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Photo credit: Personal archive

INTERVIEW: Doris Urbančič Windisch, director of Maribor-Pohorje Tourist Board

With its quality congress/business capacities and opportunities for unique experiences combined with picturesque surroundings and the warm hospitality of the people, Maribor is becoming increasingly renowned as a host destination for conventions, seminars, and other meetings. We talked to Doris Urbančič Windisch, director of Maribor – Pohorje Tourist Board, about Maribor – Pohorje destination and its rise inside the meetings industry.

Q: Which are Maribor’s greatest assets in terms of attracting the meetings industry?

Maribor`s greatest assets are its hospitable residents, natural resources with the world`s oldest vine as a highlight, and diverse, picturesque setting of the city with the mountain area covered in green woods in its vicinity, as well as the countryside scattered with vineyards stretching right into the city center. On the top of that, there is a high-quality service with competitive prices.

Q: What would the prolonging of the tourist season to the whole year mean for the City of Maribor?

Prolonging of the tourist season is of a key importance for the Maribor – Pohorje tourist destination. In the last few years, the peak of the season in the city of Maribor has already moved from the winter months to the months of June, July, and August. Thus, our goal is to fill up the lower parts of the year, which we could successfully perform by creating incentive adventures for even the most demanding incentive guests. As we all know, incentive guests provide the highest consumption rate per day; consequently, this would contribute not only to the prolonging of the tourist season but also to the increase of the overall daily expenditure per guest.

We have already done a lot of work in the field of sports tourism, and there is still a lot of work ahead of us.

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Q: What kind of incentives can one get in Maribor?

Our guests can enjoy so much in a such a small area! What do you think of a genuine experience of wine-tasting in the company of the World`s Oldest Vine, traditional timber-rafting with a live concert on a raft in the middle of the river, a treasure hunt in the underground world of a wine cellar located in the Maribor old town, and all this upgraded by the outstanding Styrian winemakers and chefs, top-notch cultural as well as numerous recreational opportunities?

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Photo credit: Domen Groegl

Q: Recently the famous one hundred years old Hotel Orel has undergone a renovation and changed its name; the name change, or the rebranding, happened also to Hotel Piramida. What does this mean for Maribor’s meetings industry?

Branding is one of the effective strategies to attract clients that are loyal to the certain brand and we are going to use this opportunity in the best possible manner.

Q: What is the plan for Maribor’s meetings tourism in the future?

Our short-term plan is for Maribor to be placed to its rightful position within Slovenian field of meeting industry. The long-term plan, on the other hand, is for the SE Europe to recognize Maribor as a perfect place for their meeting or congress on the ground of all of the Maribor’s attractions and providers with genuine and quality service. Best value for money.

Do you know that Maribor is one of the sunniest places in Slovenia? I believe this fact also impacts both, the residents as well as our visitors for developing such a positive attitude.

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Photo credit: Lent Festival

Q: City of Maribor has been also famous for its Lent Festival. What kind of experience does Lent Festival offer to congress or business guests?

The Lent Festival is the largest Slovenian open-air festival and one of the largest in Europe. For more than a quarter of a century, at the beginning of summer, Maribor gets transformed into a gigantic stage and a lively junction of artistic expressions, cultures, and languages from around the world. Every year it welcomes about half a million visitors; almost every fourth Slovene has visited it at least once. More than fifty festival venues, stretching from the banks of the river Drava to the city park, are only a few minutes on foot away. Lent Festival is unique in its diversity and a vast number of events and stages spread all across the city, with a floating stage on river Drava that hosts the best shows and performers, giants and legends like Ray Charles, Bob Geldof, B.B. King, James Brown, Jose Feliciano. This year, a highlight will be the Gipsy Orchestra of hundred violins. A part of the festival is the so-called Sladolent, which brings the best Slovenian chefs to the city. Thus, in a single evening, with a single walk between the festival venues, a visitor can taste the best that modern Slovenian cuisine has to offer.

Q: Maribor has a rich offer of programmes not just from spring to autumn but is also vivid in winter. What kind of events and programmes would you recommend for congress guests at that time of the year?

