Slovakia attracts tourists by its cultural and natural heritage and with an increasing number of flight connections. The Slovak government and organisations active in tourism want to maintain this trend in coming years. Prospects are good as Slovakia is perceived as a safe country from a geopolitical point of view, and, as a country presiding over the EU Council during the second half of 2016, it has received a special amount of media attention.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the European Travel Commission (ETC) estimate incoming tourism in 2017 will increase by 2.1 percent in EU countries and by 4.5 percent in the countries of central and eastern Europe.
“For Slovakia, any year-on increase in the number of tourists over 5 percent would be interesting from the point of view of obtaining a higher share of the overall visits in Europe,” said Karolína Ducká, spokesperson of the Ministry of Transport and Construction.
In 2016, Slovakia broke the record in tourist numbers when altogether 5,023,629 visitors came to the country. This was a 15 percent increase compared with 2015.
The development of the economic contributions of tourism also depends on the overall development of the economy and the growth of other industries.
“At the moment, there are favourable conditions for development,” said Ducká. “The Ministry of Transport sees space for widening the offer, increasing quality; innovating the products of tourism and increasing the economic contributions of tourism.”
Castles and mountains
Slovakia is an interesting country and except for a sea, it sports all the features attractive for tourists. In a comparatively small area of around 50,000 square kilometres it offers mountains, castles, folk architecture and lively towns, which have not escaped the eyes of some of the world’s most prestigious travel publications.
“It is a great form of advertising for any locality,” said Lenka Vargová-Jurková, executive director of the destination management organisation Košice Region Tourism. “All forms of promotion are beneficial for tourism.”
The main bastions of Košice Region are the Slovak Paradise National Park and the Tokaj wine region on the border with Hungary.
“From Košice, you can reach 18 UNESCO cultural heritage sites in less than 100 minutes driving,” said Vargová-Jurková.
Slovakia has seven localities on the list including the Spiš Castle, the largest mediaeval fortress in central Europe. In 2016, National Geographic included the castle in its Traveller.
A 15-minute drive east from Spiš Castle is Levoča, known for its gothic altar, while further east is Bardejov, with its gothic town centre. Both towns are also included in the UNESCO cultural heritage list of monuments, together with the town of Banská Štiavnica and the technical monuments in its vicinity; Vlkolínec with its folk architecture; wooden churches of the Slovak part of the Carpathian Mountain area; Caves of the Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst, and the Carpathian Beech Forests.
Slovakia is also popular with skiers, offering cheaper alternative to the Alps. Jasná in the Low Tatras was recognised as the best ski centre in Slovakia at the World Ski Awards 2015. It offers 48 km of slopes, also suitable for more advanced skiers.
The High and Low Tatra mountains are popular with foreigners, helped by the proximity of the Poprad airport.
A majority of the visitors going to the Donovaly ski resort in central Slovakia, on the other hand, come from the Visegrad countries.
“The highest number of guests is from Slovakia, followed by Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic,” Miroslav Dobrota, marketing manager at Park Snow Donovaly in the Low Tatras, told The Slovak Spectator in November 2016.
Connections and security
In December 2016, the Guardian included Poprad amongst its top winter city breaks. It offers, apart from snowy mountains suitable for skiers in winter, paths for hikers in summer, and the Aquacity water park, open year round.
The nearby Poprad airport offers direct connections to London, Riga and Warsaw, a strong attraction for visitors from these countries. New air connections have helped Košice Region, too.
“The development of the infrastructure, mainly the air connections, has an unquestionable impact on the rise in tourism,” said Vargová-Jurková.
She added that for many incoming tourists, Košice Region is an unknown destination. Many of them, however, are positively surprised, which is documented by the increasing numbers of visitors.
“Two new lines will be added in June, to Tel Aviv in Israel and Cologne in Germany, therefore we expect an increase in visitor numbers from these target markets,” said Vargová-Jurková.
During this year’s summer months, Bratislava airport will offer regular lines to 41 destinations in 22 countries. Compared to last year, it is a significant increase. Among the novelties are direct flights by the Wizz Air company to Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cluj-Napoca in Romania.
Meanwhile, Ryanair company offers flights to Corfu, Malaga, Mallorca, Paris, Trapani or Alghero. The direct line to Corfu was added in the beginning of May. It will operate every Friday during the summer season, i.e. till October 27, when there is higher demand for holiday destinations.
“There is increasing interest in city breaks and short stays in less known destinations closer to home,” said Ducká.
Apart from the climate conditions and quality of the offer in tourism, the development in recent years also depends on the geopolitical and economic situation in Europe and in the world.
“Any negative information can significantly impact the reasoning of the end user, for example, recent events in St Petersburg, Stockholm or Cairo,” she said.
Slovakia is currently labelled as a safe country for tourists, Ducká pointed out.
“The Slovak Presidency of the EU Council helped Slovakia get into the awareness of the people in Europe and in the world,” she added.
The country was made visible in the world, the media coverage has grown and the Slovakia has become an important partner in terms of international relations, which under the current geopolitical situation positively affects tourism.
“We expect that with effective operation of the system of tourism in Slovakia the growing trend could also be maintained in the upcoming period,” Ducká said.
The ministry also wants to target the spa industry, which ̶̶̶̶ from the point of view marketing and competitiveness ̶̶̶̶ belongs to strong communication topics in the area of tourism, explained Ducká. They want to promote this segment among the important resource markets, such as the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Russian Federation and the UK.
“Apart from that we are finalising preparations for the launch of smart propagation of the opportunities and attractions of tourism in Slovakia via modern, user-oriented and economically effective presentation on the slovakia.travel portal,” Ducká closed.