Increasing airlift and a growing tour operator base means Slovenia is experiencing double-digit growth
Hosting a conference on the scale of Abta’s Travel Convention is a huge commitment for any destination. But with UK arrivals up 25% year- on-year, it is an investment that has paid off for Slovenia.
“We’ve had lots more interest from UK tour operators following the convention,” the tourist board’s UK and Ireland head of communications, Tine Murn, told me. Cox & Kings, Wexas and Original Travel have introduced Slovenia for the first time, he reports, while several other operators including Thomson, Inghams, Crystal, Balkan Holidays, Saga and Prestige Travel have enlarged their programmes or increased capacity.
“Croatia and the Italian Lakes have been popular for some years, but these operators are looking for an alternative now; it feels like we are more on the map,” he added.
The destination got another boost when national carrier, Adria Airways, introduced a second seasonal, weekly flight from Gatwick to Ljubljana this year. Adria also flies Manchester-Ljubljana seasonally, while Wizzair flies thrice-weekly from Luton and easyJet flies six times a week from Stansted.
With well-served airports such as Trieste in Italy and Croatia’s Zagreb both on Slovenia’s doorstep, it is a frustration that more Brits don’t fly into these airports and travel across into Slovenia. “It’s still a mental barrier; Brits don’t always understand how close things are in Central Europe. So it is one of our main aims to increase direct airlift.”
Murn also points to the recent opening of a UK office by a leading Slovenian inbound operator as a milestone. Happy Tours, which offers coaching tours of Slovenia and the wider Balkan region, as well as city breaks, ski and spa packages, has previously focused on the Asian market. But chief executive Saso Krumpak has now opened an office in London in a bid to grow its UK customer base.
The company will carry 1,000 groups this year, and 30,000 guests, mainly in the 50-years-plus market.
“We’re not really interested in selling directly to consumers, so we hope to work with operators, or perhaps directly with agents,” said Krumpak. “We’re keen to meet the UK trade and see how they’d like to work with us.”
And anyone who didn’t attend the Travel Convention in 2014 will have another chance to visit Ljubljana if the tourist board has its way. “We’d need to wait a couple of years,” said Murn. “But we were so pleased with its success we’d like to bring more UK conferences here.”