2020: A tourist year marked by the pandemic

Published: 1.2.2021

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2020: A tourist year marked by the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, tourism in Slovenia is facing the worst crisis in history. In terms of tourist arrivals and overnight stays, 2020 can be compared to the results from ten years ago.

2020: A tourist year marked by the pandemic

The recovery of Slovenian tourism will be long-lasting, the number of overnight stays from 2019 could be reached in 2023 or later. Immediately after the crisis, the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB) adapted the work plan for 2021. This year, Slovenia holds the European Region of Gastronomy 2021 title, within which more than 40 projects will be carried out.

The pandemic has plunged tourism into the worst crisis to date, affecting a drastic drop in global and European tourism. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates a 74 % drop in international arrivals in 2020, which globally represents a loss of as much as 1 billion international tourist arrivals. They furthermore believe that between 100 and 120 million jobs are at risk in tourism and that the spread of the coronavirus for the global economy represents ten times greater shock than the financial crisis of 2008/2009. Consequently, world tourism, they estimate, has returned to the level of 30 years ago. The UNWTO expects that the 2019 numbers will be reached by 2023 or 2024.

Slovenia is among the countries that strongly feel the impact of the pandemic on tourism. Tourism makes a significant contribution to Slovenia's GDP (9.9 % of GDP), as it employs 6.5 % of the working population and largely depends on international tourists. In addition, it also has a large multiplier effect on other activities.

2020: The first year after 2009 when tourist arrivals and overnight stays have declined

Though already the first wave of the corona crisis had stopped tourist flows for three months, the second wave completely paralyzed tourism in Slovenia. As a result, Slovenia recorded 51 % fewer arrivals in 2020 and more than 42 % fewer overnight stays. The number of foreign tourists decreased by as much as 74 %, and overnight stays by 71 %. The large decline in the number of foreign guests was partially compensated by the growth of domestic tourists, who generated as much as 21 % more tourist arrivals and 33 % more tourist overnight stays than in 2019. Consequentelly, domestic guests generated as much as 60 % of all arrivals and 64 % of all tourist overnight stays in 2020 (in 2019, the share of overnight stays was 28 %).

Both in terms of arrivals and overnight stays, Germany ranks first among foreign markets. The second place takes Italy in terms of the number of guests, and Austria in terms of the number of overnight stays. Croatia is in the fourth place in terms of arrivals and overnight stays, followed by Hungary and the Netherlands. The Czech Republic, Serbia, France and Bosnia and Herzegovina are among the top ten countries in terms of arrivals and overnight stays.

Among municipalities, mountainous municipalities take the largest share when it comes to the number of overnight stays (31%), followed by coastal municipalities (24 %) and spa municipalities (24%). In the summer season, a high demand for overnight stays on tourist farms, in glamping resorts and boutique types of accommodation was recorded, mostly thanks to the government-issued vouchers, which additionally encouraged domestic guests to spend their holidays in Slovenia.

In the period between January and November, the value of travel exports amounted to 1 billion EUR, which is 60% less compared to the same period last year.

In 2020, Slovenian tourism recorded the first decline in arrivals and overnight stays after 2009, with the current numbers of tourist traffic being at the same level as ten years ago. With a 74% drop in foreign tourist arrivals compared to 2019, Slovenia ranks among the more affected European countries. 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult years for Slovenian tourism, marked by restrictions on travel and the closure of tourist facilities.

It is expected that the recovery of Slovenian tourism will be long-lasting. The impact on tourist demand will be conditioned by the epidemiological situation, travel restrictions, transport connectivity and accessibility, and in particular by changed travel habits. The European Travel Commission (ETC) forecasts 61 % growth in tourist arrivals worldwide this year and 59 % growth in tourist arrivals in Europe.

The pandemic affected destinations and various stakeholders in Slovenian tourism very differently and unevenly. Among those most affected by the crisis are travel agencies and tour operators, tour guides, the MICE segment, city hotels, air and bus carriers, catering providers, attractions, culture and active holiday providers. The government, the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology (MGRT) along with other ministries took several measures to facilitate survival in times of crisis and ensure faster recovery. Also the STB adapted the activities and submitted numerous  tenders to improve the situation.

