After returning in June from Slovenia I resolved to put my feelings regarding the parlous state of three of Bohinj’s hitherto iconic hotels – Zlatorog, Bellevue and Ski – into words and contact somebody in Slovenia whose remit might include a tourism portfolio. My words are reproduced, verbatim, below:
Director General: Marjan Hribar, MSc
Tourism & Internationalisation Directorate
28th June 2013
Dear Mr. Hribar,
Having recently returned from a wonderful holiday at Lake Bohinj, a place I have visited on many occasions, I would like to address some issues with the built-environment which I feel could be improved upon:
Ski Hotel at Rjava Skala, above Lake Bohinj
This is an emblematic and iconic structure, synonymous with the Vogel cable-car, visible from a wide area and a useful focal-point when orientating the local area. However, it cannot be kept in its current state just for the aforementioned reasons. It is currently closed, falling into disrepair and badly lets down the first impression one receives after disembarking from the Vogel cableway. I propose that cost-analysis is undertaken on the feasibility of knocking it down and replacing it with a more modest but modern establishment, offering accommodation mainly but not exclusively aimed at the domestic market. I believe, if properly marketed, this hotel could sustain an all-year round trade, especially attracting a weekend crowd made up mainly of domestic customers during the April to October period, with a mixture of domestic and international guests during the ski season. This is a wonderful location for suitable accommodation, especially for hikers wishing to make an early start and of course, catering for the skiing fraternity. Cost-analysis for the demolition, rebuilding and fitting-out of a more modest in size 4-star hotel can be weighted against renovating and refurbishing the existing structure. I also propose a name-change for the hotel; its current moniker indicates it is just for the winter ski-market. The Rjava Skala & Ski Hotel would be my name of choice, reflecting its location, a respectful nod to its historic significance and that it is not just a hotel for the winter season.
Hotel Zlatorog, Ukanc, Lake Bohinj
This is another iconic building, famous for its yesteryear popularity, location, quality of service and accommodation. However, its glory days are long behind it and on my recent trip to the area, I was astonished to see it was shut and its state of some disrepair. The western end of Lake Bohinj is the starting point of many of the area’s best walks and multi-day excursions but suffers from a chronic lack of quality, facility-heavy accommodation. Whilst I am fully aware that being located in the Triglav National Park this area cannot be widely developed – nor would I wish it to be – there is surely nothing stopping the existing site being redeveloped, assuming it is no bigger in scale than the existing hotel and designed in a sympathetic and environmentally-friendly manner. This is such a chronically wasted opportunity to regenerate Ukanc, an area that thrived when the Zlatorog was in its heyday. I don’t believe demolition of the Zlatorog is the answer if nothing is going to replace it. I do though conclude that similar cost-analysis be undertaken as to whether the current building should be completely refurbished to a 4-star or above standard; alternatively, it should be demolished and rebuilt, retaining a similar shape, design and use of natural materials and aesthetics. The Zlatorog depandansa should be removed and not replaced; I believe annexes to be outmoded and inadequate for the modern traveller, usually offering inferior accommodation to the main building, whilst being somewhat geographically-remote from it. Budget accommodation can be found at the lakeside campsite and Hostel Pod Voglom making an annex to be superfluous. The Bohinj Park Eco Hotel in Bohinjska Bistrica is the benchmark which a rebuilt Zlatorog should aspire to. Should none of the above happen, the hotel will continue to deteriorate and reopen and shut with increased regularity. Ukanc is the starting point for many walks such as to Bogatinom, Slap Savica, Crno Jezero and of course the Vogel cableway. The Zlatorog is ideally placed for the potentially well-off hiker who wants to embark on these hikes, and more besides.
Hotel Bellevue, Ribcev Laz, Lake Bohinj
Again, this is the third of a triumvirate of iconic hotels that are not being exploited for their geographically-advantageous locations. The Bellevue has so many positive traits but not the building itself. For too long it has badly marketed itself as somewhere Agatha Christie once stayed but like the Zlatorog, the building and quality of service offered has been allowed to suffer whilst the asset was sweated, at the expense of the travellers who patronised it. It has a wonderful view of Triglav and Lake Bohinj from its north-facing rooms and yes, Agatha Christie stayed there. For that reason alone, the hotel should be full of British, American and Japanese tourists but in reality, the British package-holiday companies who once included the Bellevue in their brochures have long since dropped it. Geographically it is located on a quiet, forested plateau above Ribcev Laz but near enough for guests to visit the lake and beyond. Quite frankly, the Bellevue should be a goldmine for the local area but the state it is now in is lamentable. Having recently walked from Rjava Skala to the Bellevue, I was saddened to see the state it has been reduced to and the poor standard of bedding in the annex being aired on the balconies. Again, I would propose the permanent removal of the ugly, anachronistic and financially unwieldy annex along with a full-refurbishment of the hotel.
