For over a decade, Maja Pančur has been part of the team at the Bled Tourist Board and has been the head of the Bled Convention Bureau since 2021. She sees her work as her life mission as Bled aims to manage its offer and gain recognition as a tourist destination for active experiences in the heart of the Julian Alps, offering everything for a perfect vacation in unspoilt nature. With her continued, decade-long cooperation and active involvement locally and internationally, she has contributed tremendously to raising the prominence of Bled as a tourist destination locally and regionally.
INTRO: How would you describe your destination if you could only use four words?
Heavenly, one-of-a-kind, green, innovative.
Q1: What defines a world-class meeting destination? What sets your destination apart from your competition?
I see a top-tier meeting destination as one that offers something more, which the participants recognise as added value, alongside the highest quality of services and integrated infrastructure. In this context, the destination itself can be an exceptional feature, but it can also be an innovative service or an experience. In my opinion, the added value of a destination is represented by the little things that do not leave guests indifferent and fascinate them to the point that they want to return to the destination.
As a tourist and meeting destination, Bled offers an exceptionally supportive environment with the entire infrastructure in the very centre, with quality services and first-class offers. The latter includes many hotels with superb services, proximity and connectivity to the capital and the airport, culinary offers and most importantly – a range of traditional and authentic experiences that can only be found in Bled – from carriage rides, knitting, experiences at Bled Castle, activities on Lake Bled and Bled Island, exceptional local experiences, united under the Blejski local selection brand, and so on.
Business tourism and the meetings industry address a demanding segment of guests to whom we are paying more and more attention. In Bled, we are very proud of the natural features and the heavenly view with the backdrop of the pristine nature of the Triglav National Park. That dictates how we approach the area without encroaching on it because we want to preserve it at all costs.
The competitive advantage of Bled as an urban meeting destination is its array of traditional experiences and unique opportunities for incentive programs in the centre of Bled and the entire area of the Julian Alps 365 days a year. The four seasons are the central motivator for adapting incentive programs according to the weather and conditions, which add charm to each experience and illuminate the place with a completely different scenery. Every season in Bled offers a variety of events and experiences that are tailored to different seasons. The offer, too, is curated.
Q2: Which destination is an inspiring role model to you in creativity and organisation?
It would be challenging to single out just one because I am constantly impressed by best-case practices, and I consider role models for all destinations perpetually focused on preserving and reviving the traditional and authentic features of a destination, striving for quality, and the sustainable and responsible management of a tourist destination. In addition, I am fascinated by innovative incentive programs and the infrastructure established or designed to this end. Not only do such inventive programs offer unforgettable experiences for the meeting industry, but they also excite leisure guests.
If I mention only one best-case practice, it would be the ski slope on the roof of the power plant in Copenhagen, which also caters to climbers who can conquer different routes on the walls of the venue’s incinerator. In addition to the exceptional architecture and innovative approach, the project appeals to the local population attracts leisure guests and calls for the implementation of incentive programs aimed at unique experiences with a sustainable note.
Among urban meeting destinations, The Hague in the Netherlands enchanted me years ago. Ambitious Dutch people work exclusively to organise events with tangible, real-life messages and events that highlight sustainability, contributing to society in general. Their mentality is nicely summarised by the city’s slogan: ‘Doing Good and Doing Business’, which is reflected in the city’s modus operandi.
Otherwise, we don’t need to look beyond the country’s borders for best-case practices. A compact city, Plečnik’s Ljubljana, the leading Slovenian destination in the number of international congress events, is an excellent example of creative development at a meeting destination. Ljubljana Convention Bureau has a long tradition, and I consider it an honour and a pleasure that we cooperate well and exchange best practices. I believe we can learn a lot from such a strong meeting destination in the meetings industry, and cooperation under the auspices of the Slovenian Convention Bureau is extremely important from this aspect.
“EVERY SEASON IN BLED OFFERS A VARIETY OF EVENTS AND EXPERIENCES THAT ARE TAILORED TO DIFFERENT SEASONS. THE OFFER, TOO, IS CURATED.”
Q3: In recent months, the meetings industry has been facing tumultuous changes. Which ones affected your personal work the most?
In Bled, we strive for quality, which is why we have been inviting visitors to feel and experience Bled for many years. The heart of the Julian Alps is an exceptional starting point for discovering the Julian Alps, our living room and a training ground for countless activities in the wonderful, primordial and pristine nature. During the epidemic, we were thus able to rethink the communication of Bled as a tourist destination and a destination in the meetings industry.
We focused even more vigorously on projects that convey a broader message about the experiences of Bled. One such experience is the Bled local selection, which features authentic, high-quality, innovative products and experiences unique to Bled.