As Maribor being a key winter destination in Slovenia, one would for sure combine business with pleasures in the snow – let it be either on the top of the Pohorje Mountain on a night skiing or in a snowy Maribor city centre on an extravagant culinary experience with a big party on an outdoor concert on the biggest square in Slovenia. However, as we are following the five-star experience strategy set also by the Slovenian Tourist Board, we are aiming to provide an individually created story of Maribor, and thus fulfilling the interests and wishes of our guests.

The city of Graz is a perfect opportunity for international and regional cooperation; this is one of our strongest wishes for the near future.

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Photo credit: I Feel Slovenia

Q: This year, Maribor is one of the 16 European cities to hold the title ‘European City of Sport’. What does this title mean for Maribor in terms of programmes and services?

We have already done a lot of work in the field of sports tourism, and there is still a lot of work ahead of us. We are aware that the sports tourism and its tourist development are of the utmost importance for the city. Particularly because the sports tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism’s integral products, which strongly influence the achievement of good results in consumption and the number of guest arrivals. During sports events or competitions, as a rule, the accommodation capacities in the city and the surrounding area are usually 90-100% occupied. The city and destination Maribor-Pohorje has enormous potential, and the title European City of Sport is an exceptional promotional opportunity for a tourist destination and at the same time a commitment for all of us who work in the development and promotion of such tourism product. Naturally, local public awareness of a healthy lifestyle and the preservation of health through sport is of key importance, which we will achieve through numerous events. One big sports event is just behind us – the Tour of Slovenia, country`s biggest cycling event, which was extremely successful from both organizational as well as promotional perspective.

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Photo: Dejan Bulut

Q: How does meetings industry impact the local community?

Meetings industry perfectly integrates with the local community. Feedbacks of our guests are almost 100 % positive and they especially emphasize the kindness, the hospitability of the locals, the everlasting smiles on their faces and the locals’ openness. Do you know that Maribor is one of the sunniest places in Slovenia? I believe this fact also impacts both, the residents as well as our visitors for developing such a positive attitude. At the end of the guest`s stay, there`s always the wish for coming back – on the guests’ as well as on the hosts’ side.

The image of boutique destination intertwined with top most experiences of food and wine, with “crazy” sports events, and spiced up with cultural flavour – the image of one of the best European congress destinations.

Q: Graz, the Austrian town just an hour ride from Maribor, has been quite an established meetings destination. How do you see Graz as a competitor to Maribor?

The city of Graz is a perfect opportunity for international and regional cooperation; this is one of our strongest wishes for the near future. There are so many common things we share with the towns and places on the north. For example, the sunny wine roads, where the border doesn’t really matter – guests are strolling from one place to the other all the time and thus pass from Austria to Slovenia and back. And there`s the common history, historical figures, for example, the Archduke Johann, who is one of the most important persons for the development of Maribor and the surrounding area in such a well-known destination for lovers (and experts) of (for) wine. Plus, Maribor and Graz are true cultural centres, nothing could confirm this more than the title of European City of Culture both cities boast of.

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Photo credit: Marko Petrej

Q: What would you recommend to business guests to get in Maribor as a perfect business gift from Maribor to their partners?

Maribor is the only place on Earth where the World`s Oldest Vine grows. Thus, a perfect gift could undoubtedly be connected to this unique treasure: maybe a wine from the first cutting of the World`s Oldest Vine or a picture with the leaf of the Old Vine, or anything connected to the rich wine tradition and culture of Maribor and Slovenia.

As we are following the five-star experience strategy set also by the Slovenian Tourist Board, we are aiming to provide an individually created story of Maribor, and thus fulfilling the interests and wishes of our guests.

Q: Which has been your favorite event at the Lent Festival so far?

As a fan of rock music and classical performances my personal highlights were definitely the concerts of Ray Chales (1996) and B.B.King (1997), and the last year`s ballet performance  Favn – Carmen – Bolero (ballet) and opera La Traviata by the amazing Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet.

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Photo credit: Personal archive

Q: What do you wish for Maribor and its meetings offer? Is there anything that you particularly hope for? Your dream?

My wish is to join in one place all the great providers of excellent stories, which we will believe in and, thus, will be able to sell them to our dear guests. These stories will carry the image of Maribor and Slovenia all over the world. The image of boutique destination intertwined with top most experiences of food and wine, with “crazy” sports events, and spiced up with cultural flavour – the image of one of the best European congress destinations.

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