Slovenia surges in tourism

Slovenia, one of the newest members of the European Union, has seen a surge in visitors during the first nine months of this year. The number of American tourists rose by 26 percent compared with the same period in 2003, to 31,000 visitors. Dutch visits rose by 20 percent to 53,200. Visits by British tourists grew by 48 percent to 65,000 encouraged in part by the introduction of budget flights from London with easy jet, which were introduced in May.

Previously part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia lies at the heart of Europe, where the Alps meet the Adriatic. To the north is Austria; to the east, Hungary; to the south, Croatia; and to the west, Italy.

Slovenia has received a Guardian/Observer Travel Award as Favorite European Country. It is a relatively unspoiled country with a population of two million and is one of the world’s fastest developing tourist destinations according to figures from the World Tourism Organization.

One of its border towns, Nova Gorica, was the location for a special celebration on joining the European Union in May. There was big party and a ceremony to lift a fence, which ran through the center, marking a physical border between Slovenia and Italy, the outer boundary of the European Union, and had split the town’s community for over forty years.

The easing of travel restrictions and the dropping of visa requirements for Europeans has enabled the tourist board to promote vigorously Slovenia’s assets and attractions. The latest positive figures show this effort has paid off. Investment in tourism has vastly increased Slovenia’s profile in Europe and the world market.

One of Slovenia’s most historic buildings, the Vila Bled, formerly a residence of President Tito of Yugoslavia, has undergone a major refurbishment as a four star hotel.

The capital, Ljubliana, has first class hotels and conference facilities, while traditional spas and health resorts around the country are in the process of being modernized. The Palace Hotel on the seafront of the coastal resort, Portoroz, once the pride of Slovenian tourism, is undergoing renovation, which should be completed for the 2006 season.

Health and wellness and Alpine winter sports are the most successful sectors of Slovenian tourism. A new hotel is planned for the largest spa resort, Terme Cartez, and is due to open in 2005.

A new water park in Ljubliana will be completed next year and will 17,000 square meters of pools it will become the biggest aqua leisure facility in the region between Vienna and Milan.

New ski lifts are due to open this winter, along with night skiing in Kranjska Gora and a new white-knuckle sled run at Rogla in the Slovenian Alps. Snowboarders will be attracted to Mount Vogel where a special park has been built to enable them to enjoy their sport away from Skiers.

Natural resources form a large part of the draw for worldwide visitors to Slovenia and include a national park, lakes and mountains with tourist farms providing opportunities for activity vacations in some of the most unspoiled countryside anywhere in Europe.

The low-budget airlines have cashed in on Slovenia’s growth. Easy jet flies direct from London Stansted to Lijubliana and Ryanair has regular services to Klagenfurt and Graz just over the border in Austria and Trieste in Italy. The national airline Adria Airways recorded a ten per cent rise in passenger arrivals in the first nine months of 2004 compared with the previous year. Summer schedules in 2005 will include direct flights from Dublin and Manchester to Ljubliana.

Slovenia’s profile among British tourists is likely to rise in the new year. The BBC is due to screen a series of programs based on the town twinning of Sedburgh in north-west England with Zrece in Slovenia. As part of the twinning process, workers from a range of industries in Zrece traded places with their counterparts in Sedburgh and their experiences are being made into 12 half-hour TV programs.

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