THE SEEDS of cooperation between Hungary’s Miskolc and Slovakia’s Košice within the European Capital of Culture 2013 (ECOC) project were planted at an international exhibition of tourism called “Let’s Travel the World”, organised at the end of March in 2012 in Miskolc, of which Košice was the main partner. The event featured 111 exhibitors and attracted 15,000 visitors. The mayors of Miskolc and Košice, Ákos Kriza and Richard Raši respectively, used the exhibition as an opportunity to emphasise the importance of cooperation between the two cities in the field of tourism and culture.
Links between Košice and Miskolc started intensifying after December 2000, when the cities signed an agreement to promote and improve tourism, business links, culture, education and infrastructure, while the Council of the Euroregion of Košice-Miskolc, established on February 15, 2001, has been in charge of this cooperation. It consists of 16 members and meets at least twice a year.
Even if town officials see the ECOC 2013 as a potential boost to tourism between the cities, the mutual links have traditionally been well nourished.
“Cooperation with Miskolc is based on historical ties and the geographical proximity of the cities, the multicultural character of Košice and intensive cooperation outside the ECOC,” said spokeswoman from the municipality of Košice Martina Viktorinová.
Benefits of the culture capital
The first profile event of the Košice 2013 project, White Night, was held on October 6, 2012 in Košice, making it possible within this international event for young and creative artists to change the night life of the city with light installations and musical effects.
In cooperation with Miskolc, buses were dispatched for this event for Hungarian visitors. This event also proves that Miskolc is ready to take its share in the events.
“Miskolc is participating in the programmes of ECOC 2013, which illustrates the good relations between the cities”, said Timea Dobos, a spokesperson from Miskolc.
The cities have shared marketing activities to make sure that inhabitants of both cities receive information about the other city, to motivate them to visit it and spend more time there, Dobos told The Slovak Spectator.
Some of the projects that Košice plans to implement in the field of culture and tourism will focus on the Hungarian-speaking audience both in Slovakia as well as Hungary, which will be prepared by Košice, in close cooperation with Miskolc.
“Miskolc is paying attention to opportunities that might impact tourism as well as the cultural and marketing activities of the two cities,” said Dobos. “Košice and Miskolc are suited for showing their tourism potential and cultural heritage together to both city dwellers and tourists.”
Residents of Miskolc make up a considerable number of visitors to Košice and the surrounding region, and many of them spend at least one extended weekend in the eastern metropolis each year.
Next year, during the ECOC 2013, organisers expect the number of tourists, not only from Hungary, but from all over Europe, to increase.
“The [ECOC] title helps us to establish business contacts with customers from international destinations, [and to facilitate] talks with airlines about air connections with major European cities,” said Iveta Niňajová, executive director of the Košice Tourist Board. “The inflow of tourists will depend on the establishment of direct flights to England and Germany and on which city, along with Košice Airport, works.”
According to Niňajová, it is important to re-establish a train connection between Krakow and Budapest through Košice, which the city is aiming to achieve in time for the 2013 summer tourist season.
“Cultural programmes are mainly planned for the weekends, which should inspire visitors to plan a stay for a prolonged weekend in Košice,” Niňajová added.
As for the ways in which the ECOC title may benefit Košice, Niňajová said that it allows Slovakia’s second largest city to shift from its industrial image to that of a more creative and artistic one.
“From the point of view of tourism the title brings significant incentives and means not only rebuilding Košice’s cultural offerings but also broadening the potential of tourism, because the European Capital of Culture brand is well recognised in western Europe - especially in England and Germany,” said Niňajová.
In addition to the ECOC project, the self-governing Košice Region, within its cross-border cooperation programmes between Hungary and Slovakia for the 2007-2013 period, is implementing a project to mark cultural and tourist destinations along the roads to create thematic routes. Development of cross-border tourism is one of the fundamental goals of the project. Among other things, it should contribute to the improvement of visitor information about tourist areas in the region.
Based on the positive experience there are plans to extend the cooperation to other regions, Niňajová suggests.
“The Košice Tourist Board plans to establish cooperation with tourism organisations in Budapest and Krakow, and sell [Košice] to distant markets as a stop along the Budapest–Krakow route, which are popular destinations in eastern Europe,” said Niňajová.
Organisers believe that long-term projects of this nature positively impact relations between Slovakia and Hungary.
“Košice is specific, as it has always had a multicultural aspect with a large Hungarian minority,” said Niňajová. “Hungarians have a fervent relationship with Košice, much like their interest in Košice native [and popular Hungarian writer] Sándor Márai. They form a majority of all overnight visitors.”
Branislav Štofan and Ivan Tománek are students of the University of Economics in Bratislava