almost all the governments formed since the establishment of independent Slovakia in 1993, declared they realised the great potential of tourism in Slovakia. However, in reality not much has been done for development of this sector.
Slovakia is still one of the least known tourist destinations and one where the quality of tourism services is not generally considered to be very high.
Slovakia spends the least amount of money to promote its tourism among the V4 countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia). As a result it has the smallest revenues from active tourism (foreigners coming to Slovakia) of all of the V4.
In 2004 Slovakia spent $3 million for tourism promotion while Poland spent $9.3 million, the Czech Republic $9.5 million and Hungary $35.2 million. In that year Slovakia earned $900 million from tourism while Poland earned $5.8 billion, the Czech Republic $4.2 billion, and Hungary $4.1 billion.
Based on preliminary data from the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) the foreign exchange revenues from active tourism in Slovakia last year amounted to Sk37.529 billion ($1.27 billion) which is a year-on-year increase of 29.1 percent. Last year, 29.4 million foreign visitors crossed Slovak borders, which is an increase of 11.3 percent over 2004.
According to Roman Weck of the Snow Paradise ski resort in Veľká Rača, Slovakia definitely needs a clearer definition of why tourists should come here.
"It needs a definition of "its sea". If tourists travel to Croatia because of its crystal sea, Slovakia also has to have a reason why tourists should come here. In winter, the attractiveness of skiing activities in Slovakia should be emphasized. In summer, we should create packages that will be interesting for tourists, mainly in the fields of municipal tourism, sightseeing, aquaparks, mountain tourism, cycle-tourism and other similar activities," Weck said.
Maroš Sýkora, spokesman of J&T Finance Group, which is engaged in the development in the High Tatras, pointed out that the history of tourism is also not very long in other countries like Austria or Croatia, that also started a relatively short time ago. However, as opposed to Slovakia these other small countries realised the importance of tourism and made efforts in this field.
"The biggest problem in Slovakia is that tourism never really became the priority of any cabinet. It was discussed very much but a definite orientation of the country toward tourism was absent."