It will come as no surprise to those versed with the nuances of Slovenian aviation that talks between the country’s Ministry of Infrastructure and low-cost carriers Wizz Air and Ryanair have drawn a blank, facilitating a continued stasis in growth at both Ljubljana and Maribor airports.
Despite the outcome being highly predictable it is nevertheless frustrating that the loss of former flag carrier Adria Airways’ routes have not been replaced, coupled with being behind the curve in recovering lost ground after the novel coronavirus pandemic which has left Slovenia’s connectedness behind other countries of the former Yugoslavia, and those in Europe of a similar population size. That Slovenia is so advantageously placed between east and west has also been lost on those who are to outward appearances anti-growth, and/or at least don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the airlines who already use Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport.
Why is the outcome predictable? Firstly, Slovenia is the only country within the European Union that does not receive Ryanair flights, despite a brief flirtation between the Irish-based carrier and Maribor some fifteen years ago. Secondly, Adria Airways was hived off to the private sector and allowed to implode, whilst all the while those around wrang their hands and looked the other way. Finally, although there will be other reasons, it is rumoured that the Fraport-owned and operated Brnik is an expensive place with which to do business, something that obviously jars with low-cost carriers who would counterintuitively have to pass on increased costs to consumers otherwise reared on a diet of low fares.
The reality those in the UK are left with is an absence of direct flights into Slovenia from anywhere north of London. The comparative glory days of Adria flying every Wednesday and Saturday between May and September into and from Manchester seem so distant now as to have never happened, but many guests of TUI Lakes and Mountains and counterpart Inghams Hotelplan staying in Bohinj, Bled, Kranjska Gora, Bovec, and along the Slovenian coast must instead do so via Salzburg, involving a four-hour transfer. This is and remains totally unacceptable but where Jet2 now fly during the summer into Innsbruck from Manchester, it is hard to imagine the Leeds-based budget carrier being able to make the figures balance if they theoretically got the green light to fly lakes and mountains tourists into Slovenia from the UK.
It feels like this was Maribor’s one big last chance of redemption that has now passed it by. I have stated on numerous occasions that the city’s Edvard Rusjan Airport is a fine facility being criminally left to wither on the vine, an ironic accusation considering the Maribor region’s fondness for the grape. Having never recovered from the debacle of Chinese-based investors somewhat fancifully wishing to base large body aircraft at the airport to service routes worldwide, the reality was that flights using low-capacity turboprops became unviable due to high prices and a lack of a joined up, integrated plan amongst pertinent local and national stakeholders. The Maribor region is replete with reasons for visiting, but these are lost on a huge potential marketplace that are none the wiser of its existence and natural and man-made (for example thermal spa facilities) attractions. If there is no obvious will to open up an area with bona fide hiking, winter sports, wine tours, and city break credentials, it is little wonder that the region continues to number less than the sum of its many parts.
It is always possible that Slovenia’s Ministry of Infrastructure are holding out for ‘better’ than Ryanair, but it is specious in the extreme to suggest that flights aren’t encouraged and facilitated due to the country mainly being a staging post for transfer passengers. If you don’t put on flights from for example the UK then how are high(er) spending alpine tourists wishing to visit the Julian Alps meant to get there? It is a lot of hassle flying into Graz or via the likes of Zurich and Frankfurt especially when there are simply no genuine reasons why Slovenia should not have summertime connections with Manchester, Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Glasgow, Birmingham, and Belfast. When major players Like TUI and Inghams Hotelplan cannot find a way to fly responsible, curious, and often wealthy tourists directly into Slovenia, how is the situation ever going to improve?
I have spent a lot of time in Slovenia – Bohinj, Ljubljana, Maribor – but not for many years. This is down to a lack of direct connection between the north of England and Brnik, and without any flights into Maribor whatsoever. Compare this to Austria, its alpine neighbour and competitor. Although not exactly brimming with flights there are still connections in the warmer months between several British cities, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Whilst I often fancy a change from visiting Austria, not because I don’t want to go there but would gladly revisit Slovenia, there are just not the options to do so. Where I count as only one person, I guarantee that poor or non-existent connectivity is turning many tourists towards Austria and Switzerland instead of Slovenia.
If the countless Adriatic coastal resorts and cities of Croatia can be so well connected to the UK, why not Slovenia? There are no obvious answers, but whilst those with the ultimate responsibility for such decisions keep promising feasibility studies and ‘air connectivity analysis’ Slovenia is losing ground to its neighbours and is failing to exploit its justifiable position as arguably Europe’s most beautiful country. Not only does this have negative economic ramifications, it also doesn’t exactly paint the country in a favourable light. That latter alone is a travesty for a nation of such friendliness and intelligence with impeccable green credentials and diverse culture. It is therefore never too late to rectify the situation, but sadly that is not anticipated to happen any time soon.
Source material and further information:
Ex-Yugoslav Aviation: https://www.exyuaviation.com/2022/11/slovenia-preparing-long-term-solution.html