The High Tatras attract fewer visitors due to bad hotel service, high prices and lack of security.
Daniel J. Stoll
According to Ján Kuska, Director of the Agency for Development of Tourism in the Tatra Region, "the potential for tourism [in the Tatras] is great, but its current state is not." The region is saddled with various problems, Kuska said, among them high prices, turf-wars between regional and national tourism agencies, and an increase in car theft and other kinds of robbery. All these factors, Kuska told the daily Národná Obroda, have caused a steady decline in the number of visitors to the High Tatras.
Even though the overall number of foreign tourists who visited Slovakia over the last three years increased from 22 million in 1994 to 31 million in 1997, the proportion of those visitors who came to see the High Tatras decreased from 20 percent to 14 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Institute for Tourism, and fell to 11 percent in the fall of 1997.
Eleonóra Muňková, Assistant to the General Director of Satur, Slovakia's third-largest travel agency (see chart on page 9), agreed that high prices were the main factor keeping tourists away from the Tatras. The cost of a hotel room in Tatranska Lomnica was now almost identical to one in the Austrian Alps, she explained, despite the fact that Slovakia could not offer many of the amenities that travellers enjoy in Austria.
"Yes, you can now find similar things [to western tourist facilities] in Slovakia, like bars, restaurants, fitness centers, pools and TV sets," she said. "But what makes Austria distinctive - their approach, their quality of food, the service and that homey atmosphere, and above all, the cleanliness you meet everywhere - those things you just can't get here."
The average price paid by a foreign tourist for a room in a three-star hotel in the High Tatras is now about 600 ATS ($ 47), while in Austria it is about 630 ATS ($ 49).
But Bibiana Jarošová, General Secretary of the Union of Tourism in the High Tatras (ZCR), professed a different feeling. "I'm highly positive about what has been done over the last five years," she said. "For instance, five years ago nobody would have dreamt of using artificial snow, which is nowadays a usual trend in the High Tatras." Jarošová also cited the fact that living costs for foreigners were lower in the Tatras, and in Slovakia in general, than anywhere abroad.
Artificial snow and cheap socks notwithstanding, Slovakia's tourist numbers continue to fall. The Ministry of Economy announced on April 8 that 1997 revenues from tourism were down 127.3 million Sk ($ 3.6 million), or 19 percent year-on-year.
The number of German tourists to Slovakia in 1997, compared to 1996, decreased by 18 percent, while 21 percent fewer Poles and 28 percent fewer Hungarians visited Slovakia. Since most foreign visitors to the Tatras come from the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland, the overall drop-off in tourist revenue has badly hurt the mountain resorts.
Jarošová and Kuska both said that Slovakia desperately needed a law on tourism if the Tatras were once again to become a bustling business. "Until there is a law on tourism, we can't influence anything," said Jarošová, "not even something like the price of ski lift tickets." As Kuska explained to Národná Obroda, such a law would "set out the terms of cooperation from the lowest to the highest levels [of the tourist industry].....and so determine the rules of the game for everyone."
Marian Bujna, director of the department for the development of tourism at the Ministry of Economy, agreed that such a law was needed, and revealed that a "legislative proposal" for a law on tourism had already been submitted to a committee of specialists. "Nobody knows what its final form will be," said Bujna, "but it will not be submitted to Parliament before September 1998."
Jarošová said she was afraid that the proposed bill would not take into account non-profit organizations (NPO's) like the one she works for. "As far as I have heard," she said, "the law will not include NPO's. It is sad. Everywhere else in the world it works, like in Switzerland and Austria, and here it won't be covered again."
In the absence of state support and official legislative status, NPO's have always depended on donations. One of the main supporters is the British Know How Fund (KHF), which officially began supporting NPO's in March 1997 with the establishment of the Tatra Regional Tourist Board, a result of collaboration with KHF's Austrian sister program.
As KHF Officer Viera Gažíková stressed, "[our] assistance to the Board has focused mainly on establishing its organizational and staffing structure, including a business plan." She also said that the total amount of financing would reach about GBP 470,000 ($783,155) for the whole project, including the proposed extension.
Cooperating with UK tourist organizations may prove the best strategy. The only country to register an increase in visitors to Slovakia in 1997 was Great Britain, with a 12 percent rise. From March 30 to April 3, a group of four journalists from different British newspapers visited the Tatras region. The stay, which had been arranged by the Agency for the Development of Tourism in the Tatra Region, the Slovak Association of Tourism (SACR), and the CK Tatrania travel agency, was a splendid success, according to CK Tatrania representative Blanka Obžútová. "It was a hugely emotional experience for them," she said.
Brian Richards from Travel Weekly, one of the British journalists who visited the High Tatras region, confirmed Obžútová's words. "The atmosphere came across very well, it was very uncommercialized, friendly, good food...it was a very, very illuminating experience," he said.
23. Apr 1998 at 0:00 | Slavomír Danko