State Secretary Simon Zajc pinpointed that the key to recovery is to help tourism and hospitality survive the epidemic. “Last year, we managed to kick off domestic tourism with tourist vouchers, at least partially, and thus helped mitigate the consequences of the tourist ecosystem closure. However, given that Slovenian market is extremely dependent on the foreign guests, we will only be able to talk about a real recovery when international traffic is restarted and restrictive measures are released. In order to get to this point as soon as possible, it is necessary to look for solutions at the global level, especially by providing controls for a safe transition between countries. Until then, however, we need to help save the jobs in the tourism sector.”

Slovenia is likely to recover quickly

In recent years, Slovenia has been developing sustainable and non-mass offer for unique experiences, which is a very good starting point for the post-pandemic recovery.

MSc. Maja Pak, Director of the STB, says that “tourism is the industry which has been most affected by the pandemic. The crisis is 11 times bigger than the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 and has caused the loss of as many as 7 million overnight stays in Slovenian tourism, thus returning to the numbers from 10 years ago. We managed to mitigate the large decline in the number of foreign overnight stays with a strong increase in the number of domestic overnight stays, which was one third higher than in 2019. Regardless of the fact that the recovery will be long-lasting, it is crucial that the changes that will help tourism after the crisis are introduced today. Throughout the years, we have intensively systematically promoted Slovenia as a green boutique destination focused on sustainable development. This has resulted in rankings of the world's most prestigious media and in great exposure. Therefore, we believe that we will soon be able to regain trust of international tourists.” She also pinpointed that “the Slovenian Tourist Board adapted activities to new conditions immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic and strengthened the contact with nearby and domestic markets. For this very reason, virtual platforms have been launched and 75 online business workshops and webinars for foreign business partners were conducted. We also boosted social media network communication and marked a record of almost 5 million interactions based on almost 6,000 posts. Additionally, we also strengthened the effectiveness of the promotion through partnerships with renowned athletes and major events. An important step in upgrading sustainable development was made last week, when the call for the Slovenia Green Cuisine label was published within the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism. Next month, we are also publishing a call for Slovenia Unique Experiences. Slovenia has received the prestigious title of European Gastronomic Region 2021 on the basis of a clear vision of stakeholders for the development of sustainable gastronomy, and a major shift in the visibility of Slovenian gastronomy was made last year with the arrival of the recognizable Michelin gastronomic guide to Slovenia. We are aware that the economy is in a very difficult situation, so we have designed several tenders to co-finance the promotion, and we also work on constantly providing education and training and informing stakeholders about the current situation. In order to restart tourism, it is necessary to adapt to the situation at all levels and to provide clear and intensive promotion to the target groups we want to address. The competition will be very strong when tourism restarts."

Slovenija – the proud holder of the European Region of Gastronomy 2021 title

Slovenia entered 2021 as the holder of the prestigious title of the European Region of Gastronomy 2021 (ERG). The title was awarded to Slovenia in October 2018 at the award ceremony in Brussels. The STB defined the development and promotion of gastronomy in the Action Plan for the Development and Marketing of Gastronomic Tourism of Slovenia 2019-2023. Activities are aimed at raising international visibility and strengthening sustainable practices in gastronomy. The pyramid of Slovenian gastronomy has been refreshed and typical dishes, drinks and ingredients for Slovenia have been defined.

As a partner, the STB also helped carry out the European Food Summit, a key event in the field of food sustainability in Europe. Other internationally acclaimed gastronomy-related events, such as the Orange Wine Festival and the Masterclass Rebula in Brda, have also been supported. Another important bit of promoting Slovenian gastronomy was the campaign to promote the Restaurant Week in the neighboring countries.

The strategy of raising the visibility of Slovenian in terms of gastronomy is based on the strategy of co-marking, i.e. connecting the Slovenian gastronomic brand (Taste Slovenia) with world-famous brands, especially in the field of evaluating providers and destination gastronomic brands. Until 2018, Slovenia did not have internationally recognized quality marks in the field of gastronomy. An important milestone occurred in November 2018, when the first Slovenian edition of the Gault & Millau guide was issued, and another in 2020, when the first edition of the Michelin guide for Slovenia was launched.

