IF YOU have the feeling that the world is changing every minute, just have a close look at Bratislava. Especially in the past 10 years the city has undergone a massive change in terms of expanding its range of industries, its level of personal safety and its investments in new developments. This is reflected in the city centre with its restored buildings, the sprouting of multi-purpose complexes such as River Park and Eurovea, expanded shopping centres across the city and lots of new hotels with four- and five-star ratings.
Did all these investments have an impact on tourism? Some figures are revealing: In 2011 Slovakia attracted a little less than 1.5 million visitors spending an average of 2.7 nights each within the country. These figures are similar to 2010 and 2009. When examining the average occupancy rate for four- and five-star hotels in Bratislava, it remained at approximately 45 percent in 2011.
Tourism services must improve
So why don’t more tourists come to Slovakia and how could the country attract more visitors from the region and from around the world?
Tourism services in Slovakia are still in their infancy. Proposals to shape up the tourism industry in the country are mostly vague. Very often people working in the tourism industry have no specialised education and perceive their career as only a job, bringing neither joy nor their heart to their work. The country’s tourism schools seem to have acknowledged this problem and are now adopting their education processes.
The pride of tourism industry employees in their country and towns could also improve. Very often more-developed cities and countries are compared with Bratislava and Slovakia, while forgetting that all other tourism destinations also have certain problems.
Slovakia’s cultural heritage has so much to offer and could easily be marketed to those outside its borders. More interest just needs to be created.
One personal story might fit perfectly well into this topic. The hotel I represent has been organising regular trips for invited international media to explore Bratislava. The target group for the last such trip was Austrian journalists – from well-established media – who travelled from Vienna. An interesting fact is of the 15 journalists, living just 70 kilometres away in Vienna, 70 percent had never before visited Bratislava!
It obviously requires a lot of know-how, money, and promotion of interesting places that can attract visitors in order to market a city and country. Tourists must have lots of existing and unique places to see for at least a couple of days to ensure they stay overnight and spend some money in Bratislava. Right now Bratislava is well-known for boat trips between Vienna and Budapest that have a stopover of only about four hours to explore the city. Tourists leave their boat, have a walk through city centre and immediately return to the boat to continue their journey, to spend much more of their money for accommodation and entertainment in another city. The basic tourism infrastructure has been built in Bratislava - it just needs a bit more fine-tuning.
On the right path
Tourism associations, like those which have been established in various regions of Slovakia, are a good example of a way forward. A functioning infrastructure, effective promotion of the country and its uniqueness, a good education system, and high-quality, ambitious staff - these are the four main pillars on which tourism must be built. Then Slovakia will no longer be an unknown spot on the travel maps, but a shining highlight.
Gerald Haberhauer is general manager of the Kempinski Hotel River Park Bratislava
This column is prepared in cooperation with AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia. www.amcham.sk