2021 > Letnik 11, št. 1



Like in many other countries, measures introduced by the state authorities in order to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic suspended all travel and tourism-related activities in Slovenia. This article aims to provide firstly, a synthesis of the consequences of measures adopted during the Covid-19 epidemic by the Slovene regulator, which shaped Slovene tourism in 2020 in the period between the first and the second announcement of the epidemic in the state till the end of 2020, and secondly, to highlight the response of tourism players. Data were collected by method of an integrative review of relevant literature and documents and processed by applying the method of content analysis. Research results are presented descriptively. The results demonstrate the ways in which tourism activities adapted to the preventive and restrictive measures introduced by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia in 2020 and the impact of measures on the overall success of Slovene tourism in 2020 compared to the year before. The paper also examines tourism-specific measures adopted by the national regulator in the attempt to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector and their effect. This study contributes to academic literature on changes in Slovene tourism caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which may be used – particularly in the Slovene tourism case – for discussing qualitative and innovative transformation of Slovene tourism in the new strategic period.

Keywords: Covid-19, pandemic, tourism, success, measures, tourist vouchers

Podobno kot v večini držav, so ukrepi, ki so jih za preprečitev širitve virusa Covid-19 uvedle države po svetu, in so jih sprejeli tudi pristojni organi v Sloveniji, povzročili omejitev potovanja in s turizmom povezanih dejavnosti v Sloveniji. Namen tega prispevka je predstaviti sintezo sprejetih ukrepov pristojnih državnih organov v času pandemije Covid-19, ki so oblikovali potek turizma v državi v letu 2020, v času med prvo in drugo razglasitvijo epidemije vse do konca leta 2020. Prav tako v prispevku osvetlimo odziv turističnih akterjev na novo nastale razmere v turizmu. Podatke smo zbrali s pomočjo metode integrativnega pregleda literature, jih obdelali z metodo analize vsebine, rezultate pa predstavili z uporabo opisne metode. Rezultati raziskave razgrinjajo vsebino preventivnih in restriktivnih ukrepov, s katerimi so se soočali akterji v turizmu v omenjenem obdobju, stališča turističnih akterjev nanje ter vpliv ukrepov na rezultate uspešnosti slovenskega turizma v letu 2020. Prav tako so v rezultatih povzete ključne značilnosti turistično-specifičnih ukrepov pristojnih državnih organov, s pomočjo katerih je država omilila negativen vpliv pandemije na turizem. Raziskava prispeva k znanstvenemu dojemanju sprememb, literaturi o spremembah, ki so jih ukrepi za zajezitev epidemije Covid-19 povzročili slovenskemu turizmu. S prikazom sprememb na strani povpraševanja in na strani ponudbe, obenem spodbuja razpravo o kakovostni spremembi slovenskega turizma ter inovativnosti ponudnikov. Zato jo lahko uvrščamo med dokumente, ki jih je mogoče uporabiti pri oblikovanju razvoja slovenskega turizma v prihodnjem strateškem obdobju.

Ključne besede: Covid-19, pandemija, turizem, uspešnost, ukrepi, turistični boni


Tourism has been – due to the continuous yearly growth – subject of special attention for years. In the beginning of 2020, it thus seemed realistically attainable to engage more than 1.8 billion international passengers in tourism by 2030, as it was forecasted in 2011 (UNWTO, 2011). For years, Slovenia also has recognised tourism as a vital economic sector. The year 2019 was considered »a record year in Slovene tourism for the sixth consecutive year« (STO 2019, 2020: 5).

Since viruses and other micro-organisms travel along with people, tourism is closely connected to the spread of infectious disease (Gössling et al., 2020). Therefore – in the wake of the announcement of a Covid-19 pandemic (WHO, 2020) on March 11, 2020 – countries across the world adopted measures, which temporarily restricted the movement and gathering of people and banned numerous economic activities. In practice, the above-mentioned measures temporary suspended the majority of tourist flows and tourism-related business (OECD, 2020).

Because of the measures related to Covid-19 epidemic adopted by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia (in continuation: Government), life and tourism in the state were significantly altered in the first three months of 2020 also in Slovenia. In March, tourism-related activities were temporary prohibited. After living two months and a half under restrictive measures, tourism temporary came back to life for a few summer months, albeit with a number of safety measures and a great degree of uncertainty.