In recent years, Slovenia has developed a respectable level of high cuisine and created a strong circle of gastronomic influencers. In terms of gastronomy, 2020 is marked mainly by the prestigious title of ERG, within which, Slovenia pursues the goal of maintaining or strenghtening the image of destination for foodies. 

The European Region of Gastronomy project partners carry out the activities defined in the Candidacy Book, of course adapted to the situation. More than 40 projects have been identified, and new proposals are being made. In addition to the founding partners, more than 100 interested companies and individuals have supported the project to date. The goal of the ERG is also to develop and implement sustainable gastronomy in the Green Scheme of Slovenian tourism. The green scheme has already been updated, and a call for the inclusion in the Green Scheme was recently published for catering providers and restaurants. They can obtain the Slovenia Green Cuisine label. The condition for obtaining the label is one of the international sustainability certificates (Green Key or L.E.A.F) and the signing of the Sustainable Gastronomic Commitment.

2021 puts a spotlight on gastronomy, as a main developmental and promotional theme of the Slovenian tourism. For this very purpose, a new presentation film for gastronomy will be launched. The STB will continue working with international gastronomic guides (Michelin, GM) and supporting activities for the Restaurant Week. Special attention will also be given to reducing the use of disposable plastics, both in restaurants and in the accommodation sector. The strengthening and development of local gastronomic brands will encourage even closer integration of agriculture and tourism with the aim of strengthening short supply chains. Communication support for the project will be focused on both domestic and foreign markets. The "My Slovenia" campaign is expected to be launched on the domestic market in February, and all partners of the ERG project and the general public will be invited to participate. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of local gastronomy and responsible food consumption, including waste reduction.

2021 in light of series of situation-adapted activities

The STB quickly responded to the crisis and adapted its activities, with the aim of successfully launching tourism after the resumption of tourist flows.

Greater focus on domestic and nearby markets

In 2021, the STB will take on an even greater role in promoting Slovenia, focusing more intensively on the domestic market and, upon the reopening of borders, on nearby European markets. This is how the STB follows the recovery plan, which outlines that the regional tourism (markets which are less than 500 km away and can drive to Slovenia) will first come to life. Additionally, special attention will also be given to the markets with air connections.

The STB submits tenders to support the economy

In 2020, the STB for the first time conducted tenders to co-finance the promotion of the Slovenian tourist offer on foreign as well as Slovenian markets for tourist companies and leading tourist destinations. Given the changed situation, the STB adapted the tenders to help overcome the reduced number of foreign guests. A call for travel agencies and tour operators has been published, as well as for independent tour guides. With the aim of mitigating the consequences of the crisis and strengthening competencies and new knowledge, the STB will continue to co-finance marketing and promotional projects of leading tourist destinations and incoming tourist agencies, as well as tour operators, and support vulnerable groups of tourism industry stakeholders through public tenders.

Intensive digitalization of marketing and promotional activities and digital transformation of Slovenian tourism

Digitization and orientation towards content digital marketing will be of key importance in the field of marketing and promotional activities in 2021. As one of the key strategic projects, the STB plans to prepare the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of Slovenian Tourism 2021-2025.

With the aim of maintaining contacts with business partners in foreign markets during the pandemic, the STB has developed virtual platforms "FeelSloveni@ BusinessDate", digitized events and moved them online. In 2020, 109 events were carried out, of which as many as 75 on virtual platforms. More than 3,000 meetings were held between representatives of Slovenian tourism and foreign tour operators and agencies. Maintaining existing and establishing new B2B contacts is crucial for a speedy recovery when travel will again be possible. This year, the STB is therefore launching Feel Sloveni@ online trainings for foreign tour operators and travel agencies. This will add on the visibility and image of Slovenia as a unique sustainable destination for five-star experiences.

My Slovenia – an upgrade of the campaign

Shortly after the onset of the crisis, the STB shifted its activities to nearby markets and the domestic market, and launched the transnational campaign The Time Is Now. My Slovenia. which connected tourist destinations, product associations, tourist providers, partner institutions and other stakeholders in Slovenian tourism, and was joined by numerous media and project ambassadors. With the intensified and upgraded campaign, when the tourist facilities reopen their doors, the STB will once again invite Slovenians to discover the country. The research Identifying the potential of a domestic guest also showed the potential and preference of a domestic guest for a holiday at home. In the eyes of a domestic guest, Slovenia is recognized as a green destination for relaxation in nature, offering a rich wellness and spa offer.

