Over the last few years, a number of new words, expressions, and concepts have entered the lexicon of the travel and tourism industry: geotourism, voluntourism, and stewardship, to name just a few. To that list I would like to add ambassadorship.
The folks in this industry who work hard on behalf of their destinations have always been unofficial ambassadors, but the role of these international emissaries has become even more important given the increasingly exponential nature of the global travel and tourism industry. More and more, those who speak on behalf of travel destinations have new visions and new frames of reference in which they must communicate the essence of the cultures they represent. If the Deputy Director General of a nation’s tourist board is only 29 years old, is that not a sure sign that the country is vibrant, energetic, and forward-thinking? (That was a rhetorical question.) But it’s not just about age; youthfulness and idealism are a state of mind and a cultural belief system. As the principal tourism representative of Slovenia at the annual congress of The World Federation of Journalists and Travel Writers (FIJET), Dejan Podgorsek articulated why all emerging or re-emerging nations have become principal players in the global village. And as we are wont to say at Travelosophy, “The only real change occurs in the village.”
At the heart of European history and culture
When you are privileged to meet and interact with travel journalists from another nation, you become privy to an insider’s view of a culture.
The first time I met the FIJET member-journalists from Slovenia was in the Czech Republic. Falling into a very easy conversation with them, I had an immediate sense that I was interacting with very typical Slovenians: practical, very much engaged in their profession, and common-sense people who had an intense feeling for their relatively new nation and for the complex historical and cultural framework in which it has evolved and flourished.
These were also people who had a strong sense of themselves and a wonderful sense of humour. Their personal qualities were also an indication of self-determination and solidarity.
And when I met them again in Egypt, they were just as charming, friendly, and astute. I knew then that Slovenia had to be on the top of my “must visit list.”
Great things come in small packages
In this nation of a little over 20,000 square kilometres, European history, art, and culture has been an active force for a long time. For historians, professional and aspiring, the historical references and events evoked by Slovenia are very familiar and replete with historical significance.
The “Slovene Lands” were part of Austrian Empire (later the Austro-Hungarian Empire) until the end of the First World War. However, their history goes much farther back in time; these lands were also once part of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and following the Second World War the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Slavic ancestors of modern-day Slovenians actually settled in the region as early as the sixth century AD and had established the Slavic Duchy of Carantania which became part of Charlemagne’s “Carolingian” empire by 745. Interestingly, the duchy retained considerable internal independence, a “national” character trait that would become a legacy throughout the centuries. Despite, or perhaps because of, the sweep of the Protestant Reformation through the area in the 16th century, a regional identity and a legacy of a distinct Slovenian culture took hold. (During the Counter Reformation, most people living in the Slovenian Lands reverted to Catholicism.)
A very important period of time in European history for Slovenians were the years between 1848 and 1918 when an even stronger sense of identity emerged with what has become known as The Slovenian National Awakening. It was at this time that the arts, literature, music, and financial, and political organizations made a great leap forward, continuing to advance a strong collective sense of self. This sense of self
As a Communist nation under the dictatorship of Tito, Yugoslavia benefited from the Stalin-Tito split and maintained economic and personal freedom that was not seen in most Soviet bloc countries. And the Slovenes played a large part in this strong cultural sense of self because historically they had always been able to resist any attempts to impose hegemony on them. And when the momentous events that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall started to reshape Europe and the world, Slovenians quietly and with great determination went their own way once again. On June 25, 1991 full political independence for the Republic of Slovenia was achieved after a short and relatively uneventful 10-day war.
Integration into the “new Europe” also proceeded apace. Today the nation has a stable democracy, an economy that is well-developed at the high-income end of the scale, and the second highest GDP of the new members of the European Union. Most observers consider Slovenia to be a role model of economic success and political stability for the region. In 2004 it “graduated” from borrower to donor status at the World Bank and on January 1, 2007 it became the first of the most recent entrants to the European Union to adopt the euro.
A cohesive and traveller-friendly destination
As the world of travel and tourism evolves and is transformed — not always for the better — the “content-rich” nation of Slovenia is becoming a new destination of choice. This country of just over two million people is also one of the most diverse topographically, especially in terms of its biodiversity and its variety of natural habitats, from alpine to Mediterranean, to high plain. More than half the country is still covered in forests; Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe!
In my view, a Slovenian proverb sums up the national character quite well: “Pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing.” And speaking of characters, if you happen to be visiting Slovenia, and you see a jolly chap with his trademark red bow tie, give my regards to Drago Bulc.
To visit the Slovenian Tourist Board, click here.
To view a slide show of Slovenia, click here. (Images courtesy of the Slovenian Tourist Board)
Adria Airways is Slovenia’s national airline, and a regional Star Alliance member. It has excellent connecting flights from Slovenia to European capitals and other European cities. To visit the airline’s website click here.
Slovenia has been chosen as the site for the 2008 annual congress of FIJET.