Interview with Matjaž Žnidaršič, Assistant Director of Sales at Sava Hotels & Resorts
We talked to Matjaž Žnidaršič, Assistant Director of Sales at Sava Hotels & Resorts, about the company’s revenues, business guests versus tourists, spa resorts combining with congress tourism, about plans for the future and about government’s Sustainable Development Strategy for Slovenian Tourism 2017-2021 in relation to the meetings industry. We also talked about Bled, one of Slovenia’s most visited destinations, and its coping with summer crowds, its place on the MICE map, and even about (loved or hated?) AirBnb.
Q: The number of overnight stays in hotels and resorts managed by Sava Hotels & Resorts grew in 2016 by almost 2% compared to 2015. Could you predict what the stats will be by the end of this year?
This year we predict growth of guest overnights by nearly 4% in respect to last year.
Q: During summer 2017 the Slovenian media was awash with news on how Bled was overwhelmed by tourist crowds – how did your hotels deal with such an influx? Was it unexpected? And what are your plans for next year?
Actually, I believe that some of the reports have been taken somewhat out of context. Bled has always been one of Slovenia’s most visited destinations, as it was also this year. I think that the main issue pointed out was more the difficulties we have been having with intense vehicle traffic due to the popularity of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, and the flow of visitors on daily excursions for the weekends. As for Sava Hotels & Resorts’ hotels, we achieved nearly full occupancy, which was expected and is quite normal for our peak season.
Q: In line with the above, how does the AirBnb offer impact on the traditional tourism model in Bled and what, if anything, should the government do about it?
For now, I cannot really say that AirBnB offers are affecting our business and occupancy levels. Actually, we don’t even have any reliable information on how much of the incoming travel business AirBnB generates in Bled.
Nevertheless, I believe the government should impose some type of regulation, in order to collect the fair share of taxes on revenue generated with the help of AirBnB and other similar internet platforms, as well as the local tourist tax. These taxes are an important source of income for the municipality and region for funding marketing of the destination as well as development and improvement of infrastructure and organising events that make the destination attractive and welcoming for tourists.
Q: In 2009 Renata Balažic said that Slovenia was still pretty unknown as a MICE destination. How is Slovenia trending today on the MICE tourism maps?
I believe we have covered quite a distance since 2009. Our promotion and marketing resources, although very limited, have been wisely invested, our activities focused and consistent, and our message of sustainability very well accepted. We’ve managed to create and justify a very good image, and now clients who consider Slovenia for their events have a very good idea of why they are requesting Slovenia.
Q: It is well known that business guests spend more than usual tourists, but how many business guests do you see return later as tourists and are there any figures available? Is the meeting industry a one-time affair or is there any promotion included for business people to return on a personal vacation?
From the guests’ satisfaction index, I am tempted to believe that the majority will return, sooner or later, and bring family and friends. In Sava Hotels & Resorts, we try very hard to promote our hotels and Spas to attendees of international and national events, although from personal experience I regret that I rarely get to satisfy my desire of vacationing to destinations I have been to as an event attendee. Therefore, I tend not to set expectations too high.
Q: Of the Sava Hotels and Resorts (Terme Moravci, Radenci, Lendava, Ptuj, Banovci, Sava Hotels Bled), so far it has been mostly Ptuj and Bled that are most attractive for the meeting industry. Why do you think that is?
The most obvious reason is, of course, the hotel infrastructure. With proper convention facilities such as we have in Bled and Ptuj, we can easily avoid conflicting situations, which can occur when mixing leisure guests and events.
Fortunately, leisure business is generating very good yearly occupancies in our spa destinations, so we have not really been active in promoting meetings in our spa hotels. Nevertheless, we very much welcome requests for proposals and are very proud of our excellent record of successful events.
Q: In 2012 MICE revenue at Sava Hotels Bled represented approximately 11% of total revenue, or even more taking into account all indirect revenues. How high is this share in 2017 and how do you see Sava’s strategic role in this?
The revenue structure per guest type actually has not changed very much. In regards to our occupancy of convention facilities, we can plan growth mainly from November to April. Of course, we all realize that these months are the most challenging for sales in our entire wider region, but the winter months is where our opportunities are for growth. So, much of our sales and marketing effort will be directed to identifying and attracting events between November and April. We’re happy to see that winter occupancy has almost doubled since 2012, including events.
Q: The meetings industry certainly has the potential to grow even further, but how do you think it will be possible to pursue the government’s plan of returning a 4 billion revenue from tourism by 2021 (compared to 2016’s revenue of 2.35 billions)?
No doubt, it is an ambitious plan. To achieve it, we will need a higher growth of spend per guest night as well as growth of guest nights overall. Since the meeting guest generally has a higher spend per capita, MICE is certainly business that we want to grow.
I believe that the opportunities for growth in volume in Slovenia’s best known MICE destinations – Ljubljana, Portorož and Lake Bled – are somewhat limited. I do not believe that doubling the capacity of convention facilities and additional hotels in these destinations in the next five years is feasible. Therefore, growth of the meetings industry will depend very much on creativity of the existing facility providers to offer products that will encourage higher spend, and especially on promoting existing and developing new, smaller and unique offers in some of Slovenia’s lesser known destinations and locations. So yes, it is an ambitious plan, but Slovenia’s providers are already on this path and the plan is actually a reflection of the efforts of our industry positioning ourselves on the global meetings market. It is a very good and inspiring plan.