Portorož, 13 October (STA) - Tourism can become one of the most successful business sectors in Slovenia and a foundation for the country's sustainable development, Economy Minister Jožef Petrovič told an annual tourism conference in Portorož on Monday.
Petrovič said tourism was already one of the main motors of development in Slovenia. "It is one of the few sectors showing positive trends. As many as 80,000 people are reliant on the tourism sector for their livelihood," said Petrovič at the Days of Slovenian Tourism conference.
Given the importance of the sector, the minister said that the focus must be on creating the conditions which will allow it to grow. Slovenia must be an accessible destination with a tourist-friendly visa policy.
Moreover, he said a key issue for the development of the sector is strategic ownership of companies. "Many rush to point out that the funds obtained from tourism have in recent times been re-channelled [by owners] into other businesses."
He said the main challenge for Slovenian tourism is to upgrade what the country can provide to visitors, which will in turn raise spending from tourists.
Despite the positive trends of recent years, including record visitor numbers, head of the Tourism and Hospitality Chamber Zdravo Počivalšek said that the industry was facing many challenges.
Companies in the sector saw net losses of EUR 26m, with many struggling to remain profitable, he said, blaming cuts in the tourism promotion budget and investments into excessive capacities for this.
While the number of beds in the country rose by 26% from 2007 to 2013, occupancy rates fell by 12.2%, the three-day industry conference was told.
Počivalšek said that providing for effective promotion of the country as a tourist destination is the only way Slovenia can hope to achieve EUR 3bn in annual income from tourism in the near future.
He believes that the national tourist organisation would have to set aside EUR 20m for promotion activities.
This was echoed by head of the SPIRIT national tourism and investment promotion agency Tomaž Klemenc, who said that this would mean a doubling of the existing budget.
Klemenc assessed that the bolstered budget for promotion would have to make up part of an overhauled tourism strategy, given that the existing document for 2012-2016 was overly optimistic.
Slovenia is trailing behind in achieving the aim of raising tourism income to EUR 3bn by 2016. In addition to better promotion, Klemenc assessed that the country needs to improve competitiveness in the sector.
The retooled strategy would have to take this into account, he said, adding that he did not oppose mounting calls to re-establish a separate national tourism organisation.
SPIRIT was set up in 2013 after the merger of the Slovenian Tourism Board and two national investment promotion agencies.
The three-day Days of Slovenian Tourism professional conference is focusing on digital tourism and technology in the promotion of the sector. It is being attended by representative of more than 200 tourism organisations.