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Plečnik’s Ljubljana: Emerging Europe’s Tourism Campaign of the Year 2018

The Slovenian capital Ljubljana took home Emerging Europe’s award for Tourism Campaign of the Year 2018, seeing off fierce competition from a number of other countries, cities and regions.

“Despite the fact that Ljubljana ranks among mid-sized European cities, it has preserved its small-town friendliness and, at the same time, it has everything that all the larger capitals have. In the winter its dreamy central European character prevails, while the summer brings out its relaxed Mediterranean feel,” Petra Stušek, managing director of Visit Ljubljana, told Emerging Europe.

The award was given for the Slovenian capital’s Plečnik’s Year campaign, based around the 60th anniversary of the death of Ljubljana’s greatest architect, Jože Plečnik.

“The anniversary was a project featuring many different stakeholders in Ljubljana and from around Slovenia,” explains Ms Stušek.

Plečnik’s Ljubljana is one of the basic cultural identities of the city and one of the most important products in the field of cultural tourism. Plečnik has been and will continue to be an icon associated with the city for centuries to come.

“We have been developing and promoting Plečnik’s Ljubljana for over a decade,” Ms Stušek adds, “but this is the first tourism campaign that has won us an award. Such an important anniversary became a great basis for a more coordinated and stronger campaign. It also came at a great time, a year ahead of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, so it functioned as a kind of a prelude to 2018 when we continued to promote Plečnik. The year 2022 will mark the 150th anniversary of Plečnik’s birth, and we then expect to carry out an even bigger campaign and programme of events.”

While the campaign has had a positive impact on tourism (the city saw a 120 per cent increase in the number of people taking guided tours in 2017), the real impact has been in awareness about cultural tourism and culture.

“The campaign has raised awareness about a specific product within cultural tourism (Plečnik’s architecture) and also awareness about culture itself. We have however witnessed a significant increase in participants on guided tours focusing on Plečnik and the number of the tours that were carried out,” Ms Stušek tells Emerging Europe.

Although a success, the campaign did pose several challenges for Visit Ljubljana.

“Making a specific cultural product the centre point for different activities through the year meant implementing the story and message in different formats. Several of Plečnik’s works are already Ljubljana landmarks (such as the Triple Bridge or the National and University Library), so we strived to give them a new or different focus. For example, we succeeded in making the big reading room of the National and University Library accessible to visitors during working hours, which could not have been possible before. The challenge was balancing the usual rhythm of a living institution and its users with the disruption caused by visitors. Fortunately, this balance helped visitors to truly understand how Plečnik’s architecture lives and thrives,” adds Ms Stušek.

In addition to the challenges they faced with guided tours of live working areas, another factor was translating the genius loci of Plečnik’s Ljubljana to different event sites to give them an insight into the great architect’s work.

Ms Stušek explains how this was accomplished: “We managed to do this by replicating some of Plečnik’s street and house furniture, and bringing a hands on experience to visitors of trade fairs,” she says.

In spite of the challenges the campaign has been a great success and the team at Visit Ljubljana have a few city recommendations they are keen to share.

“Treat yourselves to a romantic getaway: Ljubljana has love written in its name: it is similar to the Slovenian word ljubljena (beloved). The soul of the city is the Ljubljanica River, crossed by picturesque bridges. People still take time to sit in the outdoor cafés. The picturesque scene is complemented by the ancient castle high on the hill above the city,” says Ms Stušek.

She also recommends enjoying the local cuisine.

“In recent years, Ljubljana has experienced a true culinary boom,” she says. “Visit the Open Kitchen (Odprta kuhna) to feel its lively pulse. Renowned master chefs, restaurants and local dishes from the Taste Ljubljana and Taste Central Slovenia projects are becoming increasingly recognised worldwide.”