Running contrary to the general direction Slovenia now seems to be taking, Aerodrom Maribor has, as reported by Radio Television Slovenia, been acquired and recapitalised by a domestic investor, making a refreshing change from many of Slovenia’s public and privately owned assets being touted to foreign speculators.
Aerodrom Maribor’s new majority shareholder, Delavska hranilnica, a trade union backed savings bank should be congratulated for their bold and enterprising approach to addressing the problems which, presumably, have hindered Aerodrom Maribor from being greater than the sum of its parts, let alone equal to them. A quick glance at the airport’s website shows a modern terminal, seemingly primed to receive and dispatch far more than just the two flights in both directions scheduled for today. It very much reminds me of Graz flughafen, ironically the airport where much of Maribor’s potential trade goes, if only due to its close geographic proximity.
Whether this shot in the arm for Aerodrom Maribor’s fortunes has come at a good time, remains to be seen. The news earlier this month that the operating company of Maribor Pohorje’s ski resort and many of the city’s hotels is deep in financial trouble, not in the least because of insufficient snow-depths last winter, certainly presents a stern challenge to the management at Delavska hranilnica, especially if presumably part of their business model to revive the fortunes of their newly acquired airport is to attract more flights from continental Europe and, Great Britain. The ski area at Pohorje is undoubtedly Maribor’s biggest tourism asset but so reliant had the whole financial health of the area become on favourable weather, the danger was that relying on the vagaries of the alpine climate, a ski area with a modest altitudinal reach, was an accident a long-time in the making but quick in its execution. Pohorje, being so unreliable for snow has always had a limited hinterland from where it could draw a ski-crowd, depending on locals and cross-border day-trippers who only travel last minute on the say so of a favourable weather forecast. This certainly would ensure hotel rooms will only sporadically be filled, certainly not at an occupancy rate to ensure their long-term viability.
I am strictly of the opinion that Maribor Pohorje can survive but only by pitching itself at travel fairs as an all-year-round destination, a charming alternative for hikers who choose low-level resorts in Austria instead of the more physically and technically demanding areas of the western Tyrol. Maribor has the airport with good links to the city, the attractive River Drava and cityscape architecture, as well as the worlds oldest vine. The hotel stock is in place, both centrally and amongst the Pohorje region, whether it remains in the hands of SC Pohorje or is bought out as part of the ongoing insolvency process. If the new owners of Aerodrom Maribor are serious about their view that the airport is a sound investment, they must back this leap of faith with concerted attempts to attract the likes of Inghams Lakes & Mountains and Crystal Thomson to the eastern reaches of Slovenia. If this can be done it would perhaps also be a sensible move for Delavska hranilnica to bring some of SC Pohorje’s ailing hotel stock under its control, although, this is perhaps in the short-term at least, a gamble too far for their risk analysts to sanction.
Slovenia’s precarious financial health has been much in the news of late, with two of its bank failing recent stress tests. The Wall Street Journal states Slovenia’s banking system had fallen into the far from uncommon traps of easy lending and poor oversight. Things though have started to improve, with fears being allayed of a need for a bail out. Nevertheless, these remain times where prudence and adherence to much stricter controls mean an investment such as the one by Delavska hranilnica should be applauded. They have obviously seen something in Aerodrom Maribor’s potential which they like and whilst the recapitalisation figure is a relatively modest €1.7 million, that is certainly an amount of money that wouldn’t have been parted with if the medium and long-term future of the airport’s viability was in any doubt, especially by a company operating in the banking sector. Future developments will therefore be keenly awaited.