HOW do foreign tourists and expats see Slovakia as a holiday spot? The Slovak Spectator conducted an informal poll that showed it might be hard for foreigners to find someone who speaks English or other foreign languages in public places like the train, bus stations, and information offices. Additionally, information is mostly in Slovak or complicated to find and actually understand.
Paradoxically, the absence of tourists and the friendly treatment by Slovaks that some cited as one of the country's best qualities might be the result of this kind of underdevelopment.
Interviewees also complained about outdated hotel and accommodation facilities. In some cases Slovak entrepreneurs charge foreigners more than Slovak tourists for the same services, as if all foreigners were necessarily rich, even though many of their clients could be young people and students on a budget.
Another complaint was the neglected and graffiti-spattered buildings in the capital, Bratislava, and other Slovak cities.
However, those polled liked Slovakia's natural sights and the fact that the country is still rather undiscovered and thus not overcrowded. They also appreciate the friendly attitude of people who are willing to help, even if the only language they speak is Slovak.
It seems, though, that Slovakia has much to improve on if it wants to become a favourite European tourist destination.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What has been your worst experience as a tourist in Slovakia ?
Spencer Pribula, Australia: Because I don't speak Slovak, trying to find someone at the train station who can speak English can be a challenge. And I also object to being charged more, simply because I am not Slovak. It happens to me quite often.
Jeff Lichtman, USA: There is graffiti everywhere and large parts of the city [Bratislava] are pretty ugly, so you're confined to a really small space if you're going to be a tourist. If you travel around Slovakia outside of Bratislava, most of the towns tend to look the same, although I've seen most of it in the wintertime. Everything looks exactly the same and things are closed early.
Joseph Lawton, USA: The train. Nobody tells you to get on, get off, no conductors; they only come by to punch your ticket and that's it.
Jennifer Holly, England: I think there is a lack of information about Slovakia in English. For example, your Spectacular Slovakia is really the only good publication that helps to give a good idea what places are like. There are basically no English language guidebooks. There is only The Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide, which basically write about the Czech Republic with only small sections on Slovakia. It is very difficult to find out where to go.
TSS: What have been the best experiences and the positive aspects of your stay in the country?
Spencer: Though it is somewhat contradictory to what I just said, I have found it very nice and surprising to find many typical people (not necessarily working in the tourist industry) who have really tried to help me even if they cannot speak English very well. They will apologise for not speaking English, even though it is I who should be apologising for not speaking their language in their country.
I have seen some very beautiful things that I would normally think would be overrun by tourists. But they are not and that just makes them more enjoyable.
Jeff: There aren't very many tourists. Usually you have the whole place to yourself if you're a tourist. I wouldn't say there was one that was my top experience. But for a small country the nature is pretty good so I would say that being able to go out jogging, hiking, skiing - that's pretty positive.
Joseph: The well-preserved and historic centre of Bratislava.
Jennifer: Every time I have travelled in Slovakia it has been a good experience. The people are extremely friendly and helpful, especially if you speak a small amount of Slovak. The towns are beautiful. Špania dolina is my favourite place.
TSS: What would you improve if you could change one thing?
Spencer: The country should focus on building up tourism and improving facilities so that it is easier for foreign tourists to come and be able to do what they want to do and understand what exactly is going on and how things work.
Language is a large part of it. Yes, for someone like me who is living here, I should speak the language. But for a foreigner who just wants to come and spend a holiday here, you cannot expect him or her to know the language or simply be able to figure things out for themselves.
Jeff: I would change the hotels. They are drab with modular furniture, and that I don't like.
Joseph: This is very, very good [holding up a guide by the Slovak Tourist Board], the best I've seen. Do they have an office in New York City? They ought to - an overseas office to get information before coming. And more package tours - that generates money.
Jennifer: I would change bus timetables. The public transportation is really cheap but it is a nightmare to read and understand them. For a foreigner who does not speak any Slovak it is absolutely hopeless and just too complicated.