Podčetrtek: how tidy and green! My first thought when arriving at this community in the very east of Slovenia, near the Croatian border. Passing the town’s famous thermal baths, at the monastery/castle we meet Boštjan Misja, the town’s chief tourism developer and marketer. Together we do a quick tour around the area, during which he introduces my guide and me to the many attractions and experiences to be enjoyed – including a herbal and tea pharmacy run by monks, an artisan chocolate factory and a deer farm.
Asked about the destination’s story – how it approaches sustainability and which challenges it currently faces – here’s what he answered.
Our interview with Boštjan Misja is part of a special series with Slovenian sustainable tourism change-makers, in collaboration with the Slovenian Tourist Board.
Boštjan, you have been Director of Tourism Podčetrtek for over 6 years now. Do you remember what first got you interested in working in tourism?
I have lived in a tourism area all my life. My mother works in tourism and my father was always involved with the development of the local community. This, plus the advantage that I pick up foreign languages fast, gave me the idea of working in tourism, and first studying in the field of tourism.
Would you say that interest in the sustainability performance of destinations has become stronger? Who cares most about it – city/regional councils, residents, visitors?
The locals do and should. This makes their lives easier and the effects of tourism minimal. Locals live here and would live here with or without tourism development.
Tourists are just visitors and locals should benefit from the tourism development and not be smothered by it.
Which are the main concerns linked to tourism sustainability at the moment, in Podčetrtek?
Lack of information. How many tourists we have, how much electricity they spend, how much trash they produce, etc.
Podčetrtek as destination is traditionally well known for its spa and the monastery, though many other experiences have been added since then. How has the destination changed over the last years? How have you diversified?
We started to get more and more people and areas involved. Our destination includes two more municipalities now, which are under-developed in terms of tourism, but they have potential – so we all have potential.
Jana Apih in her interview referred to sustainability “think” as something which is in the DNA of many Slovenians. Do you agree? What does it mean for Podčetrtek as destination to be perceived as “green”?
I agree, it comes natural to us. Being “green” gives us the satisfaction that we are doing a good job.
“Together, we are stronger” also applies to tourist destinations. How do you work with neighboring communities in terms of strengthening sustainability and sharing benefits?
In football we always say that we attack on the same goal, and that is the expression we also use in our destination.
We help our experience providers to develop products, educate them… We want them to join us in the development of tourism in Podčetrtek.
Successful destination marketing used to be mostly about innovative, engaging campaigns and selling a destination’s offerings to potential visitors. Yet, in times of “overtourism” it is more and more about brand stewardship and active networking internally, close links to the local “host” communities. In your view, are destination marketing organizations in Slovenia prepared for this paradigm shift – ready to take on a role of facilitator and brand/destination manager, rather than “just” promoter?
It think trust is important. The tourism providers have to understand how important is the DMO for the development.
Promotion is just part of the things that DMOs have to do, there is more. And the providers have to trust the DMOs will do their job and listen to them and follow.
I think getting the providers involved in the working system of a DMO is also important.
How important has external funding – such as from the European Union – been for your ability to make Podčetrtek as destination more sustainable?
Very important, especially for soft mobility development, development of sport areas, education…
It is extra funds we can put into the local community.
Which destinations serve you as inspiration, in terms of sustainability?
In Slovenia, Ljubljana has to be an inspiration.
Among the many awards and recognition which you have received over the years, which one stands out for you?
I think the Entente Florale award, because it inspired all of us to work together.
Your three bits of advice to destination marketers and managers, on how to approach tourism sustainability?
- Communicate and be involved – don’t just sit in the office. Go out and interact with locals and tourists.
- Try to think three steps ahead.
- Go step by step, don’t rush.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Thank you, Boštjan.
Our interview with Boštjan is part of a special series on Slovenian sustainable tourism changemakers, supported by the Slovenian Tourist Board.
Curious to learn more about Slovenian sustainable tourism leaders and change-makers? Overview of all interviews here.