THE SLOVAK Tourist Board (SACR) recently announced the results from its foreign branches in Amsterdam, Berlin, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw and Vienna for the first half of 2006. The branches took part in 23 trade fairs, organised 58 presentations and conducted 7 press conferences.
According to SACR, 20 journalists and tour operators visited Slovakia and 16 interviews were given to the foreign media. These activities resulted in 104 media outcomes (that is, published articles, spots and others).
However, the statistics do not say it all. Business people involved in tourism say the work of SACR is still insufficient and that its activities lack a long-term strategy and coordination.
Maroš Sýkora, spokesman for the J&T Finance Group, which is one of the biggest investors in the High Tatras, is very critical of the activities of SACR in the support of tourism and the promotion of Slovakia abroad. "Its activities were insufficient, including its participation at various trade fairs. In fact, I would say it was desperate."
SACR activities, says Jana Kozubová, head of tourism department for the city of Bratislava, are developed by various firms and as a result are not connected and do not aim at any concrete target.
"The situation in SACR is very serious," Kozubová said, "and anyone who knows anything about promotion and destination marketing and follows the current situation in the agency would agree with me. Each day of such activity means a step backwards for us even when compared to its activities in previous years, when the agency had less money but worked systematically, followed set goals, cooperated with regions and businesses, provided information about the situation on the market and carried out common campaigns."
SACR is also known for its campaign from about a year and a half ago when it launched a campaign titled "Little Big Country" in which Sk2.6 billion (€70 million) were to be spent developing tourism infrastructure and facilities and Sk700 million (€17.9 million) promoting the country as a tourist destination. The financing came from EU funds.
Although foreign exchange revenues from tourism showed an improvement in 2005, it is questionable whether the better results are a consequence of the campaign. Additionally, the whole campaign ended in embarrassment.
It seems the campaign took a little too much "inspiration" from others.
A butterfly and the motto "Little Big Country" were expected to become the new symbols of Slovakia. However, the daily SME reported after the campaign was launched that a Japanese foundation responsible for promoting Japan abroad had been using a butterfly for a long time.
The slogan "Little Big Country" seems to have been inspired by Bratislava's slogan (and other cities across the world, for that matter) "Little Big City".
The business weekly Trend then revealed that one "Slovak" mountain presented in the tourist package was actually the highest peak in the Czech Republic, Sněžka.
Additionally, J.A.M. film and the PR agency Media In, the suppliers to the campaign, had close ties to then-Economy Minister Pavol Rusko, who ordered the campaign, the weekly .týždeň reported.
Opinions about the campaign and the need to organise similar activities in the area of the state promotion differ.
Michaela Grančičová, director of Dukla Hotel in Bratislava, thinks the campaign was a good idea and that it is bringing results. "It is not easy to measure the effects of the campaign, but I think that this activity has also contributed to the increased number of tourists."
Lenka Šoltýsová, PR manager of Radisson SAS in Bratislava, pointed out that the promotion Little Big Country was seen mainly in Slovak media, on TV Markíza and on advertisement boards in the municipal transportation system in Bratislava. "A larger focus aimed abroad - especially in foreign media such as CNN and in the print media - would certainly have a larger effect than simply having a promotion of the domestic country at home." Sýkora of J&T agreed: "I especially do not understand why it was necessary to promote Slovakia in the Slovak media."