2020 marks a social media network record for the STB

The STB has been preparing new, especially digital, promotional campaigns, which will be launched as soon as the situation allows. Furthermore, activities on the Feel Slovenia social networks have been intensified, which has helped maintain and strengthen relations with target markets and target groups in these different times. The Feel Slovenia social networks, which already have a total of 1.7 million followers, set a new record in 2020 – 4.6 million interactions. As many as 5,635 posts and 901 stories were recorded on eight social media channels, with an emphasis on adapting communication to current conditions. Also the content of www.slovenia.info was adjusted to the situation. It recorded 2 million visitors and 6.6 million page views in 2020.

The STB's video wins the European award

The Slovenian Tourist Board's video "Time to #stayhome. Turn to nature and dream” was ranked first at the ETC-CIFFT Video Competition 2020 among as many as 18 promotional videos of 12 participating European national tourism organizations. The video launched in April 2020 invited social media followers from abroad to dream about Slovenia and plan a visit in the future, communicated with the message #StayHome so we can #TravelTomorrow. The emotional message shared hope that we will all soon be able to enjoy the natural beauties of Slovenia again.

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Great media coverage in 2020

Slovenia can be found on a number bucket lists published in the world's most renowned media, with the special emphasis being given on the sustainability and gastronomy. Among the most influential media are Conde Nast Traveler, The Sun, Forbes USA, Lonely Planet, Financial Times, The Guardian, CNN, Forbes France, Forbes, Yahoo Finance and The Metro. In 2020, the STB conducted 23 press trips, hosting 41 foreign journalists and online influencers. For foodies and foreign journalists, 4 webinars in English about Slovenian gastronomy were carried out. They were attended by 68 journalists, bloggers and influencers. As part of the WTM 2020, the STB also held a virtual press conference, which was attended by more than 110 journalists. Another important bit of media exposure in 2020 was a major success of our cyclists. The article "Why Slovenia is a tour de force when it comes to cycling", sent to the most prominent media, generated more than 400 articles with a potential total reach of more than 1 billion readers.

Partnerships with top Slovenian athletes

The STB is strengthening partnerships with the so called Slovenian Tourism Ambassadors, especially athletes. At the beginning of 2021, Tadej Pogačar joined Luka Dončić and Primož Roglič, who already form the ambassador team. Next to the ambassadors, the STB has also upgraded promotional partnerships at major sporting events hosted by Slovenia. A new public call for participation in major international sports events has been published with the aim of even more intensive exposure of Slovenia and the implementation of the I feel Slovenia brand. Thanks to the great potential and opportunities that active holidays and sporting achievements of Slovenia have for Slovenian tourism, the STB has announced Active Holidays or Outdoor and Sports Tourism to be the main promotional theme for 2022 and 2023. 

Strenghtening the image of sustainable and responsible destination

Sustainability continues to be at the heart of all the STB's developmental and promotional activities. Even before the pandemic, the STB formulated the development of sustainable tourism, which offers an answer to global tourism challenges and the sustainable competitive development of Slovenian tourism even in these difficult times. The STBwill continue to upgrade sustainable development and continue with the activities of presenting Slovenia as an established sustainable destination. Even greater emphasis than before will be given to ensuring safety and health and the development of tourist offer and products based on contact with nature.

The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism will continue to be a central tool for the development of sustainable tourism in Slovenia. It will be upgraded in the field of health and safety with additional criteria, instructions and assistance for destinations. The scheme has been recognized by the European Travel Commission as the most appropriate tool for the development and sustainable tourism in Europe. According to the Slovenian model, guidelines for the establishment of a European sustainable scheme are being prepared.

With the aim of developing tourism products of higher added value, the STB continues to certify Slovenia's innovative unique experiences with the Slovenia Unique Experiences brand. In 2020, it created the Green & Safe brand, which presents tourist providers with safe and attractive experiences in Slovenia that respect hygienic safety standards during the pandemic.

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Global public relations and Marketing
e-mail address: press(at)slovenia.info

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