Making tourism work has at times been hard going for the Bohinj region of Slovenia during the last few years. If losing hundreds of guest bedrooms as the inexorable decline and eventual closure of historic hotels the Zlatorog and Bellevue wasn’t a bitter enough pill to swallow(along with deteriorating fortunes at the Ski Hotel Vogel and the eponymous Hotel Bohinj) the capability to house foreign and domestic visitors in its immediate lakeside settlements of Ukanc and Ribcev Laz took a significant hit.
It was though the incongruous effect that Social Media had on visitor figures, but crucially the type of visitor, which has perhaps caused Bohinj’s tourist chiefs the biggest headache. The beauty of Lake Bohinj, even if only experienced from the stone bridge linking Ribcev Laz with the road to Stara Fuzina and the nearby Pec viewpoint have become synonymous with the ‘must see’ itineraries of countless Instagram users and influencers, but only after they had cottoned on to the fact there is more to Slovenia than just nearby Lake Bled.
A perfect storm made landfall of mass tourism in the form of day trippers, often it has to be said who disrespect the shore and at times the lake itself with litter in pursuit of taking photographs they’ve seen a thousand times before online but can at least say that they too have now ‘been here’, but who negatively impact upon the environment whilst spending little for the privilege, at a time when revenue would have been sharply declining from the reduction in overnight stays.
Tourism officials have strongly countered what threatened to be an avalanche of destruction with park and ride schemes, incentives to arrive by train, and notably increased parking charges for those who leave their vehicles in designated lots close to the lake. The fortunes of several hotels have also taken a turn for the better since absentee owner Zmago Pacnik divested his portfolio of properties to young Cryptocurrency millionaire Damian Merlak. In an unrelated sale the Hotel Bellevue, arguably more famous for once receiving Agatha Christie than the spectacular viewpoint from which it gets its name, is now in the hands of a Pokljuka-based forest management company, quite apt for the Bellevue’s series of buildings almost impenetrably encased within forest at the end of an 800 metre road linking it with the relative hubbub of Ribcev Laz.
The global pandemic has also given Bohinj’s tourism association much to ponder. At a time when gentle tourism in the Alps is by no means a guarantee should the stampede of those wishing to seek space and solace from novel coronavirus be exploited by those who have lost out on so much summertime revenue, a desire to stick or twist in many Austrian resorts gives those with never ending agendas of what amounts to ‘redeveloping’ the mountains with yet more cableways(not including upgrading what is already in situ), links to neighbouring resorts/ski areas, and even move into otherwise uncharted glacial landscapes a quandary of whether, not from issues arising from Climate Change, large investment in the landscape and associated infrastructure is tantamount to financial suicide during life in the times of Covid-19.
Bohinj has though never sought to pander to tourism and the blandishments of those wishing to rip up its landscape in the name of progress and financial gain. Its situation, especially that of the lake and surrounding areas within the Triglav National Park does make even the most modest of developments by no means a foregone conclusion, with the park authority setting the bar very high for anyone wishing to interact with the landscape from a development perspective. It is though this layer of protection which focuses minds and sifts out any notions of, for example, egregious alpine coasters being built, or the primeval northern side of the lake being exploited. Tourists are still to be encouraged and are a vital part of the region’s economic mix, but there is a determination that Bohinj will not give an inaccurate impression of being reliant on tourism or be a slave to the number of its annual visitors. Less can and must be more, whilst dovetailing with traditional industries of agriculture, forestry, and local craftsmanship.
There is though a fine balancing act. Tourism is undoubtedly vitally important to the Bohinj region, and whilst it is in effect to be regarded as secondary to the wellbeing and livelihood of the local population, in many cases the wellbeing and livelihoods of many locals will depend on visitors, and those who arrive in certain numbers. The principle though of tourists arriving without respect or knowledge of local sensibilities and the ecological fragility of the lake has sadly been established, which can result in damage to property and agricultural land from wild camping and illegal parking. Despite an uptick in domestic visitors this summer, there is nothing to suggest that a relative absence of foreign tourists improved behaviour around and towards the lake. It is the same the world over; whilst many domestic visitors will be justly proud and protective of their ‘own’ landscape, others adopt a sense of entitlement that seems to suggest that it is their country, in which they can behave as they please.
Amidst a second wave of the pandemic that threatens to be worse than its predecessor, Bohinj’s pleasingly modest winter sports offer could be in for a difficult winter. It is normally the depth of snow, either from a lack of it or from a fall that would receive envious glances from the Arlberg and Oetztal, which is the primary concern for the Vogel Ski Centre. From a theoretical customer base of two million Slovenians alone Vogel is not going to be able to operate indefinitely as a ski resort without foreign visitors, those people who at the moment are not guaranteed to be able to enter the country, or at least without quarantining at both ends of their vacation. The nearby and more modest still ski ‘resorts’ of Soriska planina and Senozeta, along with the established winter sports centre of Pokljuka will be locally aided by a special action plan this winter, but whilst spreading a finite amount of winter sports participants among more ski areas removes the emphasis on just one, Vogel, which in the right piste conditions places greater pressure on the lakeside route to its valley lift station, it is debatable if levels of custom will be sufficient to sustain the aforementioned areas and the possible reactivation of the Kobla resort above Bohinjska Bistrica. Again, there remains a fine balancing act between financial sustainability, individual wellbeing, and environmental considerations, perhaps more so during the harsh winter months when diversification of the economy significantly contracts compared to the warmer months.
Bohinj is an incredible area, in many ways one that you wish to keep to yourself. The genie is though out of the bottle, but there is some comfort to be found that with greater awareness of the region a race to the bottom to chase tourist euros has not, and will not, result in a raft of tawdry and unsympathetic attractions to compromise a landscape from which so many find renewal, peace, and yes, a respectful livelihood.
Source material and further information:
VAL202 – RTV Slovenija: https://val202.rtvslo.si/2020/10/prezrto-42/