Slovenia was recently announced as the winner in the Destination Leadership category of the 2017 National Geographic World Legacy Awards hosted at ITB Berlin.
“The Slovenian Tourist Board embraces and reflects a national goal to be one of the world’s most sustainable countries. With nearly 60 percent of its land covered in trees, Slovenia is one of Europe’s most biodiverse countries. The Tourist Board unifies sustainability efforts through the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, a structured national certification program to develop and publicize green destinations.” – commented National Geographic.
For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s National Geographic World Legacy Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Maja Pak, Director at Slovenian Tourist Board.
ANULA: How do you feel about winning this award?
MAJA: I have to say that at STB we are very honored to have received this prestigious award. We are proud that Slovenia was recognized as one of the most sustainable countries in the world.
Applying for the award was a big challenge for the STB, it was an important opportunity for us to evaluate our own green vision, our measures and models also on a global scale. The award is a proof that we are doing the right thing in the right direction in the field of sustainable tourism. In particular, since we have developed a unique model – the Green scheme of slovenian tourism, encouraging both vertical and horizontal cooperation and by the education, training and motivating of destinations to create inovative green products.
The award means even greater motivation for us to do even more. We are proud that we have become an example of good practice on a global level and that we can share our green vision, knowledge and experience with others. We believe that by choosing sustainable tourism we are choosing to keep our planet safe, green and clean.
ANULA: What positive impacts have your efforts to be a sustainable tourism business had on the communities and regions where you operate?
MAJA: Tourism is today one of the most important sectors of our national economy and it contributes importantly to the social welfare of the country and of its destinations. But it will only stay so if we continue to develop it in a sustainable manner. By choosing sustainability, we are choosing to keep destinations clean and green.
In Slovenia, we created a strong green vision, we committed to develop sustainable tourism and we created our own model of sustainable development that helps destinations and providers to implement sustainable practice. We communicate a lot about the benefits of green tourism, we provide training for the destinations to enter the scheme, and we are encouraging them to create sustainable products. In summary, we are encouraging the development and promotion of green destinations and providers.
The green tourism in the way that we develop it, can differentiate Slovenia from other destinations and strengthen our marketing position as a GREEN, ACTIVE AND HEALTHY destination. And by that we give value added to the destinations brands and strengthen their marketing position as well.
ANULA: How do you engage with the local community to ensure they have a positive opinion of your business working in the area they live?
MAJA: We have been promoting sustainable tourism for many years. EIght years ago, we reached a consensus to promote a green future among key stakeholders. In 2012, we signed the declaration for green partnership with all the stakeholders to protect our natural and cultural heritage, to ensure a better quality of life for our citizens and to offer a unique experience for tourists. Green tourism was established as the basic concept for development.
We interconnected national policies, local communities and the business sector, so as to recognize all the resources, available to develop sustainable destinations. And we supported the process with two key pillars – proper education and communication.
Within our model of sustainable development we communicate a lot about the benefits of green tourism, we support the destinations with training to enter the scheme; and we encourage destinations to create sustainable products. And, what is very important is that we promote them, we give them extra exposure. They can be a part of a great story.
ANULA: How do you communicate with guests about your responsible practices?
MAJA: At the national level we created the marketing positioning of Slovenia as a green, active and healthy destination, oriented towards sustainable development. This positioning supports our brand I FEEL SLOVENIA. Before visitors come to Slovenia or while staying, they get to know Slovenia through this positioning and green and sustainable stories.
Our green scheme of Slovenian tourism is also a certification scheme. We inform guests about our green labels – SGD and SGA. The criteria of the scheme itself require that there is communication with guests. After all, the purpose of the scheme is also to teach guests about a greener lifestyle. We are happy that today, more than 50 companies have entered our green scheme for Slovenian tourism.
ANULA: How do you make sure your staff care about your efforts and support them?
MAJA: Six years ago, STB applied for the Green Office certificate. We wanted to be green ourselves, as an organisation and to leave the minimum carbon footprint when promoting Slovenia.
Greenness is part of our organisation’s mission and the mission of the employees as individuals. We are, as an organisation, growing the culture of sustainable behaviour within the organisation and within the industry.
It was important for employees to see positive reaction of the media and our partners to our green policy.
ANULA: What s the best lesson you have learned over years of developing a successful sustainable tourism business?
MAJA: For the successful implementation of green tourism it was important to communicate with stakeholders, to raise awareness, and to explain them benefits of going green. It was important to create a clear positioning of Slovenian tourism that goes in line with developing these green products.
The most important thing was to create a unique model that unifies all our efforts in the field of sustainable tourism.
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This article is part of the interview series with the National Geographic World Legacy Awards 2017 winners and finalists, with whom we explore best practices in sustainable tourism communications and stakeholder engagement.