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"Pearl of the country" still untapped

The Tatra region is Slovakia's best known holiday destination but tourism experts say the area is not living up to its full potential.
Although during this year's summer season hotels and pensions were filled from 77% to 96% of capacity overall tourism revenue has not increased significantly.
The total revenue for accommodation in the Poprad district, which occupies most of the High Tatras area, rose from Sk319.8 million ($6.6 million) for the first half of 2000 to Sk327.4 million for the same period of this year.


A hiker pauses at a 'symbolic cemetery' established in the mountains for those who have died there.
photo: Chris Togneri

The Tatra region is Slovakia's best known holiday destination but tourism experts say the area is not living up to its full potential.

Although during this year's summer season hotels and pensions were filled from 77% to 96% of capacity overall tourism revenue has not increased significantly.

The total revenue for accommodation in the Poprad district, which occupies most of the High Tatras area, rose from Sk319.8 million ($6.6 million) for the first half of 2000 to Sk327.4 million for the same period of this year.

Municipal revenues from tourism in the mountains in the form of taxes and payments increased from Sk5.4 million for the summer months of June, July, August and September of 2000 to Sk5.6 million for the same period of the last year.

"The Tatras are the pearl of the country, and the existence of the Tatra cities depends on tourism," said Bibiana Jarošová, head of the Tatras Information Office.

But she said the economic situation in the Tatras had improved over the last two years.

"When the borders opened after the fall of communism Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and East Germans started travelling West. But they have started coming back to what was once their favourite holiday destination."

Czechs accounted for 27.5% of the guests, followed by Slovaks (24.9%), Poles (24.2%) and Germans (8.8%). Visitors from Hungary, the US, Britain, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, Israel and France combined to make up the remaining 14.6%.

The peak tourist season is summer. From mid-June till the end of September, accommodation can be nearly impossible to find for those without reservations.

There are 140 hotels, pensions, cottages or facilities offering private rooms in the Tatras National Park (TANAP), with a total of 4,492 rooms and 12,071 beds.

Jarošová added that the quality of services provided in the Tatras had also improved. "Almost every hotel is conducting the reconstruction. They have come up with new services for their clients. Stores close far too less than they used to as well."

The only problem she said was still insufficient promotion of the destination and poor railway infrastructure.

"The government needs to invest more into promotion, and fix the old infrastructure. Trams in the Tatras start moving late in the morning, so the tourists have problems hitting their track soon enough to reach longer destinations. They also stop working early in the evening. This reduces the tourism opportunities in the mountains," she said.

The most popular pastime for summer vacationers is hiking. The heaviest foot traffic is on the climbs to Kriváň peak (2,494 metres) and Rysy peak (2,499), the trails to Zelené pleso (Green Lake) and Skok waterfall, and the Tatranská magistrála trail, which hugs the face of the precipitous range from west to east.

Not all the peaks are open to the public, but nine of the range's highest points can be scaled with a guide. Arrangements can be made at the Horských vodcov office, next door to the Rescue Mountain Service in Starý Smokovec (up the hill from the train station).

The mountain guides lead trips to the country's highest point, Gerlachovský štít (Gerlach peak, 2,655 metres). Private guides cost Sk3,000, while a group of three can split the Sk3,800 bill. For more information, call 052/442 2066, or check out www.tatry.sk/shv.

Now that winter is closing in, many of the trails will soon be closed. Every year from November 1 to June 15, 39 trails are closed to the hiking public for safety reasons and to protect the natural wildlife and vegetation.

Other routes stay open year-long, and usually end at a mountain chata (cottage).

Besides safety, another reason trails are closed seasonally is to protect the Tatra's declining chamois population. In 1965 nearly 1,200 roamed the range, but today there are less than 200.

The main winter activity is skiing. The largest resorts are Štrbské Pleso, Ždiar and Strednica. Bachledova dolina, Jakubkova lúka, Hrebienok and Tatranská Lomnica-Jamy.

Day lift passes are most expensive at Štrbské Pleso, where adults pay Sk560 during the peak season (December 23-January 6) and Sk490 thereafter. At the five other resorts listed above, high season tickets cost Sk440, then Sk380 for the rest of the ski season. All resorts offer rentals. (For more information, call 052/449-2343, or e-mail: tatry@1tatranska.sk)

Cross-country skiing is also a popular Tatra activity, and routes snake throughout the park.

Topic: Tourism


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