The coronavirus pandemic has cut sharply into the city’s tourism boom: overnight stays grew from 194,715 in 2001 to 2.2 million in 2019, but in 2020 fell to just 540,410. Ljubljana Tourism is responding actively to the difficult altered conditions in the tourism market.
Strategic focuses for 2021–2027
“Last year and this have been extremely difficult and demanding for tourism. That is why it is essential that we have a plan for the future development of tourism as an important branch of the economy, while also taking into account its great social importance,” commented Ljubljana Tourism director Petra Stušek following the adoption of the Development Strategy for Ljubljana and the Ljubljana Region as a Tourist Destination 2021–2027. Ms Stušek was recently re-elected as president of ECM, the European network of city tourist offices and convention bureaux (having become, in 2019, the first woman to head ECM since its foundation several decades ago), and therefore has an even better insight into conditions in the global market. “Following careful analysis and the study of new scientific and technical findings, last year’s gloomy short-term forecasts have been toned down. The Development Strategy also looks quite far into the future, to when tourism starts up again. And there is no question that it will start up again. We must be ready when it does.” Particular attention will be paid to the symbiosis between citizens and visitors. Even in recent years, in a period that has seen remarkable growth in tourism (13% a year on average), Ljubljana Tourism has worked hard to ensure that development is also tailored to the needs of the local population and has conducted several surveys on people’s satisfaction with tourism. The results of the surveys have shown that local people are aware of the importance of tourism for the city and of its positive impacts on it.
The commitment to a sustainable orientation for Ljubljana in Vision 2025 represented an important shift.
Over the past 20 years, the City of Ljubljana has laid excellent foundations for the building of tourism by means of sustainable changes that have placed Ljubljana on the global map of sustainable destinations and brought it to the prestigious title of European Green Capital 2016.
When looking back on the first decade, notable memories included how in 2001, for the first time in history, central thoroughfare Slovenska Cesta was closed for a tourist event, the School Leavers’ Parade, the participation in the regeneration of the banks of the Ljubljanica and traffic on the river, the improvements to Tivoli Park with the addition of a rose garden and the renovation of the Neptune Fountain and the Tičistan bird area, the creation of cycle paths and the installation of flower baskets in the Old Town and the co-financing of the first Kavalir electric vehicles, for which Ljubljana Tourism even suggested the name.
Another notable memory was the T-shirt created by Ljubljana Tourism on the occasion of the visit by George Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2001, with a bilingual slogan reading “I was here with George and Vladimir” – a request for the shirts even arrived from the White House.
In recent years the Ljubljana Card has represented particular value for visitors. The list of benefits offered by the card was extended in 2018 to included free visits to more than twenty attractions in the city and around the Ljubljana Region; not only that, but the card offers a free guided tour of the city and free travel on city buses. Cardholders also get free Wi-Fi access, which is particularly important for visitors from countries outside the EU and from other continents. The City of Ljubljana has endeavoured to ensure, through numerous adaptations of infrastructure, that the city will be accessible to all. Ljubljana Tourism, through its tourist information centre in Krekov Trg, has become the first tourist information centre in Europe to offer free rental of electric attachments for wheelchairs.
Experience Ljubljana and its region: live or virtually
Ljubljana Tourism has expanded its range of experiences, excursions and guided tours from the original modest selection of just ten tours to more than 70 diverse experiences, which since October 2014 have also been available as online experiences. A similarly modest selection of souvenirs has developed into a number of distinctive ranges of products with genuine, practical uses which have proved popular with domestic and foreign visitors alike.
Ljubljana Tourism is constantly expanding its offering with new, interactive, trend-setting experiences. In recent years the Moustache Tour and Yummy Market Walk experiences have been particularly well received. Easyjet Traveller Magazine proclaimed the Moustache Tour the best guided bicycle tour in Europe. It is also one of the first five-star experiences in Slovenian tourism. Yummy Market Walk was the recipient of a 2019 Snovalec award for creative, inventive and innovative ideas in tourism.
Ljubljana Tourism also promotes the development of exceptional experiences in other parts of the Ljubljana Region, which in recent years has been enriched by new green experiences on the Velika Planina mountain plateau and in Vrhnika, Polhov Gradec and Šmartno pri Litiji. Ljubljana tourism has also actively engaged in encouraging locals and foreign visitors to discover hiking and biking trails within the city and its hinterland.
