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TRAVEL & TOURISM - STAR RATINGS SYSTEMS READY FOR THREE-YEAR UPGRADE

Government lends Slovakia's top ski resorts a helping hand

MANY winter sports enthusiasts find themselves in a predicament. They want to spend a ski holiday in Slovakia but are not sure which resort will meet their standards. More than anything, they want to avoid any unpleasant surprises. But how can vacationers evaluate quality if they have never been to Slovak ski centres before?

MANY winter sports enthusiasts find themselves in a predicament. They want to spend a ski holiday in Slovakia but are not sure which resort will meet their standards. More than anything, they want to avoid any unpleasant surprises. But how can vacationers evaluate quality if they have never been to Slovak ski centres before?

Slovakia has decided to make the decision-making process easier by promoting Slovak ski centres that fulfil an international quality standard criteria. Based on a request by Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, the Economy Ministry selected the country's top 20 ski centres and gave the names to the Slovak Tourist Board, which will promote them as Slovakia's ski destinations of international standing.

Categorizing Slovakia's ski centres is not new. LAVEX, an association of cableways and lift operators, along with Sitour, a winter tourism agency, initiated a five-star ratings system in 2003.

"We look at several criteria, starting with the area of technical equipment. We look at things such as the length of the ski slopes, the number of lifts and cableways, the possibility of evening skiing, cross country skiing routes and snowboarding routes," Ľubica Styková from Sitour told The Slovak Spectator.

"Accompanying services are also important. Ski-buses, buffets, ski rental, promotion materials. We also take into consideration the safety of skiers. Is there a physician nearby? How are the safety facilities on the ski slopes?"

According to Ján Grešo, the director of LAVEX, Slovakia's top five ski centres created the basic structure for the star ratings systems. Sitour and LAVEX consider 20 Slovak ski resorts worthy of international standing, while 40 deserve regional recognition. The companies consider 250 centres "locally important".

"We consider some resorts with less than five stars as worthy of being on the top 20 list for various reasons. We believe all the resorts in the top 20 fulfil international standards of a good ski resort," Grešo said.

The star evaluation system, however, is getting out of date. Many resorts have since gone through renovations and modernization. The next ranking system, scheduled to be valid for the 2006-2009 winter seasons, is expected to be out the first quarter of 2006.

The head of the Economy Ministry's tourism department, Gabriel Kuliffay, said that currently there is not a great deal of difference between five- and four-star ski resorts.

However, he does say that three-star centres lag farther behind their four-star counterparts.

Interestingly, a report about tourism development in Slovakia recently approved by the Slovak cabinet suggests that developers should target beginning skiers rather than advanced skiers because they represent a better market.

According to the cabinet, Slovakia cannot compete with Alpine ski resorts, where advanced skiers can find variable terrain and better services. However, it can and wants to attract skiers from countries where skiing opportunities are limited, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and others.

The report emphasizes that Slovakia should take advantage of the natural conditions suitable for skiing: mountains cover more than 62 percent of its territory, and the average number of days with snow is exceeds 90.

"The economic benefits of winter tourism are higher than summer tourism. The winter tourist spends more: he must stay in a hotel; he must spent more money on sports activities; he does not cook his own food in a caravan but eats in restaurants," reads the document.


Top 20 Ski Centres in Slovakia
Resort Star evaluation
Ski Jasná - Chopok Sever *****
Chopok Juh - Tále ***
Park Snow Štrbské Pleso *****
Snowparadise Veľká Rača *****
Ski Plejsy *****
Park Snow Donovaly *****
Skicentrum Vrátna ****
TaLaDo Tatranská Lomnica ***
Skipark Ružomberok ****
Martinské hole ***
Skicentrum Kubínska hoľa ***
Roháče Spálená ****
Jasenská dolina ****
Valčianska dolina ***
Skicentrum Čertovica ***
Drienica - Lysá ****
Kojšovská hoľa ***
Lyžiarske stredisko Šachtičky ***
Ždiar - Bachledova dolina ***
Smokovce - Hrebienok **
Source: Pravda, Sitour

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