This week the annual four day World Travel Market jamboree opened in London, showcasing resorts and countries from throughout the globe, both the usual suspects and ‘up and coming’. Closed to the general public, the WTM is an opportunity for the promotional arms of national tourism offices to showcase what their county has to offer and, pitch itself as the ideal destination for certain demographics and interest groups, rather than just simply stating ‘here we are, come visit us’.
Slovenia have this year decided to target the ‘romance’ sector, styling itself with ample justification as the ideal destination for engagements, weddings and honeymoons or theoretically all three, depending on your impatience to tie the knot.
Whilst Bled is the obvious candidate for a picture-postcard wedding, complete with its alpine backdrop and impossibly romantic island church accessed by your very own pletna wedding ‘car’, those with a broader knowledge of Slovenia might be familiar with the relative merits of the likes of Bohinj’s lakeside Church of St. John(or even the bijou Church of St. Duh) and Otocec Castle, close to Novo Mesto and the Croatian frontier. It is certainly a travel-sector of untapped potential that Slovenia, being so naturally well-endowed with stunning vistas, contrasting topography, medieval castles and exclusive spa-resorts, finds itself with the equivalent of an open goal, in theory at least, of cashing in on attracting a well-heeled and discerning wedding crowd.
Travel industry experts and the media will though inevitably search for any flies in the ointment before endorsing Slovenia as the ultimate wedding and honeymoon destination. The ugliness of many of Lake Bled’s hotels will not do its case any favours, nor will the not insignificant issue of accessing the country, by air, in particularly from Great Britain. This remains a serious problem, partly due to Adria Airways’ fleet, both in size and capacity, being wholly insufficient to transit larger amounts of guests than who are already visiting Slovenia. There are no flights in the winter from Manchester or anywhere outside of Luton, Stansted and Gatwick. The summer service from Manchester is on the face of it a good one, flying every Wednesday and Saturday from mid-May to the second week of September. However, the planes are of a very small capacity, usually 85 seaters, most of those being block-booked by package-holiday companies such as Inghams and Thomson Crystal. It is possible to buy seats for these flights through Adria’s online portal but at best, only a handful of seats per flight are available to non-package-holidaying travellers. To therefore advertise Slovenia as a destination to get married in would mean it is only ideal for those eloping or with a very small wedding-party.
It is to be hoped that the recent news of Aerodrom Maribor being refinanced by a new majority-shareholder will herald a new era of airline travel to the east of the country, opening up the chronically underestimated Maribor region to skiers(snow permitting), hikers, those seeking a different kind of city-break and perhaps also, those wanting a wedding with a difference. The infrastructure at Maribor’s airport is firmly in place but the rest of the package also has to be for foreign tour-operators to take the plunge. Ljubljana airport is also in the process of changed hands, albeit as part of Slovenia’s fire-sale of publically owned assets, finding itself putatively in foreign-ownership. Whether the new owners will seek to consolidate what it already has at Brnik is impossible to say although it would be surprising, considering the level of investment rumoured to be involved if a raft of new routes and a higher frequency of flights to preexisting destinations isn’t announced, once the formalities of the takeover have been overcome. Ideally positioned geographically to become a ‘west meets east’ hub for flights from America and Great Britain to the expanding markets of the former Yugoslavia, it is though surely incumbent upon the owners of Brnik to create favourable financial conditions for more tourist-traffic to use it all year round, rather than just relying on what is rather a paltry service provided by Adria and some low-cost airlines to and from Great Britain . Adria Airways is the national flag-carrier but it shouldn’t have a monopoly on flights to the likes of Manchester from Ljubljana, nor should its lack of ambition be so blatantly betrayed by providing aircraft for this particular route that are frankly way too small. If larger aircraft could be chartered by Adria it is a certainty that they would be filled, making it far easier to travel to Slovenia for package-holiday customers and independent travellers alike.
The country by all means should market itself aggressively to any relevant sector, not in the least those wishing to marry and honeymoon abroad. If though the happy-couple and wedding party cannot get en masse to the country in the first place, there would seem to be little point in conducting a charm offensive akin to putting the cart before the horse. With a little joined up thinking Slovenia can be as big a player in any tourism sector that it wishes to be.
Additional reporting on this issue can be found at The Slovenia Times.