Last week The Slovak Spectator and Bratislava city council invited readers to 'help put Bratislava on the map' by adding to an online discussion about promoting the city. Here is a selection of the responses so far. You can add your opinion on www.slovakspectator.sk.
Sell Slovakia, not just Bratislava
Honestly, I think it would be better to "sell" Slovakia as a whole. Bratislava is just next to Vienna, hard competition to face. Bratislava is certainly a nice place (or has nice places), but for a tourist, there is simply too little of it compared to Vienna.
Slovakia as a tourist destination, I think would be better. You can combine the attractiveness of Bratislava with old castles scattered around the country, breathtaking nature and so on and so on. The only thing missing is the ocean, but that seems to be an unsolvable one.
Checklist for success
The positive things about Slovakia that impressed me the most on a recent trip there were:
1. The beautiful mountains and natural scenery
2. The incredibly inexpensive prices of goods and services
3. The friendliness of the people, both in Bratislava and the smaller cities and towns
4. The "undiscovered" nature of Slovakia. We in North America knew about Czechoslovakia, but there is little understanding of the fact that the two countries are now separate, and that they really are quite different from one another. Slovakia really does need its own "brand", as they say in the marketing world
5. The interesting interplay of the historical with the communist era
6. Emphasize the uniqueness of Slovak folk culture
7. Roma history and culture Although this has been and continues to be a very controversial issue for many Slovaks (and other central-eastern Europeans), it is an integral part of your history and of great interest to others.
Some of the barriers Bratislava and Slovakia as a whole will need to overcome:
1. Lack of tourist accommodation. It's okay for what you get right now, but you'll need to add a lot of places if you are trying to attract increasing numbers of tourists
2. It's awfully hard to spend money in Slovakia! There were few products geared toward tourists.
3. Believe in yourselves, and show your pride in your country. I felt like most of the country had an inferiority complex about itself, and this is so unwarranted
Celebrate who you are, and emphasize your uniqueness.
Ellicott City, USA
Bolder publicity and better visa policy
Early last year I studied for six months at the Slovak Technical University. This threw up a number of 'problems' that Slovakia as a whole faces when it looks to the outside world.
I feel that it is not just the promotion of Bratislava that is in question, put the nation as a whole. Few 'educated' people know where Slovakia is let alone what its capital is. My doctor thought I was off to war-torn Yugoslavia!
Americans I met in youth hostels in Austria and Vienna particularly didn't know that Slovakia was an hour away by train to the east.
I feel that Slovakia needs to be bolder in its publicity in other nations. I sensed a 'woe is me' feeling rather than 'get out there and promote ourselves', which I think is a legacy of the breakup.
Slovaks need to feel positive about themselves as the country has a lot to offer, a lot of nice people etc, but promotion of the attractions is severely lacking. This is not aided by the unhelpful attitude that some of your foreign embassies have. It cost me hundreds of pounds, trips to London and six months to secure a study visa; if this is true for tourists of non-EU nations, then there is little point in promoting yourselves.
I wish you the best of luck, and will soon be in Bratislava again to enjoy this largely uninvaded city.
East Anglia, UK
Link up with the neighbours
I understand that Bratislava might want to develop its profile but I'd suggest that it's going to struggle to compete against better established travel destinations such as Prague, Vienna and Budapest, other than perhaps on price and value (which may be a rather short-term strategy).
Hence, it is perhaps worth considering making more of an appeal as one destination on two- or three-centre holidays (e.g. Danube cities, maybe cruising; or Krakow-Prague-Bratislava etc).
If the Bratislava promotions people could persuade TV production companies to make programmes about the area that could help. Also what about getting film companies to use Bratislava and Slovakia as film locations?
Add Bratislava to cross-Europe tours
My wife and I will be visiting Slovakia for the first time this fall. We will be flying in to Vienna. Why? Because I can get an eight-hour non-stop flight from Dulles. To fly into Bratislava would have meant for us a 15-20 hour travel day.
Make it tourist friendly if you want the tourist dollars. I don't speak Italian but I love to vacation there and there are enough people who speak English to make me comfortable as a guest.
Most Americans when they first travel to Europe take the 10 day 6-7 country group bus tours. Get Bratislava included on some of these multi country/city tours. If you give a tourist a good sample of your country/city, they will be back with more of those tourist dollars/euros.
Create a better first impression
Arriving in Bratislava by air is a joy compared with arriving at Vienna, or, horrible thought, Frankfurt. When I tell my friends around Europe and in America that I fly to Bratislava, they are surprised to discover that it is even possible. The problem is, of course, how does one make flying into Bratislava profitable when the vast majority of tourists coming to this part of Europe want to go to Vienna?
It should be noted, however, that the bus going from the airport to the city centre is a derelict wreck. Bratislava's finest buses ought to be running in areas where tourists are most likely to be. It makes a terrible first impression for a tourist to see that thing go by at the airport, making Bratislava on first sight look like a central American country.
It would be naive to suppose that one could make Bratislava competitive with a world-class city like Vienna, its next door neighbour. So rather than compete, there ought to be a way to cooperate. The most obvious method of cooperation would be to re-establish the tramline between the Bratislava Old Town and the centre of Vienna, which apparently existed during the Habsburg Empire.
One could consider placing well-designed billboards at both Sudbahnhof and Westbahnof in Vienna informing tourist passing through those stations that there is a gorgeous Central European pearl, still undiscovered, only an hour away by train. If they don't even know it's there, they aren't likely to consider taking a trip over to see what it's like.
21. Jul 2003 at 0:00