Q4: What is your outlook on the craze caused by ChatGPT? Do you believe such tools will affect the work of convention bureaus, and how?
The only constant in the meetings industry, similarly to life, is change, so it’s imperative to embrace it, adapt to progress, and continue learning. Artificial intelligence has already permeated every facet of our lives, and I believe that with time, it will be more and more embedded in routine and repetitive tasks.
I see tools such as virtual assistants that help provide a faster selection of information from the global web. At the same time, it is crucial to be aware of where the tools draw their information from, to approach the tools critically and perceive them for what they are – tools that are helpful to us, often for inspiration and insight from another point of view that can benefit us and encourage us to think about the destination differently. In addition, it can help us develop new products by browsing through all content available on the internet.
Q5: How does your destination foster ideas for new events that would develop with the destination over time? Is your approach systematic?
In Bled, we strive to develop and foster the development of new ideas for events that are already recognised and may potentially become prominent in the future. Our systematical support for new ideas has been planned for winter months during the low season, when there are significantly fewer guests in Bled, and the tourist infrastructure is thus less burdened. At Bled Tourism Board, we are reviving traditional events; our doors are always open for new collaborations and suggestions – with the first prerequisite being that the client’s vision of their event is in line with the development of our green destination.
Q6: Which promotional campaign from your destination that was a resounding success would you do again?
The highlight of this autumn was definitely Luka2Lake Bled – a basketball spectacle that took place on a floating court with the presentation of new sneakers. These were created in collaboration between Luka Dončić and the legendary brand Jordan. They were inspired by the beauty of the Alpine pearl, Lake Bled. The event intertwined sport, culture and sustainability and offered Bled a unique opportunity to further increase Slovenia’s global visibility. We would be honoured to organise the event at such a level when there is an initiative for cooperation that goes beyond local limitations.
Q7: What do you wish to see in the Slovenian meetings industry? In which fields are we on par or even better than rival destinations?
Within the meetings industry, we are certainly the most limited in terms of air connectivity to the world. The same applies to connectivity by other public transport modes, such as trains. In this area, we are lagging behind, but we depend above all on the agenda and financing from the state. Compared to foreign meeting destinations, I would rate the Slovenian tourism infrastructure, services, digitalisation of sales, destination promotion and general communication at a comparable level, while the list of competitive advantages is much longer.
Slovenia can be proud of its natural features, sustainable approach, the preservation of tradition at every step and our profound respect for environmental protection, which we unknowingly pass on to our guests. Slovenia is distinguished by its people, our attitude to nature and the preservation of tradition, which could also be called an invaluable competitive advantage.
Moreover, I see a tremendous advantage in a compact and boutique country like Slovenia, which every time turns out to be an advantage in the partnerships between key stakeholders, mutual destination and regional connectivity, quick responses and adaptation to market conditions. The Slovenian meetings industry is famous for its ingenuity and innovation, which foreign partners also like to point out.
Q8: What are your priorities to become a carbon-neutral destination? Can you illustrate with concrete examples and initiatives at your destination?
The responsibility to become a carbon-neutral destination is written in the DNA of Bled, which lies on the doorstep of the Triglav National Park. For us, the green veduta is unique, and the preservation of the Sub-Alpine pearl is a core task when we talk about the management of a tourist destination. The extraordinary increase in tourism after World War II required Bled to implement a number of green projects. We were one of the first Slovenian municipalities with the goal of a zero-waste society, among the first to start implementing and introducing green practices, and proud holders of the Slovenia Green Gold certificate that also encompasses most hotels, campsites, a public swimming pool, the Triglav National Park, is managed by Bled and increasingly more restaurants boasting a locally oriented culinary offer.
As part of sustainable transportation, guests and local residents are encouraged to use public transportation in the summer using the free Bled bus, which connects Bled with the surrounding areas, and in the winter, Bled and the surrounding ski areas are connected with the Bled Ski Bus. Regarding traffic and congestion on the roads, guests are encouraged to use public transport. The plan is to build additional roads with the aim of eliminating motor traffic in the city centre in a few years. When we talk about traffic, we must also talk about the lake because, from the point of view of crisscrossing the lake, motorised traffic has been banned for many years. As members of the Alpine Pearls association, we are committed to a perfect vacation in an environmentally friendly way, as we offer guests arriving in Bled by train at the Bled Jezero railway station transport to the city centre by tourist train.
