Financing a Slovenian tourism revolution
As Slovenia reinvents its tourism industry for the 21st century, Intesa Sanpaolo is helping providers to become fresher, cleaner and greener.
The tourism industry in Slovenia is on the cusp of change. Goranka Gregorič Repnik, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of SME, says that the country’s hoteliers, restaurateurs and attraction owners are moving towards a greener, more boutique offering for those who want to experience her country.
"Slovenia is a small country, but we have a little bit of everything. We have the sea, we have the mountains, we have wellness retreats and a lot of spas. Now we need to focus on the green, the beauty, the quality of the destinations. It’s a transition, and one that needs financing."
Goranka Gregorič Repnik, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of SME
Slovenia’s Tourism Strategy 2022-2028 highlights sustainability, improved infrastructure and the provision of higher-quality accommodation as the major challenges for the Slovenian tourism industry, which is still recovering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Goranka says that many hotels and other attractions were old and in need of refurbishment, while mandated shutdowns during the pandemic hit their ability to finance improvements.
Intesa Sanpaolo has been supporting its clients to make the necessary changes. For example, at the huge Postojna Cave, one of the biggest attractions in Europe, the bank has financed new, all-electric trains to take visitors inside.
Elsewhere in the country, Intesa Sanpaolo financed infrastructure investment for the owners of the ski resort of Krvavec to transition to a year-round model.
“They’re no longer just a ski resort, but it's a resort that has half of its income generated in the summer months thanks to refurbishment of hotels and facilities, as well as the addition of a summer adventure park,” Goranka says.
Thinking big… and small
While Intesa Sanpaolo has supported these well-known resorts with their financing needs, Goranka says it has also been vital to finance small businesses to purchase, refurbish and develop their assets.
“Tourism links a lot of services together, which we sometimes don’t consider. So, we think of the hotel, the beach and the restaurant, but not always the cleaning service, the logistics and the travel agent,” Goranka says.
At present, 40 per cent of the country’s hotels are still large state-owned blocks with over 200 beds each, but Goranka says tourists crave something more intimate.
New boutique hotels are often founded by those who have enjoyed staying in a particular area in the past.
“They quickly become the most popular hotels in many areas,” says Goranka, adding that, as an Italian bank, Intesa Sanpaolo is able to help those who are not Slovenian citizens to finance these projects, as well as hoteliers and other tourism entrepreneurs from Slovenia itself.
“It is not a narrow-minded approach to tourism, but it involves everyone – including restaurants, accommodation providers and private individuals that are investing in Airbnb resources.”
Meeting the challenges
Bringing tourists to Slovenia has its challenges. One of these is the perception that everything that the country has to offer can be covered in a couple of days, or even just 24 hours.
“Tourists come here after seeing Slovenia on a map and they say, ‘Okay, today is for Slovenia, and after that we’ll go to Croatia and Italy,” Goranka says.
Instead, she wants tourists to experience the diversity of this small country over a longer period, spending time at the coast, in the mountains and at a spa. That requires more resorts to be created to entice visitors to stay for longer.
“The vision of the country is to create a network of small boutique destinations and providers. We’re sharing the story of how to create this.”
Transport infrastructure is an issue as well, she acknowledges, with slow trains meaning that many tourists are forced to use more unsustainable forms of transport such as diesel cars and coaches.
However, ongoing major investment in copper rails in the country means that the rail system is about to improve and speed up.
“This government investment will bring more opportunities for clients,” she says.
Another major issue is finding and incentivising staff. “Younger people are not always fans of working long hours serving people and coping with all kinds of stress, so it can be hard to get staff,” she admits.
She adds: “Putting businesses on a stronger financial footing can make them a more attractive place to work and allow them to incentivise workers.”
A future for Slovenia
By helping clients to fund all these changes within the tourism sector, Intesa Sanpaolo aims to be part of a success story that transforms Slovenia’s hotels and attractions from large, state-owned but old-fashioned resorts to something newer, fresher and greener.
Goranka says that, as the bank works to support those in the tourism industry and its related services, she feels that Intesa Sanpaolo is making a huge difference in Slovenia.
“It’s supporting the whole economy. In the end we are bankers, but we are embracing the stories our clients share with us and want to help them as much as we can.”