With more than 300 ski resorts and almost 1,000 ski lifts in mountain ranges such as the Tatras, Fatras, Slánske and Vihorlat, the possibilities for winter tourism in Slovakia have made it one of the bright spots in a lacklustre industry.
However, despite the relative success in winter tourism, experts say that winter resorts are mainly filled by Slovak holidaymakers or tourists from former eastern block countries. They add that Slovakia has conspicuously failed to attract more western visitors with greater spending potential, and blame the virtual absence of promotion of Slovakia's winter resorts outside the country.
By far the biggest group of tourists at the moment, about 80%, comes to Slovakia from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the area which was once East Germany.
Jana Tabáková, deputy director at the Panoráma hotel in the High Tatras' Štrbské Pleso, said that the number of western tourists coming to her hotel has been steadily decreasing over the last few years, and laid responsibility for the decline squarely at the feet of the government.
"Only about 20% of our visitors are westerners, and the trend is still decreasing," she said. "I think the state's promotion [of winter resorts] is very bad, and it would help us very much if they improved the quality of their winter resorts presentations. It's virtually nothing these days."
Viktor Beránek, Slovakia's best known mountaineer, who until February this year ran a chata (cottage) just under the High Tatras' peak of Rysy, said that better provision of information was a priority as a majority of western visitors knew virtually nothing about Slovakia before travelling to the country.
The government has pleaded guilty to a lack of promotion, but has refused to accept all the blame for the shortfall of tourists from richer nations. "Not everything can be blamed on the state or the state tourist promotion agency," said Michal Ševčík, head of the Economic Ministry's tourism section. "I admit that more could be done with the promotion of winter resorts, although it has to be said that mountain tourism is and always has been our priority. But the hotels should not wait until the state brings them guests. They have to work hard to deliver higher quality services if they want to capture the western tourists for themselves."
Representatives of the state funded Slovak Tourism Agency (SACR), whose task is to promote tourism opportunities in Slovakia, have said that despite their efforts, underfunding has kept them from doing a better job.
"Our 1999 funding was 38 million crowns ($760,000), a laughable sum even when compared to that of surrounding countries," said Beata Lukáčová, SACR's deputy head, noting that the agency's Czech counterparts received about $3.2 million in the same period.
According to Lukáčová, the lack of finances has left the agency dependent on international tourism fairs, printing and distributing leaflets, brochures, videos, or other promotion materials, with little left over for strategic marketing.
The marketing issue has also been criticised by tourism experts at the Institute of Tourism (ÚT). According to Pavol Weiss, head of the ÚT, "the SACR devotes most of its energy to relatively simple activities".
"Besides basic promotion, no other marketing activities are being pursued. In the absence of great resources for projects, the SACR can't afford to organise image campaigns which are extremely costly," he said, adding that there was a need to pay more attention to image promotion, even with a limited budget.
"Image promotion activities must be shifted towards supporting concrete products which produce immediate results," he said.
The Economy Ministry's Ševčík defended the ministry, saying it had already discussed more focused strategies for SACR in the future. "We are limited by the state budget. For the coming year it has been agreed that SACR will get 40 million crowns ($800,000) and the agency has already been given the task of preparing a more pointed marketing strategy concentrating on surrounding countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic," he said.
Lukáčová also complained that because of the lack of funding the SACR only had one branch outside the country, in Prague, which opened in October this year.
Ševčík, however, pointed out that a second branch should open next year in Poland. "After that we'll probably start building a branch in Hungary. We'd like to have a branch in western Europe too, but unfortunately in the foreseeable future we won't be able to afford it."
However, some within the industry have said that the real problem in attracting westerners are the services that are provided at the resorts themselves.
"According to our [Slovak] understanding of winter resorts, they're fine, but for a western tourist there are plenty of things which are missing," said Beranek.
"The western visitor is more demanding of the services provided to him as part of his winter stay. The Tatras still lack hotels with higher standard services, pools, saunas, indoor tennis courts, quality food, and so on. While we lack these things, tourists would rather go to neighbouring Austria," he said.
"We are certainly losing a lot of money now, and will continue to do so if we don't improve these services."
Malá Fatra *
Large, rustic chata at the base of two mountains. Restaurant and ski lifts nearby.
Prices: 410 Sk per night for a double room to 1,250 Sk for a five person apartment.
Tel: 089/569 5739
A modern hotel with comfortable rooms and great service. Five minute drive to ski lifts.
Prices: 860 Sk per person per night, 1,320 Sk double, 2,200 Sk for an apartment. Prices increase for one-night stays.
Tel: 089/5695625, 089/5695 6259
Penzion pod Skalným mestom
Penzion nearby main Vrátna ski centre with sauna and fireplace.
Prices: 320 Sk to 770 Sk per person per night
Tel: 089/695 363
Penzion Pri Hati
Affordable penzion on the corner of Terchová's two main roads.
Prices: 180-300 crowns per person per night.
Tel: 089/569 5461
centre: 089/5695 307
Clean, well-serviced hotel in the centre of town.
Prices: 620 Sk per night for
a single room (620 Sk for foreigners), 830 - 1070 Sk for a double (1300 - 2190 Sk for foreigners)
Tel: 0842/422 1017
A luxurious hotel near the lift to Martinské Hole.
Prices: Rooms range from 1,600 Sk singles to 5,000 Sk suites.
Tel: 0842/422 0015
Rustic chata one kilometre from Jasenská Dolina ski centre.
Prices: 380 per night per person. Includes breakfast and dinner.
0842/429 77 28
Martin Tourist Information: 0842/16 186,
Penzion Katka Čičmany
Penzion along the main road in one of the town's historic cabins 300 metres from a small ski lift.
Prices: not available
Termálne Kúpalisko Bešeňová
Hotel adjoining the town's thermal spas.
Prices: 1,800 Sk per night for a two person apartment, 1,200 Sk for two person room, 800 Sk for a bungalow. Prices include entrance to the thermal baths.
Tel: 0848/439 2429
Prices less at some places during off season.
* Most hotels offer 10%
discounts on lift tickets.
18. Dec 2000 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová