Kongres Magazine talked to the curator of Maribor’s tourist image, Jure Struc, the Director of the Maribor Tourist Board. Jure Struc discussed how Maribor aims to develop as a sustainable destination and how the city recently ranked third in the Best European Destination 2023 competition. He noted that destinations should use AI to their advantage but should, more importantly, regulate its use.

INTRO: How would you describe your destination if you could only use four words?

City of the oldest vine.

Q1: What defines a world-class meeting destination? What sets your destination apart from your competition?

A leading meeting destination must meet several criteria integral to the activities of the meetings industry. These include:

– high-quality infrastructure
– a broad array of accommodations that meet the needs of attendees
– superb traffic connectivity and accessibility
– safety and sustainable approach in event organising
– rich cultural and historical heritage
– pristine nature for outdoor activities

Q2: Which destination is an inspiring role model to you in creativity and organisation?

Maribor is a one-off location for conferences and incentive programs. The city offers conference capacities for any occasion, spectacular venues where guests can immerse themselves in history, excellent wines, superb cuisine and tranquil nature. Guests can reach Maribor easily and discover culture at every corner.

Photo: Maribor Tourist Board

“In Maribor, the meetings industry is positioning itself on the global map again.”

Q3: In recent months, the meetings industry has been facing tumultuous changes. Which ones affected your personal work the most?

In Maribor, the meetings industry is positioning itself on the global map again. The changes that we felt included the constant staff changes within the meetings industry and the renovation and reopening of accommodation facilities.

Q4: What is your outlook on the craze caused by ChatGPT? Do you believe such tools will affect the work of convention bureaus, and how?

The turmoil caused by the rapid development and spread of tools such as ChatGPT reflects the growing demand for artificial intelligence and automatisation in several industries, including the meetings industry. ChatGPT and similar tools can improve communication among stakeholders in the meetings industry (swift replies to frequently asked questions result in a better user experience among attendees) and offer support in event planning (selecting a destination, curating a programme and analysing data regarding participants). Even though ChatGPT and similar tools can foster positive change in the meetings industry, it is crucial to use the technology ethically and prudently. More importantly, we must retain the human factor in planning and organising events. The cooperation among humans and artificial intelligence can result in improved results and a better experience for event attendees.

Photo: Maribor Tourist Board

“The cooperation between humans and artificial intelligence can result in improved results and a better experience for event attendees.”

Q5: How does your destination foster ideas for new events that would develop with the destination over time? Is your approach systematic?

Our destination promotes the growth of ideas by regularly connecting with educational and cultural institutions and providers of tourist services. Together, we develop new events and products that help us cater to demanding guests. Two such events include the gastronomic event Velvet Dinner among the Vineyards and the boutique traditional timber rafting on the Drava River.

Q6: Which promotional campaign from your destination that was a resounding success would you do again?

This year, Maribor received the title of best European culinary destination and was ranked as the third best European destination in the international European Best Destinations competition. After twenty-one days of voting for 21 European destinations, the second-largest Slovenian capital eclipsed tourist icons such as Vienna, London, Copenhagen and Prague with 68,600 votes. It even surpassed culinary havens such as Rome, Porto and Paris. The potential reach of the European Best Destinations platform exceeds 400 million travellers and the general public, with an estimated marketing value of 1.6 million EUR. Alongside promotion in esteemed media, including Forbes USA, Condé Nast Travelers, National Geographic, Corriere Viaggi, Yahoo and Geo, the Maribor Tourist Board also organised a digital campaign titled Maribor – European Best Destination 2023 for the Austrian, German and Italian market.

Photo: Maribor Tourist Board

Q7: What do you wish to see in the Slovenian meetings industry? In which fields are we on par or even better than rival destinations?

We wish to see greater prominence globally, better cooperation among key stakeholders, and more educational courses. Above all, we strive to empower providers with knowledge about the latest trends and needs of event organisers. We are on par or even better than our colleagues from abroad in the following segments:

– Our favourable geostrategic position makes access for participants from various countries straightforward. In addition, distances between Slovenian destinations are relatively short and enable guests to travel across the country effortlessly.
– Rich cultural heritage and picturesque nature.
– Slovenia is a safe and hospitable destination.
– Slovenia is increasingly implementing the principles of sustainable development in line with industry trends.

Q8: What are your priorities to become a carbon-neutral destination? Can you illustrate with concrete examples and initiatives at your destination?

Maribor is a green destination that boasts the Slovenia Green Destination – Bronze mark. All our activities comply with the Slovenian strategy that supports the vision of a green and boutique destination. At every opportunity, we invite stakeholders to do their business sustainably. We encourage providers to acquire sustainable certificates. By including all stakeholders and the local community, we direct and develop tourism, thus bringing positive results for everyone. We encourage sustainable mobility (free transport with an electric minibus in the old city centre, enabling the rental of city bicycles named MBajk). At our destination, we also developed our own trademark named Our Finest, where all products and services are certified according to strict standards and criteria with respect to traditional values, local produce, products and ingredients. We also organise zero-waste events. In 2023, we will measure the carbon footprint of our greatest attraction – The Old Vine House, which boasts the Green Key certificate.

Photo: Maribor Tourist Board

“The city’s urban heartbeat, paired with green and pristine nature, pampers guests with gastronomic, active and sustainable experiences.”

Q9: What is your future vision to develop your destination?

Our destination’s vision is: Maribor is a world-recognised destination, home to the world’s oldest vine. The city’s urban heartbeat, paired with green and pristine nature, pampers guests with gastronomic, active and sustainable experiences. The destination is the centre of top-tier cultural, sports and business events in the broader region.

Our priorities and strategic fields of future development include governance within the destination – connecting, building synergies and partnerships, and developing competent staff for work in tourism. In addition, we plan our urban outpost to focus on rebuilding and developing infrastructure, improving the quality, authenticity and innovativeness of tourist products, developing marketing and sales and implementing a sustainable tourist model.

Q10: Can you name a pressing challenge the entire Slovenian meetings industry should address together?

One of the key challenges the entire Slovenian meetings industry should solve is implementing sustainable and responsible practices in event organisation (reducing the carbon footprint of events, including local stakeholders, educating staff and spreading awareness about the importance of sustainable practices).

Q11: In fifteen years since its inception, Conventa has become the central event for the meetings industry in New Europe. How important is the trade show to your destination?

Attending Conventa brings promotion and recognition for Maribor among key stakeholders within the meetings industry. The event brings numerous opportunities for business networking, knowledge exchange and future cooperation.

Learn more about the Maribor Tourist Board here

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