Peter Hasslacher
Photo credit: personal archive

Q: You have been the Head of Advantage Austria in Slovenia for 7 years now. How do you see the economic dynamic between Austria and Slovenia?

I have been working as the Director of ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA Ljubljana and Commercial Counsellor of Slovenia, Albania and Kosovo since 2013. It was a very pleasant and successful time and it was very interesting for me to observe how the traditionally strong ties between Austria and Slovenia – be it cultural or economic – only got closer over the years.

Q: What is the economic contribution of Austria to Slovenia and vice versa?

Slovenia and Austria are world champions! The bilateral trade between the two countries amounts to 5,7 Bn. EUR. Statistically, Slovenians buy roughly 1.900 EUR of Austrian goods and services per capita – regarding Slovenia’s population, this is an absolute top result by international comparison. What’s more, the export growth on both sides developed extremely positively over the last years. At the same time, investments by Austrian companies are also growing. Existing companies are expanding their presence in Slovenia and investing in new production facilities, new companies are entering the market. More than 1000 subsidiaries and an investment volume of EUR 3.6 Billion – this is a share of roughly ¼ of all FDI – make Austria by far the largest foreign investor in Slovenia. Austrian companies highly appreciate an interesting, dynamic, stable, competitive and reliable market “at its doorstep”.

"Slovenian companies are valued for the quality of their work and high value for money"

Q: How would you define the role of Slovenian companies on the Austrian market?

Slovenian companies are valued for the quality of their work and high value for money. Many of them are niche players and hidden champions in their fields, and therefore interesting and very suitable partners for the Austrian companies.

Q: Looking at the meetings industry, how interested are Austrians in hosting events in Slovenia?

Austrian companies already organize some corporate and incentive events in Slovenia, but we would be happy if there were more. As office of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber in Slovenia, we are often their first point of contact when looking for an event location, support with the program, advertising the event or acquiring participants. Our own event highlight was the international business conference AUSTRIA CONNECT Southeast Europe 4.0, which took place in Bled last year. More than 180 participants from Austria and the SEE region, including executives of Austrian subsidiaries, investors, business partners and high-ranking politicians gathered to exchange views and share best practices. To strengthen cross-regional cooperation in every possible way – well, this is one of our main goals!

Conventa is the biggest and most important trade fair for the MICE industry in Southeast Europe. It offers Austrian companies an optimal platform to present their attractive offer in a promising market, expand their network and win new customers.

Q: And speaking of the meetings industry, what are your thoughts and feelings about Conventa?

Conventa is the biggest and most important trade fair for the MICE industry in Southeast Europe. Austrian providers, event organizers and companies have already recognized the big potential of the fair. We are pleased that every year there are over twenty top Austrian suppliers among the exhibitors. Conventa offers them an optimal platform to present their attractive offer in a promising market, expand their network and win new customers.

In the business world, personal contacts are the key to success

Q: You also organize a lot of events. How, if at all, will you modify your future events given the COVID-19 situation?

ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA Ljubljana is one out of 110 offices in over 70 countries and provides a broad range of intelligence and business development services for both Austrian companies and their international business partners. In Slovenia we organize about 30 events every year to bring business partners together, through conferences, workshops, trade fairs, B2B matchings and networking events.

The situation around Covid-19 turned our event program upside down, but technology and digital solutions offered some good alternatives during this time. We organized more webinars than ever before – and were very surprised by the great interest and the turnout of participants. Nevertheless, as far as the situation allows, we will organize events with personal attendance again. In the business world, personal contacts are the key to success.

Q: Where do you see the potential for more regional integration? In your opinion, how could we encourage more Austrian-Slovenian events?

Actually, there are many Austrian-Slovenian events; as mentioned, we at ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA Ljubljana already organize more than 30 every year. By being active, organizing events, meetings and business opportunities, we increase visibility and thus promote regional cooperation. Nowadays it is more important than ever to think across borders and regions. To support each other and to understand that together we are stronger. This is the most important step to success and the companies, as well as the event organizers, are aware of it.

"the Slovenian market is extremely interesting for Austrian companies"

Q: How many Austrian companies operate in Slovenia?

There are more than 1.000 Austrian subsidiaries in Slovenia, which employ about 20.000 people. With an investment volume of EUR 3.6 Billion, Austria is by far the largest foreign investor in Slovenia. These are companies with official representations in Slovenia. How many Austrian companies in total are doing business in Slovenia is impossible to assess. According to the current statistics, our office is in daily contact with more than 30 Austrian companies, in total, we help more than 2.500 Austrian companies a year. This once again confirms that the Slovenian market is extremely interesting for Austrian companies, despite the fact that it is small and transparent.

Q: Can you explain why Slovenia is such an important economic partner for Austria?

In addition to its proximity to Austria, Slovenia has further geographical and infrastructural advantages, such as its well-connected port of Koper. Did you know, for example, that Koper is Austria’s most important gate into the world, accumulating more flow of goods in and out of the Austrian market than the commercial ports Rotterdam and Hamburg combined?

Other big assets of Slovenia, which always come up when we talk to investors, is people and culture. If you visit Austrian subsidiaries in the country, you will find that only very few of them actually have Austrian managers or seconded staff. This means investors have great trust in their Slovenian management and workforce. Communication in English or German is easy to maintain and there is common ground as far as the professional and managerial approach is concerned. Mentality and culture are very similar, also based on a long joint history as well as a sort of common understanding of “alpine heritage”.

Q: If that is the case, why don’t Austrian Airlines have any flight connections with Ljubljana?

Generally speaking, a lot of business people from Styria, Carinthia or Lower Austria always used to travel by car to meet their Slovenian counterparts. They still do. They don’t necessarily need air travel connections to Slovenia. What is missing today, is the role of Ljubljana airport as a hub to the region. Together with Adria Airways, this was very attractive also for regional HQ. As there are no flights from Ljubljana to Southeast Europe anymore, or very limited and with layovers, this affects the overall connectivity of Slovenia as a business location. As the airline industry is experiencing a major shakeup, it seems not very likely that new short-haul connections will be established in the near future.

Q: In your opinion, where do future collaboration opportunities lie in the Austrian market and in Slovenia?

Looking at the deep cooperation between Slovenia and Austria, there is almost no industry where companies are not active. Having said that, our offices explores, uncovers and promotes various industries, which are potentially interesting for Austrian companies. For 2020 and 2021, we are planning a wide portfolio of events and delegations in following sectors: medical technology, logistics, recruiting, tourism, IT & AI, organic foods, energy & green tech, smart cities and many others. The most noteworthy networking events will be the traditional Austrian Business Circles as well as the International Business Drink, organized in partnership with other chambers of commerce and embassies in Slovenia. Partners and interested companies are always welcome – check out our website www.advantageaustria.org/si for more up-to-date information.