THE DESIRE to make the Slovak Republic a prominent destination for foreign and domestic tourists, as well as the idea of giving Slovakia a new unified brand, dominated the recent conference Creating Brand Slovakia in Bratislava, with the speakers crossing a variety of professional platforms, including marketing executives, government officials, professors and TV guests.
The event, organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) under the auspices of the Slovak Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development, focused on long-term strategies to enhance the country’s tourism reputation while addressing the problems currently facing Slovakia’s tourism industry.
“Now is the time to act in Slovakia,” Jake Slegers, Executive Director of AmCham, told The Slovak Spectator. “There is a lot of buzz around Slovakia at the moment, and many businesses and companies realise this. It’ll be an initiative that everyone from big to small companies will benefit from.”
Slovakia attracts approximately 1.3 million visitors per year, a number dwarfed by that of Slovakia’s neighbours, which see 17.2 million tourists visit Austria and 39.9 million tourists visit Hungary per year, according to the OECD Better Life Index.
Slovakia’s current position as a tourist destination, which was noted by all speakers as lagging behind its more tourist-savvy neighbours, was attributed most greatly to a lack of confidence pervading the country as a whole. This was linked to the absence of a unified Slovak identity, which panel-members saw as integral to creating a new brand for Slovakia and bolstering Slovakia’s tourism image.
Slovakia, like its neighbouring destination hotspots, needs a “unique, single and shared identity”, said Peter Littmann, the founder, chairman and CEO of BRANDINSIDER, an international strategic management consultancy firm based in Germany, who noted the importance of image and identity in countries which successfully maintain a prominent tourism reputation.
In addition to ‘clumsy’ branding in the past, which yielded poor results according to Littmann, Slovakia’s small size and nascence as a country was held responsible by some for what the speakers of the conference called Slovakia’s under-confident and self-critical sentiment.
However, Oľga Gyárfášová, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, suggested that Slovakia’s young age could work in the country’s favour.
Gyárfášová, who is also a senior research fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs, commented that although the results of the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) of 2011 showed that Slovakia is not yet a visible country in a global context, it has no negative image which it needs to shed. In this way, Slovakia’s clean slate offers a unique chance for the construction of a positive and strong new concept of the country, without draining funds to get rid of pre-existing negative impressions, she said.
Ivana Magátová, the general director of the tourism department at the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development, proposed among other things to adopt changes that would see government funds given to larger scale projects, encouraging organisations to pool their skills, unite and then seek government subsidies.
“We shouldn’t fragment the funds – it’ll just be wasted or end up vanishing,” Magátová said.
The subsidies offered by the government would be granted to individual projects, and rather than being used for overhead costs, would be promoted for long-term, sustainable or repeatable projects, she said.
Slovakia's new brand
Creativity, originality, credibility and trustworthiness were among the many qualities of Slovakia’s new brand debated by one of the panels. However, the notion of honesty was the focal point of the discussion.
“Any kind of campaign can be negated by what the tourists actually find here,” said Igor Donoval, Head of Analysis and the Tourism Products Department of the Slovak Tourist Board.
Gyárfášová noted that as well as highlighting the significance of human potential in the reinvention of Slovakia’s tourism industry, Slovakia’s new branding needs to exercise honesty with some level of caution.
“Branding needs to be honest, but it shouldn’t replicate any of the stereotypes we have now,” she said.
Ultimately, the discussions should lead to agreement over the starting place for Slovakia’s new tourism trajectory, together with a renewed focus on fresh and imaginative strategies to boost Slovakia’s tourism reputation.
2. Dec 2013 at 0:00 | Nadia Beard