In these times of financial hardship, Slovenia needs to tap into but not exploit its enviable amount of natural riches to attract tourists in a measured, sustainable but extremely well-marketed and regulated manner. Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s jewel in the crown but for it to have so many of its prime tourist accommodation ailing in the manner in which they are is a large, misplaced opportunity to help bring much needed travellers and revenue into the local-area and country as a whole. If the three hotels I highlight are brought back to acceptable standards for the 21st century traveller, many of the day-trippers I see at the Lake will be persuaded to stay overnight, rather than head back to Bled or home, if they are Slovenians. At the moment, most foreign touring parties stay in Bled, come to Bohinj but move on after a day. Only the Hotel Jezero in Ribcev Laz benefits from them but of course, its capacity is finite. If sufficient capacity is available for overnight accommodation at the right standard, this will easily persuade foreign tour-companies to include Bohinj in their itineraries. I believe the adage of spending money to make money has never been truer than in the example of Bohinj tourism. A radical but measured overhaul of the tourism infrastructure would reap benefits for many years to come.
I appreciate that the properties I have mentioned are in all likelihood in the hands of private companies or individuals. I do though think it is incumbent upon the Ministry in charge of Tourism to bring its considerable weight to bear in influencing what happens to these properties; if at all possible, acquiring them or placing the owners on notice that significant improvements need to be made by a certain timescale. Slovenia and it’s population has the ingenuity, work-ethic and natural tourist-attractions to be a mini Austrian Tyrol in the tourist sense but whilst investment and marketing remains insufficient, it will never make the most of what it has.
Should a larger stock of quality, overnight accommodation be available, this would definitely attract larger amounts of British tourists. I believe that the numbers of British tourists travelling to Slovenia has recently fallen but it is my opinion that this is because of the low numbers of airline seats made available by Adria Airways, especially away from their London Gatwick to Ljubljana route. For example, there are two flights a week from Manchester to Ljubljana but using ‘planes with a capacity of just 86 seats. Subsequently, it becomes very hard to secure a seat on a ‘plane to Slovenia, especially as part of a package deal to Bohinj, Bled, Bovec and Kranjska Gora. As Adria doesn’t currently have many larger aircraft, I suggest it should charter larger ‘planes to fly from Manchester and Birmingham, maybe even Edinburgh and Dublin, thus giving the opportunity to a larger proportion of the British population to visit Slovenia. A ‘speculate to accumulate’ attitude would, in my opinion, reap the commensurate dividends that Slovenian tourism’s potential can rightfully expect. Give the people the chance to come to Slovenia and they will!
As you can see, I am passionate about Slovenia and consider it to be my second-home. Its wild beauty is unique and I would never wish to see it exploited or for the natural environment to suffer. One of its assets is that development is strictly controlled but all the properties I have mentioned are now trading – or not trading as the case may be – on past glories. I do though think Slovenia has to make the most of what it has; if the example of the Bohinj region is taken in isolation, I don’t believe it currently is doing this.
I wish Slovenia much prosperity and stability for the years to come.
I am sure you are not surprised to learn that my epistle has so far failed to elicit a response. Perhaps they don’t take kindly to an outsider pointing out the failings of the accommodation-stock that are so heavily relied upon; or, being more optimistic there might already be plans to rectify the issues I raised. I would though say this is less likely. Either way I don’t expect a reply but I do sincerely hope that these three epochal properties can be restored and modernised so to regain their rightful places of prominence in Slovenia’s premier Alpine resort. Otherwise Bohinj, more specifically Ribcev Laz and Ukanc, will increasingly become the haunt of day-trippers who spend their evenings and night-times in nearby Bled having found the accommodation-stock too reliant upon the likes of the Jezero, Kristal and the smaller Gasperin and Rozic. Whilst this quartet have their individual merits alone and combined they do not have the capacity to cope with the levels of tourism that Bohinj sholud be able to entertain. If any reply is forthcoming you will be the first to know.