OLYMPIC venues in London will be not the only place where Slovakia is represented in the city. As in previous Olympic years and locations, Slovakia will have a temporary ‘Slovak House’ for the duration of the games. This time it will be sited in the high-profile address of the Institute of Directors, near Piccadilly Circus in central London. While the venue should serve for official celebrations of any medals that Slovak athletes win, as well as for official presentation of Slovakia and as a venue for prominent visits, the general public can get a taste of Slovakia in the nearby Sports Café in Haymarket.
“It is an eternal question mark,” František Chmelár, the head of the Slovak Olympic Committee (SOV), said in response to criticism in Slovakia that the Slovak House is too grand. “If it is a pub where beer is on draught and everybody who wants can go there, it goes wrong. When, on the other hand, it is a palace, which is one of the most beautiful in London and is owned by the Royal family and only those with a jacket are allowed in, it again goes wrong… I really do not know what would satisfy [everyone].”
According to Chmelár, people should look at the situation realistically.
“I regard it as a victory that we have an exceptional house at an exceptional address,” Chmelár said in an interview with the TASR newswire.
He added that while the Slovak House will be accessible only for official and invited guests and thus will not be open to thousands of Slovaks working, studying and living in Great Britain, he hoped that this gap would be filled by the Slovak Sports Café pub to be opened just opposite.
It was Jan Telensky, attaché to the Slovak Olympic Team, who helped Slovakia secure such a prominent address for the entertainment and hospitality hub during the London Olympics. The Prague-born businessman, who holds a British passport and is married to a Slovak from Poprad, is known in Slovakia for his successful AquaCity Poprad resort.
The official opening of the Slovak House was planned for July 27, and was due to be attended by Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič. The head of state plans to stay in London for a week and watch Slovak athletes competing. The house will be open until the end of the Olympics.
During the games the Slovak House will not host just Slovak athletes, but should also become a venue for official meetings, conferences and presentations organised by the Slovak Tourist Board (SACR).
“The aim of SACR is to present in London a range of products from the Slovak tourism industry during the entire Olympics,” Nora Gubková of SACR told The Slovak Spectator, specifying that her organisation’s goal is to use the Slovak House for meetings and presentations to British tour operators, media, tourism portals, representatives of airlines and so on. “The aim is to establish new contacts, extend the range of Slovak destinations in the catalogues of British tour operators, to increase publicity for Slovakia in the British media and by this to gradually increase the number of British tourists in Slovakia.”
The events will focus on culture and business diplomacy. Among individual events Gubková mentioned media breakfasts, cooking shows, fashion shows, and Slovak evenings.
“Simultaneously, we want to introduce Slovakia and its destinations to the wider public [and] will give these presentations in the Sports Café on Haymarket,” said Gubková, adding that presentations in the Sports Café will be for visitors to the Olympics, London citizens, but also all those living and working in London and searching for destinations for their holidays.
Visitors will be able to order Slovak beer and meals in the Sports Café, and will also be able to enter competitions to win holidays in Slovakia as well as promotional materials.
SACR called on people and companies active in tourism in Slovakia to present their products in London. Eight are taking part: the city of Košice and its project for the European Capital of Culture; destination management companies representing the Bratislava, High Tatras and Jasná regions; the ski centre in Donovaly; the travel agency Skitour; and Bratislava’s Holiday Inn and Park Inn hotels.
Gubková believes that a relatively compact range of tourist products from the whole of Slovakia will be represented. Those taking part will introduce their products during presentations to tour operators and journalists as well as to the general public in the Sports Café.