It is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the recent collapse of SC Pohorje that, not only were the ski-slopes this winter above Maribor in danger of being nonoperational but also, the hotel arm of the now defunct company ran the risk of slipping into terminal decline, not classed as being as worthy of rescue as the winter-sports infrastructure has proven to be.
It is telling that the Maribor Municipality, through their mass-transit operator Marprom, have chosen to step in to ensure the continued viability of Pohorje as a winter-sports destination, rather than (or as well as) bring under their control the Arena, Bolfenk and Videc Hotels which are perhaps the most toxic of former operating company SC Pohorje’s assets. Outside of peak holiday periods it is hardly a prerequisite to stay overnight to ski at Pohorje, especially as many skiers will only make a last minute decision whether to visit having first monitored the weather forecast. Like much of Slovenia, Pohorje’s snow-record is so patchy and unpredictable that many tourists will not wish to commit to a week or even a weekend in a hotel when there is a strong chance of insufficient snow-cover on the slopes to justify a not insubstantial financial outlay.
Displaying a pragmatic approach by eschewing public-ownership (even on a temporary basis) of the former SC Pohorje’s accommodation portfolio in favour of ensuring the ski-lifts are fully functional, Maribor’s city-hall are using the electorate’s tax euros prudently. Should the season be a snow-less disaster, the city authority will inevitably lose money but at an amount that would have been dwarfed, should they have saddled themselves with potentially unoccupied hotel rooms, ongoing building maintenance and, funding the salaries of staff contracted for the season. It should be noted that Terme Maribor, the company leasing the three aforementioned hotels on a one year deal from the Bank Asset Management Company -who themselves took control of the hotels in the wake of SC Pohorje’s demise – already operate two hotels in the Pohorje region, both of which are near to capacity for the forthcoming season. It is therefore they, not the local authority who are taking the real risk of being burdened with a scenario of in effect being in competition with themselves, hoping that a snowy winter season will bring a surplus of guests willing to occupy their newly acquired hotels assuming, their two existing properties remain almost fully booked. It does though raise the question of what Terme Maribor will do at the end of March and therefore the end of the ski-season, if the winter has proven to be a loss-making disaster? Having entered into an agreement for a year, does the deal include the winter period 2015/2016; is there an exit clause factored into the contract? I am unsure how popular the Arena, Bolfenk and Videc hotels are in the spring, summer and autumn or, if they are only open in the winter season, as is often found in resorts who class themselves as winter destinations. Pohorje is undoubtedly an all year round location but I am unaware if it is styled as such. It would therefore seem that Marprom, contracted only until the end of the forthcoming ski season to operate the ski infrastructure, have secured the better deal.
The recurring mood music presently being heard across Slovenia makes uneasy listening for many of the country’s citizens and trade unions who, are justifiably alarmed by the levels of privatization and foreign buy-outs of the family silver. Through being Russian owned Terme Maribor will only add to the increased fear of Slovenia’s national identity being irreparably eroded but if by taking control of three hotels that would otherwise have lain dormant and, reengage many of the workers who lost their jobs after SC Pohorje’s demise can herald a new era for tourism in Maribor,they will have succeeded where others have failed. Terme Maribor is already a successful venture; should a similar robust business-plan be put in place for their newly acquired triumvirate of properties, a buy-out after the year’s lease has lapsed might prove to be an excellent addition to their string of holiday accommodation. That is though, of course, a big risk.
The capricious nature of alpine weather will though have a large say in the future of Pohorje and any further involvement from the current stakeholders. The new majority shareholders of Aerodrom Maribor, the Delavska hranilnica savings bank, will perhaps have assessed the locally available investment options before opting to secure Maribor’s airport, an asset which can be grown seemingly at a rate of its paymaster’s choosing. The same though cannot be said regarding the ski-infrastructure at Pohorje and the Arena, Bolfenk and Videc Hotels. Delavska hranilnica will therefore be happy with the choice they have made and, will hopefully prove that Slovenia can still be an attractive place for Slovenians to invest in.
Additional reporting on this issue can be found at: The Slovenia Times – Pohorje rescue complete