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TOURISM PANEL AT THE BLED STRATEGIC FORUM

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LET’S STAND FOR HIGH VALUE AND NOT FOR HIGH VOLUME

Instability as the only constant was the topic of this year’s eighth tourism panel within the 17th Bled Strategic Forum. After the opening speeches of the Minister of Economic Development and Technology, Matjaž Han, and the director of the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB), MSc. Maja Pak, the speakers presented their views on the most current challenges of tourism in the light of the potentially permanent impact of economic volatility, geopolitical unrest and rising living costs, as well as the strong desire of consumers for environmentally friendly choices. Zorica Urošević, Executive Director of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), talked about the challenges that await tourism in the future, while Luís Araújo, President of Portugal Tourism and the European Travel Commission (ETC) drew attention to the fact that tourism is defined by the same values that apply in the European Union: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, human rights. The participants of the round table – Matevž Frangež, Violeta Bulc, Terry Dale, Eric Drésin and Alessandra Priante – agreed that it is time for a new tourism: even more inclusive, resilient, creative, innovative and focused on contributing to cities, countries, and the planet. Responsible for giving back to local communities and caring for employees. Tourism as an industry must be among the forces that create and realize a sustainable future. Business models based on collaboration rather than competition are needed.

The post-pandemic period for tourism began with a resumption of activity, travel and optimism. According to the UNWTO, close to 250 million international arrivals were recorded from January to May this year, which accounts for almost half of all international arrivals recorded during the same period in 2019. According to UNWTO forecasts, international tourist arrivals will reach 55 to 70 percent of the level of 2019. The UNWTO is conditioning its forecast on several factors, including the development of the war in Ukraine, possible new outbreaks of the coronavirus and global economic conditions, especially inflation and energy prices. At the same time, people’s desire to travel is accelerating. According to the ETC data, as many as three quarters plan to travel by November, a third of them even twice. Otherwise, the good forecasts regarding the trips of European residents are affected by their concern about flexibility in trips, especially the possibility of cancellation and refunds in the event of trip cancellations. They travel closer to home and prefer safe destinations.

Due to the combination of many changes, tourism is facing one of the biggest turning points in history. This is why this year’s tourism panel highlighted instability as the only constant.

The future of tourism as a sector that quickly responds to changes was highlighted by Minister of Economic Development and Technology Matjaž Han in his opening address: “Tourism is of exceptional economic importance for Slovenia, as it contributes as much as 10 percent to the gross domestic product. Just like elsewhere in the world, the tourism sector in Slovenia is still recovering from the covid pandemic. I can say with satisfaction that the data for the first half of the year shows that Slovenian tourism sector is recovering faster than we expected. By the end of the year, we expect more than 13 million overnight stays, which is as much as 20 percent more than last year, but still 16 percent less than in 2019. Unfortunately, both international and Slovenian tourism are facing new challenges: the renewed spread of the coronavirus, war and geopolitical unrest, the climate and energy crisis and, as a result, the high cost of living. Similar to the time of the pandemic, we must find the answer to these common challenges together, by connecting with other countries, the European Commission and the international community. In Slovenia, we have clearly defined goals of future development in the 2022-2028 Strategy for the Sustainable Development of Slovenian Tourism. We follow the development of green, sustainable of tourism with a low carbon footprint, where we create added value for all stakeholders: guests, tourism companies, employees and the local environment.”

MSc. Maja Pak, director of the STB, highlighted the key challenges of European tourism in the light of the series of changes that introduce uncertainty in the European tourism industry: “Tourism is among the economic sectors that are most intensively affected by economic, political, security and other changes. Rising prices, disruptions in supply chains, reduction in the purchasing power of households, the uncertainty brought about by the war in Ukraine, and the lack of personnel mean instability, which is also becoming a new reality in tourism. The interplay of many factors has a strong impact on the operations of tourism companies and presents them with many challenges. The question arises as to how tourism can respond successfully and what European tourism should be in order to cope with the most pressing changes. We will look for answers in the thoughtful design of an even more sustainable, inclusive, resilient and responsible tourism for all: tourists, residents and employees.”

The opening speeches were followed by presentations by distinguished representatives of UNWTO and ETC. Zorica Urošević, UNWTO Executive Director, highlighted changes in the purchasing demand and behaviour of tourists and Luís Araújo, President of Portugal Tourism and the European Travel Commission (ETC), commented that we need to create a New Tourism. The presentations were followed by a panel discussion with prominent Slovenian and foreign speakers. Matevž Frangež, State Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, Terry Dale, President and CEO at United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), Eric Drésin, Secretary General of The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA), Violeta Bulc, entrepreneur and consultant for business development strategies, local government and regional development agencies, and a former European Commissioner for Transport, and Alessandra Priante, Director of the Regional Department for Europe at UNWTO, spoke about the current challenges and opportunities of European tourism.

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