Last year it prepared a bundle of innovative experiences for domestic tourists with the aim of encouraging them to spend short breaks in the capital. These are set to continue this year when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Last but not least, Ljubljana Tourism even caters for all those who would love to visit Ljubljana but are unable to do so because of the current situation: with a range of virtual interactive guided tours that have met with an enthusiastic reception. While the COVID-19 has forced guided tours to move online, numerous steps were taken in this area even before the outbreak of the present emergency, from the redesign of the Visit Ljubljana website, which was one of the first in Slovenia to be adapted for mobile devices and in January 2014 won the international Digital Tourism Think Tank 2013 award, to the Ljubljana by Wheelchair and Nexto apps, the Ljubo chatbot and the digitisation of Plečnik’s heritage. In 2019 Ljubljana Tourism received a European Commission award for smart solutions. As an organisation, Ljubljana Tourism is well aware that digitisation will play a key role in the recovery of tourism after the pandemic.
Ljubljana has always been known for its rich and diverse cultural life, catering for locals and visitors alike. That is why Ljubljana Tourism, which collaborates actively with cultural organisations and individuals in Ljubljana and the Ljubljana Region, adopted in 2017 a set of Strategic guidelines for cultural tourism in Ljubljana (2017–2020) and prepared a successful campaign to mark Plečnik Year, for which it received an international award, initiated the development of cultural quarters in Ljubljana and prepared cultural tourism workshops. During the first lockdown last spring it created a new section for its website called Culture on the Web, for which it came second in the Covid & Tourism Strategy category at the Green Destinations Story Awards.
Ljubljana is also gaining increasing recognition on the world culinary map. In recent years, Ljubljana Tourism has launched the November Gourmet Ljubljana festival and created the Gourmet Ljubljana website. It has been a partner of the high-profile European Food Summit (previously known as Gourmet Cup Ljubljana), an event organised by catering company Jezeršek gostinstvo d.o.o. Last year Slovenia's capital got its first Michelin-starred restaurant and several other restaurants in Ljubljana obtained other prestigious Michelin ratings. Ljubljana Tourism is continuing its Ljubljana Quality project through which – for the last two years in conjunction with prestigious food guide Gault&Millau – it rates and presents the best that the city’s cuisine has to offer. It was also the promoter of the initiative that led to Slovenia being proclaimed European Region of Gastronomy 2021.
Ljubljana has become an important destination for business meetings
Since Ljubljana Tourism commenced its activities, Ljubljana has also successfully positioned itself as a business tourism destination. Under normal conditions Ljubljana hosts more than 60 international scientific and technical meetings with more than 100 participants every year. The city is regularly classified among the 50 top congress destinations in the world by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).
These excellent achievements are the result of careful planning and liaison with meetings industry providers, which brings in visitors with the highest spend per attendee (€495 a day). In recent years, in addition to numerous congresses, Ljubljana has hosted several prestigious meetings of trade associations: in 2014, for example, the city and the Slovenian Tourist Board jointly organised the convention of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), one of the biggest events in the British tourist industry, while in 2018 Ljubljana hosted a training event of the ICCA Association Meetings Programme and in 2019 the ECM Annual Conference.
Strong international recognition
Ljubljana’s international popularity continues to grow and interest in fact-finding visits has been shown by major media outlets including Lonely Planet, Condé Nast, National Geographic, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, USA Today, Esquire, Forbes USA, The Independent, Grazia UK, The Daily Mail, Paris Insider, Marie Claire, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Beast, Telerama, The New Daily Mail and Arte TV, among others. Several promotional campaigns have also been run in conjunction with influential blogger platforms iAmbassador and TravelDudes. Posts about Slovenia’s capital have raised its profile and popularity around the world.
Even during the pandemic, Ljubljana had regularly appeared in the pages of prestigious media: Condé Nast Traveller, for example, ranked it the top holiday destination to visit in 2021, trendy British magazine Monocle included it among the 25 best small cities, Lonely Planet placed it on its list of the eight most sustainable cities in the world, and National Geographic highlighted it as one of the European cities with the most sustainable future.
Ljubljana Tourism is also proud of the high-profile events that have shaped the story of Ljubljana in the past 20 years as a sustainable, cultural, sporting, gastronomic and romantic capital. Special promotional challenges have included events relating to Ljubljana’s role as World Book Capital 2010 and as the host of EuroBasket 2013, the promotion of the December in Ljubljana project, which has placed us on the European map of festive holiday destinations, and, in recent years, the promotion of local cuisine, the creation of the Taste Ljubljana and Gourmet Ljubljana brands and the annual November Gourmet Ljubljana festival. Ljubljana is currently the proud host of the UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship.
Other special events that have attracted particular attention have included the 2000th anniversary of the Roman city of Emona, which we marked for two years in a row with the Ave, Emona! project. The largest and longest-lasting promotional activity in the history of Ljubljana Tourism was EXPO Milano 2015, of which we are still reminded by the interactive WOW installation outside the Ljubljana Tourism offices in Krekov Trg (Krek Square), which invites everyone to enjoy green experiences in a city where all of Europe meets.
Ljubljana Tourism has won numerous international and domestic accolades and awards for its work.