Holding a position adjacent to the Vogel cableway’s top station at Rjava Skala it always seemed preposterous, to me at least, how the Ski Hotel Vogel could be nothing but an unqualified success. All the boxes were ticked – wild, rugged location, pistes on the doorstep and all year round possibilities. Where then did it all go wrong?
One of the Ski Hotel’s drawbacks is its exterior appearance. Nobody could ever describe it as beautiful but iconic, it undoubtedly is. Iconic only because of its sheer ugliness framed against an impossibly beautiful backdrop of a Triglav-dominated mountainscape, assuming you are facing the hotel. Even if you literally turn your back on it, the vista is just as good. It is though hard to imagine another building taking its place, even though a more contemporary edifice would inevitably be more sympathetic with its surroundings and house more bedrooms and guest amenities. The Ski Hotel Vogel has though, by it falling neatly into a carbuncle rubric of its very own become synonymous with Vogel, much the same way the initially derided communications tower atop the Kitzbueler horn has become an accepted, and even loved, part of the landscape to a point where it developed a cult-like status.
Over the last few years the SHV has seen owners and tenants come and go, none of whom were seemingly able to harness its potential. After a modest internal makeover the newest tenants Acom Trampuz and Miran Taslidzo, who during the summer months operate the Ukanc based Camp Zlatorog, are this winter experiencing occupancy rates somewhere in the 60% region, mainly due to the areas popularity with Croatian guests. The second half of January has proved to be quieter but with guests now able to book accommodation at short notice waiting for favourable snow forecasts, it is perhaps not surprising that trading remains difficult during a winter-season that, in terms of snow depths, has so far proved to be extremely disappointing. Other Slovenian resorts can produce synthesized snow but Vogel does not offer this facility, presumably because of its proximity to the Triglav National Park. The forthcoming February school holiday period has though seen a spike in the number of bookings to a level that has left the tenant operators “partially satisfied”.
Whatever plans Trampuz, Taslidzo and their Kranj based parent company have for Ski Hotel Vogel very much depends on whether agreements can be reached with the hotel’s current owner, Zmago Pacnikom. As a business that has been severely neglected over the years it is hard to envisage a flourishing long-term future unless significant inward investment is forthcoming from the freeholder. Conventional wisdom would have you believe the motto ‘invest and they will come’ but in these impecunious days that Slovenia must navigate its way through, it is unlikely that wholesale changes will be made to the Ski Hotel Vogel for the foreseeable future.
One of the areas though that I believe should be addressed is the hotel opening throughout the year, instead of just December-April. I cannot think of a better location to base myself when walking in the Bohinj region, especially should an early start be required if undertaking a hut-to-hut hike or the wonderful Vogel-Rodica-Crna Prst ridge walk. Staying at the SHV would give hikers a terrific head start and negate the need to wait for the first cable-car of the morning to leave Ukanc for Rjava Skala. With the Ukanc end of Lake Bohinj now almost but not quite bereft of tourism accommodation since the untimely demise of the Hotel Zlatorog, the time is now ripe for SHV to fill the considerable void left by the fallen Zlatorog giant, once a jewel in the Alpinum group’s crown until mismanagement, lack of investment and the strict planning laws controlling development in the Triglav National Park strangled the life out of the Zlatorog. Now lying in a decaying and shameful state, the main hotel building and its egregious depandansa do Ukanc and the TNP no favours whatsoever. If the Ski Hotel Vogel lost the “Ski” from its moniker then it would help give the impression to potential guests that it is open for business throughout the year, should it ever decide to go down that road. Despite the obvious case for it doing so, I rather suspect it won’t.
Despite being built in an unsympathetic, functional and even Brutalist manner not unknown amongst some of nearby Bled’s aging hotel portfolio, the Ski Hotel Vogel improbably occupies a special place in the heart of many peoples, often those who reminisce about holidaying in the area prior to Yugoslav disintegration. Were those days better or just not as bad? Slovenia is currently in the midst of a privatisation programme that will make several of its older generations wince. Being the master of its own destiny rather than taking orders from Belgrade has given Slovenia and its industrious citizens the autonomy it and they deserve. There has though been a price to pay for not being careful for what you wished; many of the country’s prime tourist sites have suffered greatly in recent years and continue to struggle to attract buyers. If the state continues to offload its family silver for short-term liquidity it will have to accept that only the fittest enterprises will now survive, a far cry from the days of state-subsidy all but guaranteeing its citizens each a job. It is perhaps no coincidence that since the shrinking of the state accelerated away from the post-Communist era that the Bellevue, Ski Hotel Vogel and Zlatorog hotels have deteriorated or closed; Tito’s former lakeside residence Vila Bled has shut after an unsuccessful venture as a hotel and Pokljuka, Bovec and Pohorje ski resorts and accompanying hotel accommodation have endured economic hardships, often only bolstered in the short-term by municipal-lead interventions or purchased by foreign money. The list, including Adria Airways, seems to be indeterminable. It is though to be hoped that securing the futures of Ljubljana and Maribor airports by Fraport and Delavska hranilnica respectively will at least staunch the financial losses in the tourism sector. Without tourists, Slovenia has no future. With the tourism levels it currently gets, it will only at best tread water unless more routes are introduced at Brnik and Maribor and, aging tourism stock is updated or replaced and put out to pasture. The financial course the government has steadfastly set itself upon will see it keep the country at arms length but without the current administration intervening or at least bringing the stakeholders together to formulate a plan to drive Slovenian tourism forward, it will surely come to regret its laissez faire approach.