Slovenia's UNESCO Sites Striving for More Tourists and Funds
After making it onto the UNESCO Heritage List, the little town of Idrija is hopeful that the enlistment will bring more tourists and money to restore the country's oldest mine and the town. However, the experience of Slovenia's two other destinations that have made it onto the UNESCO list paints a less optimistic picture.
The Idrija mercury mine was placed on the UNESCO Heritage List just over two weeks ago alongside Almaden mine in Spain. They are the two largest mercury mines in the world and were operational until recent times, according to UNESCO web site.
Idrija hopes to become a more popular destination for tourists and to share the local knowledge on mercury and the preservation of industrial heritage with others, Idrija Town Museum boss Ivana Leskovec told the STA.
She is however aware that the town will have to extend and modernise the activities it offers to tourists to exceed the average annual figure of some 50,000 visitors in the future.
Those in charge are also aware that the town will have to step up promotion. The Slovenian Tourist Board (STO) has helped a lot in the past already, especially in terms of international promotion, according to Leskovec, who expressed the wish to intensify this cooperation.
They also intend to increase the numbers of visiting researchers and experts from two specific fields: mercury mining and industrial heritage preservation.
"In this field it is worth mentioning an extensive project we wish to conduct with the help of the state: the restoration of the mercury smelter that is to become the central facility for mercury heritage in Idrija and in the whole of Slovenia. Almaden already has a similar centre," said Leskovec.
But the operator of another Slovenia's world heritage site, prehistoric pile-dwellings in the wetlands south of Ljubljana, has realised that not much has changed since the site was listed a year ago alongside 109 pile dwellings in five other countries around the Alps.
Making it onto the UNESCO Heritage List does not automatically bring more preservation funds or tourists, according to Barbara Zupanc, the director of the public institute operating the two pile dwellings.
Overseeing 13,500 hectares of the park, the institute only has three employees and its budget was cut 38% in 2012 over 2011. This year, the institute is to get EUR 7,000 for UNESCO heritage preservation, but the contract is yet to be signed.
Moreover, the two prehistoric sites are on private land that is being cultivated. The institute does not have the tools to persuade the owners into nature-friendly farming that would also be the least harmful for the sites.
Such farming may also change hydrological conditions, causing decay of the two sites, as key to preserving them is maintaining a high enough water level.
Zupanc says that making it onto the UNESCO Heritage List is only the first step. Unless this is followed by support in the form of expert and financial aid, legislation and political support, the enlistment can also remain the last step, she warns.
"The enlistment means that the state must ensure with any mechanism available that the site preserves the characteristics for which it was included onto the list," the director said.
Similarly, the Škocjan Caves, Slovenia's first entry onto the UNESCO Heritage List, has come to realise that the enlistment per se does not mean an increase in visitors.
An increase in visitor numbers at Škocjan Caves is the result of systemic efforts in promotion, according to Gordana Beltram, the director of cave system operator, Park Škocjanske jame.
The vast cave system that was put on the list in 1986 has recorded a gradual increase in visitors over the years, especially in the second half of 1980s, during a tourist boom throughout the entire former Yugoslavia.
In 1986, the caves attracted some 82,000 visitors, many of them were from the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
After the breakup of the country, the visitor numbers dropped significantly, only to pick up after 1999. That year, the caves were visited by some 44,000 tourists, while in 2008 the number exceeded 100,000 for the first time.
The number of visitors a destination attracts depends on several factors, according to Beltram. She believes that the task of the operator is to shape and steer the tourist strategy in a way that preserves the area and landscape.
The operator offers more than just guided tours of the cave system: the area has three museum collections and a learning path, proclaimed the best in the country in 2011.
Moreover, the park gives a part of its UNESCO preservation funds to the three local communities within the park. So far several historic houses were renovated and the villages have started catering to the tourists visiting the area.
However, the UNESCO Heritage List sites are not the only ones recognised by UNESCO in Slovenia. Three Slovenian sites have been included onto the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance: the Sečovlje salt pans, Škocjan Caves and Cerknica Intermittent Lake.
Moreover, UNESCO Memory of the World Register includes Codex Suprasliensis, the largest among just a few surviving manuscripts in Old Church Slavonic, of which parts are kept by the Ljubljana National and University Library.