With a greater number of guests and pressure on the city centre, the (hyper) production of waste also turned out to be a negative consequence of tourism. The local company Infrastruktura Bled began to address this pressing issue by creating a detailed and effective integrated communication scheme, as it provides information to the local population and guests in an understandable and visually attractive way, informing them about the importance of separating waste and striving to reduce waste. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any at all. This type of communication is present at all events, communal vehicles don them, we produce brochures and educational video content, and there are also banners intended to raise awareness among guests in individual tourist facilities.
In order to preserve and respect nature, we have activated individuals during the summer as part of the “Ask me, I’m a local” campaign, who guide and inform guests about laws and green behaviour, especially around Lake Bled. We use information boards to inform guests about the activities that can be carried out in certain places. For example, you can enjoy the Bled views and walks on marked paths, in the parks by the lake and on the paths around the lake and swimming is allowed in the area of the bathing waters, in the castle pool and Velika Zaka. In this way, we contribute to preserving biodiversity, green areas and meadows.
With the aim of reducing plastic waste and using natural resources, drinking fountains have been placed throughout the municipality, encouraging the use of drinking water and reusable bottles. To accomplish the Zero Waste goal and establish a society without waste, a packaging-free store named Na kilo has also come to life in Bled. It was built on the site of a former gas station and offers a range of local products, and there is also a local market next to it.
We established closer cooperation among local suppliers culinary providers and accommodation facilities with our Bled local selection project. Through the project, the offer of local ingredients and materials began to improve; we recognised creative artisans who draw their inspiration from tradition and local stories. In the Municipality of Bled, we have an exceptional number of individuals who contribute significantly to the development of the destination, and by working together, they have raised the reputation of the entire area and fellow citizens to a higher level, not just their business or mission.
We also prove that we operate and buy locally with our own support for local providers. Business gifts are selected from a range of products with the Bled local selection certificate, as are culinary providers at organised meetings and events. We encourage other guest meeting organisers to do the same. In the end, we cannot ignore our most noticeable feature, the extreme importance of preserving tradition, among which are the pletna and fijakarji, which add their authentic mark to Bled. We preserve living history even today, and we can no longer imagine tourism in Bled without them. We have already taken a number of measures in recent years, and daily small steps lead us to our goals, so we will continue to advocate for sustainable behaviour in the future.
“WE WANT TO UPGRADE THE WELLNESS AND SELF-CARE OFFER, CONTINUING THE STORY OF ARNOLD RIKLI, WHO IS CONSIDERED THE PIONEER OF SPA TOURISM IN THE PEARL OF THE ALPS.”
Q9: What is your future vision to develop your destination?
When developing a destination, we must first consider the locals, the local population, enable them to coexist with the tourist industry and maintain a high quality of living, which is reflected in the preservation of the heavenly image of Bled, beautiful nature, clean air, organised cycling and hiking trails and an offer of experiences that will inspire, educate and empower the local community as well as guests from around the world.
We want Bled to become a leading Alpine centre, once again known as a resort and not an attraction. It is among the most frequently mentioned destinations in Slovenia and offers quality experiences in the most alluring part of Europe, the Julian Alps. In this area, we want to strengthen communication and organisational links within the community of the Julian Alps so that our goal to position Bled as the best destination for incentive trips in the Alps will be achieved in the long term.
Within the meetings industry, we are also looking at the development of additional incentive products, in line with the green and high-quality note and the upgrade of the culinary offer as part of the Bled Gourmet product. One of the goals is to upgrade the wellness and self-care offer, continuing the story of Arnold Rikli, who is considered the pioneer of spa tourism in the pearl of the Alps.
Q10: Can you name a pressing challenge the entire Slovenian meetings industry should address together?
As mentioned, I see a pressing challenge in Slovenia’s connections with Europe and beyond, both with airlines and efficient public transport, including high-speed trains and better bus connections.
Q11: In fifteen years since its inception, Conventa has become the central event for the meetings industry in New Europe. How important is the trade show to your destination?
The Bled Convention Bureau has been present at Conventa since its beginnings. Familiar faces, a pleasant atmosphere, cooperation and mutual support are magical ingredients, the basic building blocks of the trade show which add to its unique charm. Every time we attend Conventa, it is like coming home, where you feel embraced by the enthusiasm and active approach to addressing clients together. Conventa is a springboard for identifying and getting to know key stakeholders who will help Bled develop as a unique centre for MICE events in Europe. We are extremely happy that we established genuine relationships with the participants of the fam trips within the framework of Conventa and that through this experience, they become our ambassadors.
Especially last year, Conventa proved that it is the main event in the region and a great model for similar events in the broader region. Its commitment to sustainability, authenticity and setting new trends is winning.
Learn more about the Bled Tourist Board here.