The general feeling amongst Slovenian hoteliers this winter is one of cautious satisfaction, as numbers for room occupancy levels start to be crunched and regional variations explained.

Slovenian tourists are still responsible for the greatest market-share, with visitors from neighbouring Hungary, Croatia, Italy and further distant Serbia accounting for the vast majority of overnight stays from foreign vacationers. Despite excellent spa and ski facilities throughout Slovenia the percentage of British tourists who visit in the winter is always dwarfed by those travelling during the warmer months, mainly due to the frankly appalling air-links in the winter between Britain and Brnik. To be blunt, those based north of Luton have no chance of acquiring a direct flight to Ljubljana as there are none, unlike the twice weekly service operated by Adria Airways during the summer from Manchester. Crystal Ski offer winter-sports holidays to Slovenia from Manchester but with the added burden of flying into Salzburg, typically a four hour transfer to Bohinj, for instance. It is difficult to understand why an airline such as Monarch or Thomson cannot put on a weekly charter service from Birmingham and/or Manchester to Ljubljana between December and March; the planes would run to near capacity, I have no doubt about that. Should it be a case of prohibitive landing charges at Brnik preventing such charter flights I hope its new majority shareholders Fraport will seek to make Ljubljana a more attractive airport for airlines to do business with.

It is understandable that guest accommodation in the Maribor Pohorje region has not been as well patronised as other areas of the country. Until fairly recently there was a large degree of uncertainty as to whether the lift-system would be operation for the winter season, coupled with the hotel portfolio of the former lift company, now defunct, seeking a strategic partner to remain viable. Whilst the lift-infrastructure has been maintained and operated by Maribor’s mass-transit concern Marprom, the ownership and current operators of the guest accommodation has become blurred to all but those closest to the ongoing situation in Slovenia’s second city. All this has inevitably impacted upon consumer confidence, with many travellers understandably waiting until the last minute to book or instead making alternative arrangements. Pohorje’s patchy snow record this winter has also been a significant factor, with many guest accommodation operators noting a spike in last minute bookings, presumably only when tourists are sufficiently confident that the ski conditions will make their journeys worthwhile.

The Bohinj region has this winter seen occupancy rates between 50-90%. This wide disparity could again be explained by this winter’s inconsistent snow record although, conditions at the time of writing are regarded as nearing perfect. The Hotel Ski Vogel is an accommodation provider you could make a case for being responsible for either the 50 or 90% hit rate, arguing its proximity to the slopes as being the major advantage it holds over its rivals but during the relatively barren times when no natural snow means no skiing, it is very much a location out on a limb, away from civilisation and alternative entertainment in Ribcev Laz and Bohinjska Bistrica. There are very few medium to large hotels actually located within the Bohinj region, especially now that the Zlatorog resembles a rusting hulk washed ashore, battered and decaying after a particularly brutal storm. With much of the Bohinj municipality being situated in the Triglav National Park, development controls are rightly strict regarding new builds and one assumes the renovating of incumbent edifices, however sympathetically and tastefully done. The Jezero, Bohinj and Kristal hotels at the Ribcev Laz end of the lake will tick over just fine, presumably operating quite comfortably with occupancy rates of 50-90%. The Zlatorog’s absence does though leave an accommodational black-hole at the Ukanc extreme of Lake Bohinj, save for a few small pensions dotted around the immediate area. The health of the emblematic Hotel Bellevue, so perfectly named for the views its position engenders if not for the aesthetics of the building and its creepy depandansa themselves, is currently unknown. In June 2013 it did though look in a sorry state though perhaps this is to be expected, seeing as the Zlatorog is one of the properties the Bellevue’s owners counts within his portfolio.

Hoteliers in Slovenia’s winter-sports and spa resorts will realise that whilst not a vintage season, this winter for them could have been far worse. As ever there is much work to be done in Slovenia’s tourism sector, which seeks to operate within the strictures of a harsh economic environment and sensitive ecological surroundings. I have long called though for Slovenia to make the most of what it has, rather than worry about building gleaming new structures that will only seek to compromise the green-credentials and austerity measures the power-brokers of the country hold so dear. Renovation of existing hotels such as the Zlatorog and Bellevue will go a long way to achieve this.

Further reporting on this issue can be found at: The Slovenia Times: Hoteliers generally pleased with winter occupancy rates