Valerija Mencej (Head of State Promotion Section, Slovenia)

10.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Molly McParland & Keith Norris

Q1. Slovenia is the only European country that is comprised of the Alps, the Pannonian plain, the Mediterranean and the Karst regions. How important is this diverse geography for the promotion of Slovenia abroad, both in terms of tourism, as well as for Sloveniaís national brand?

This is actually the basis of our promotion. We love to say that we are a crossroad of diversity. In one day, you can actually do everything. You can ski in the mountains and then in 1-2 hours you are by the seaside enjoying swimming in the sea. You can go to the capital city which is at the center of Slovenia and then to the spas in the eastern part of Slovenia. It is amazing to see that in such a small place that Slovenia is, you can see so many different types of natural environments, climate and people. This is just an incredible mixture and I that is what attracts the tourists.

Q2. Nation branding is an important component in successfully encouraging and promoting international tourism. In your opinion as the Head of State Promotion of Slovenia, what is the most difficult aspect of developing and maintaining a positive nation brand for a country as a whole?

The most difficult aspect is that it takes years to develop the right image of a country. It was mentioned earlier today that it is easier to develop the identity, or what the internal public thinks of the country, than it is to convey this message to the foreign public. Sometimes they donít have enough information, sometimes they have stereotypes, sometimes they see it in the media and the media is just publishing the bad stories. Itís not a simple job. It takes all the sectors in the country to be involved in it and it takes everyone to believe in it. You have to have the political support and the financial support. Without that, you canít really do any long-term planning for a brand.

Q3. The current worldwide economic crisis has had a negative impact on nearly all international tourism. Given the current economic state, what specific approaches is Slovenia using to increase its tourism capital and encourage international investment in the country?

In the time of the crisis, the first and more important thing is that you have to keep your activities going on or you have to even increase the activities. You canít just start severing the budget for marketing but rather you have to invest even more. Iíd like to say that in Slovenia, we could do better. I believe that we are trying though. Due to the lack of financial resources, we are trying to find new channels of communication so that there are public relations, there are web and social media and this doesnít cost much. Also world of mouth is one of the most important things. Itís cheap and very effective. If you get Slovenians and the foreign tourists that come to Slovenia to speak positively about Slovenia, then you are half-way there on your road to success.

Q4. What country makes up the largest percentage of Sloveniaís tourism capital and what steps is Slovenia taking to sustain this important relationship?

The majority of tourists are coming from the neighbouring states. The largest numbers of tourists come from Austria, then Italy and Germany. In the last couple years, there is also in increasing number coming from Great Britain, the Netherlands and Spain. Iíd like to say a bit more about the case of Spain. We donít do any real advertising in Spain yet more and more Spanish tourists are coming to Slovenia every year. So why is that? Perhaps it is because when the Spanish tourists come back home, they tell their friends, family and co-workers that they enjoyed their holidays in Slovenia. They bring the ďI Feel SloveniaĒ spirit to the others and share why they decided to come to Slovenia. We are not doing full advertising in the time of crisis because it just costs a lot. But still, we are focusing on these primary target markets and we have national representation offices for tourism in those countries. We base a lot of our activities on public relations, trade fairs, business and other promotional and cultural events. We also do social media activities.

Q5. As part of your role as Head of State Promotion, some of your responsibilities are to manage promotional publications on Slovenia and provide publications and other materials relating to the promotion of Slovenia abroad. What countries does Slovenia find to be its largest competitors in the field of international tourism?

The largest competitors are actually Austria and Switzerland. Why is that? As we were checking what the profile of the identity of Slovenia was and what is the story behind our brand, we realized what kind of tourists we wanted to attract. At the same time we realized that these are basically the same tourists that Austria and Switzerland are targeting at the same time. So we are competing with them because all these 3 of our countries want to attract tourists that are active and like nature, and typically spend their holidays very actively, relaxed, with family and doing many activities. So I think that we are in a difficult position because Austria and Switzerland are very well-known tourist destinations. I guess we can only hope that those tourists that have already been to Austria and Switzerland will now say, letís go to Slovenia because we had fun in Austria and Switzerland and Slovenia is basically offering the same.

Q6. How do you see cultural diplomacy relating to the communications projects division and its mission?

I think cultural diplomacy is very important. Whenever we do events abroad, we try to include the cultural part into the event. So even if you do a business conference, you want to include the culture. Sometimes people are more open to a country when they see it for the culture. Culture, music, images and dance all help you to relax and open your mind to something new. Cultural diplomacy could help Slovenia work even better hand-in-hand with others as we did today.

Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the rest of the conference.