Switzerland promotes tourism in Slovakia

Article, 03.07.2014

The high point of a regional development project in Slovakia was the official opening of a tourist information centre on 28 June 2014. The centre is located in the Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj) National Park, which attracts some 700,000 visitors every year.  The aim of the project is to promote tourism in this high potential region and to create jobs and opportunities for the local people.

Official opening of a tourist information centre
The recently opened tourist information centre in Slovakia. DEZA/Seco

The recently opened tourist information centre is located directly next to the entrance to the Dobšinská Ice Cave (Dobšinská ľadová jaskyňa), a well-known point of interest in the Slovak Paradise National Park. The ice cave, which in 2000 became a UNESCO World Heritage property, is one of the most promising tourist attractions in Slovakia. However the region is economically weak and unemployment, at approximately 20%, is above the national average of 13.8% (as at  December 2013). Owing to the lack of financial resources and inadequate coordination between the different players, tourism-marketing in the region has so far been somewhat ineffective.

Effective marketing thanks to Swiss know-how

This situation is now expected to change: An important aim of the project is to provide professional and attractive services for tourists and to promote tourism through efficient marketing. As a result, new opportunities could be created for generating income for the local people and  the sustainable development of the region could be  promoted.

The centrepiece of the project is the new tourist information centre at the entrance to the ice cave that replaced the previous simple ticket counter. Other services are expected to be improved and modernised by the project, including the introduction of a modern information and reservation system, an attractive website with a coherent identity and logo, as well as multimedia publications and information signs.

Switzerland is helping to finance the project with a contribution of just under CHF 1.5 million. Furthermore, various Swiss partners are bringing valuable experience to the project. The Swiss parks network is the main partner and supports the region, among other ways, with the development of a new strategy for tourism marketing. In addition, a discussion on experiences took place between the Schweizer Institut für Landschaft und Freiraum, Naturnaher Tourismus und Pärke (ILF) (Swiss institute for landscape and open space, nature-based tourism and parks), the Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil [HSR] (the University of applied sciences of Rapperswil) and the Slovak project partners.

Strengthening local initiatives

The most important participants in the project are the  people living in the region, who will be the main beneficiaries of the project. In order to be able to better coordinate joint tourism marketing in the future, 32 representatives of local authorities, companies, and civil society joined forces to form a working group. In addition, they have the opportunity to attend basic and further training programmes in tourism planning and marketing. The 65 courses for a total of 1,440 individuals are under way. An important component of the project is the inclusion of the Roma community in these activities.

The inclusion of the local population in the development of the region and the promotion of local initiatives are characteristic of regional development projects. The active participation of civil society contributes to the sustainability of the projects, which is why this promising approach is also being taken in Hungary and Poland. Regional development contributes to the reduction of economic and social disparities between regions in the new EU member states.