Kongres Magazine chatted with Jure Struc, Director of Maribor Tourist Board, who is co-creating the future of Maribor as a prospective meeting destination. Jure Struc talked about the novelties in Maribor and what makes the destination competitive.
Q1: How do you see Maribor’s meetings industry?
Maribor’s meetings industry was reinvigorated this year. The destination has already hosted several business events. In addition, several events will take place till the end of the year. On top of that, having organised numerous gatherings and sports events that rendered the city a vibrant hub, we can optimistically expect Maribor to become one of the leading destinations for the Slovenian meetings and events industry. The pandemic has cut deep, especially in tourism; hence, we expected a slower recovery. As it seems, though, the need for meeting in person in business tourism exceeds the benefits of using digital tools or a virtual environment, which include safety, practicality and affordability.
Q2: What do you consider to be Maribor’s most significant advantages as a meeting destination?
In Maribor, everything is within reach, and the city offers world-class culinary and cultural experiences. The surroundings are enriched by the green forests of Pohorje and sunny wine hills. Thus, contact with nature is inevitable and undoubtedly encourages well-being and productivity. Even though the unfavourable effects and perils of the pandemic are behind us, I predict Maribor can adapt to the new rules of the game. On top of its easy accessibility, great value for money and quality incentive offer, it is the right size and has not experienced mass tourism yet. Therefore, it has a significant advantage when positioning itself as a safe and authentic destination.
Q3: What are your future plans and vision?
The meetings and congress industry adds value to cities and is strategically integral for Maribor. Additional hotel capacities for business guests, developing and building new meetings infrastructure and reviving Maribor Aiport are just a few projects that will bolster meeting activity in our region and are priorities within the new strategy for Maribor tourism from 2022 to 2027. This year, novelties include hotel capacities in Maribor and its surroundings and the newly-opened B&B Hotel Maribor in the city centre. Moreover, at the foot of Pohorje, Hotel Arena has reopened its doors, while in autumn, we expect the grand opening of the renovated Hotel Habakuk. These openings will unquestionably have positive effects on the destination’s tourist results. The extensive renovation of Lent, the oldest part of the city on the Drava river, will complement the offering of venues for business or incentive programmes (Minorite Monastery, Oldest Vine Museum and the renovation of the Old Vine House).
Q4: How do you believe international meeting planners should be encouraged to host their events in Maribor?
Maribor needs to prove itself as an excellent event host on the international scene and thus attract event organisers. I see immense potential in working closely with other cities and leading tourist and congress organisations. As the second largest city in Slovenia, Maribor is just an hour away from Ljubljana, two hours from the coastal city of Koper, under two hours away from the iconic Bled and just 45 minutes away from Graz in Austria. In our aspiration to strengthen partnerships with the Slovenian Tourist Board, Ministry for Economic Development and Technology, and Ljubljana Tourism, Maribor Tourism Board attended the “Texas Feels Slovenia” conference. The purpose was to present a green, creative and smart Slovenia and its countless business and tourist opportunities. Maribor, the European City of Sport in 2018, has extensive experience in organising large sports competitions (including the skiing world cup Golden Fox, UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Champions League matches and mountain biking events). We are eager to host the largest sports event in the city thus far, the European Youth Olympic Festival, which will be hosted in Maribor next year and will showcase Maribor’s competencies.
Q5: During a crisis, we tend to draw parallels with the past. What have we learned from the past that will make our industry better and more environment-responsible?
Quality over quantity has been an imperative in tourism for some time, but it is increasingly spreading to various areas of our business activities. Shorter business trips using public transport and the choice of services that include local produce and service providers are becoming a priority for satisfying the demands of business guests. The municipality of Maribor is working to establish a comprehensive system of sustainable mobility in the city, including the closure of the city centre to traffic and the recent extremely successful introduction of the Mbajk bicycle rental system. With the intensive infrastructural renovation of the city centre, Maribor is becoming friendlier for locals and tourists. Our idea was to create a collective brand called Our Finest, which brings together the best local providers of services, products, accommodation and experiences for even more local integration, sustainable tourism and environment-friendly experiences. Maribor has a genuine, heartfelt character, and we must use this character to position Maribor in the field of congress tourism.
Q6: What are your priorities to achieve a carbon-neutral meetings industry?
We see our role to raise awareness, educate providers and, as a result, encourage them to obtain sustainability certificates. The goal of developing sustainable policies in the city requires us to focus intensively on the green, boutique and local tourist offers. Currently, Maribor and the broader destination boast sustainability labels such as Green Key, Eco Label, Slovenia Green Accommodation and Slovenia Green Cuisine. Nonetheless, our ambitions in this area are much higher. When pursuing “green goals”, our focus groups are not only local providers but also other stakeholders in the destination, from public to commercial companies, all the way to the local population.
Q7: If you had a magic wand, what would you change immediately to make Maribor further appealing to event organisers?
Maribor, home to the world’s oldest vine, would become a global hub for oenologists, sommeliers, chefs and other experts and connoisseurs from the wine and culinary world. With a magic wand, we would also help to upgrade the already exceptional venues and the offer of our city and make them into unique incentive experiences. In Maribor, we are preparing for the first long table event hosted at our destination, a TOP gastronomic experience among the vineyards with a table for as many as 150 guests. The event is an example of the excellent cooperation of local partners with high-quality and unique products. There is endless potential for this sort of cooperation in Maribor and its surroundings.
Q8: What is your favourite event venue in Maribor?
Undoubtedly the event venue next to the oldest vine in the world fascinates visitors with its 450-year-old life story and stocked wine cellar that features over 200 wine labels from 50 Styrian winemakers. At the oldest vine, you can also socialise with local winemakers, meet Maribor’s wine queen or get to know the caretaker of the Guinness record holder. Our summer wine and culinary evenings are tremendously popular, with music echoing in the background. You have a guarantee of uniqueness!