The number of studies examining the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy has been steadily increasing (Humpries et al., 2020); this is also true for analyses looking at the effects of Covid-19 on tourism. Sah et al. (2020), for instance, looked at the effect of the pandemic on tourism in Nepal, Rogerson & Rogerson (2020) on the tourism economy of South Africa. Furthermore, Gaffney & Eckels (2002) researched the impact of pandemic-related risk on decisions regarding travelling to both American continents, while Zupan Korže & Škabar (2020) highlighted the footprint of pandemic to tourism and particularly to small tourism businesses. In Slovenia, Turnšek et al. (2020) identified the threat of Covid-19 for tourists and its effect on their engagement with the new tourist reality, while Kukanja et al. (2020) researched the crisis management of tourism small and medium-sized enterprises in the state. However, so far, there has been no broader synthesis of the impact of the pandemic on overall Slovene tourism sector. Following the example of studies from abroad, this study aims to fill this gap.

This study aims to answers two research questions:
• How restrictive and preventive measures introduced by relevant authorities of the Republic of Slovenia to curb the spread of Covid-19 impact Slovene tourism in 2020?
• What were the major consequences in the Slovene tourism sector in 2020 caused by the measures adopted by the Republic of Slovenia to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic?

The study provides a broader view on actions and consequences caused by an unprecedented event in the external (macro) environment – the Covid-19 pandemic: a) within a specific period (from March 2020 until the end of 2020); b) within a particular sector (tourism) and c) in a particular geographical area (Slovenia). It is a contribution to a growing literature in this field.


The quantitative indicators of growth of tourism in the 21st century confirm the truism – often found in existing academic literature – that tourism is one of the most significant segments in the global economy. Its significance and growth are measured by looking at various standards and criteria. Song et al. (2010) propose measuring based on four elements: people (number of travellers/tourists), money (spending, revenue), time (number of overnight stays, duration of travel) and space (distance, travel distance). In practice, the most commonly applied criteria relate to people and money. They have been the basis of a number of UNWTO studies and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) analyses. UNWTO and WTTC studies report that 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded globally in 2019, which is a 4 % increase compared to the year before (UNWTO, 2020a). In 2019, the direct and indirect effects of tourism contributed 8.9 billion USD to the global GDP, which is an estimated 10.3 % of the overall structure of the global GDP; moreover, tourism sector provided jobs for 300 million people across the world (WTTC, 2020).

It is thus understandable that in the wake of the emergence of Covid-19 in China and the announcement of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNTWO insisted that tourism sector should help countries revitalise their economies (UNWTO, 2020b). It appealed to governments across the world to adopt measures that would protect health but at the same time only affect tourism to the smallest degree necessary. While continuing to highlight the need for the adopted measures to affect travel and trade to the least extent possible, UNTWO supported the restrictive measures of governments across the world by introducing the campaign #Travel tomorrow (UNWTO, 2020c).

However, contrary to the UNWTO appeal, the implementation of restrictive measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19 by nations across the world (restrictions on international travel, movement and gathering of people, etc.) resulted in a drastic reduction of global tourism flows in March 2020. They instantly and strongly affected the tourism sector and brought on a crisis of unprecedented extent (OECD, 2020).

Existing research show that our century has witnessed numerous occasions of turmoil, such as, September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, SARS in 2002, the global financial crisis in 2008, MERS in 2012, the 2010 volcano eruption in Iceland, etc. (Chang et al., 2020). Following Taleb (2007), academic literature often refers to the above-mentioned events and their counterparts as “black swans”. For Covid-19 crisis, Taleb himself believes this to be a misnomer. He claims that the present crisis was far from unexpected: to the contrary, the world simply ignored its potential danger and failed to respond to it in a timely manner (Schatzeker, 2020).

History has shown that the occasions mentioned above limited travel only for shorter periods. Tourism repeatedly proved to be “resistant” to events of this kind (Hall et al., 2017) and rebounded to its regular levels soon after their occurrence. So far, though, professionals and academics seem relatively unanimous in the opinion that there is a key difference between the crisis occasioned by the anti-Covid-19 measures and the above-mentioned events. With the exception of the global financial crisis in 2008/2009, the turbulent events of the recent past were generally limited to a specific (narrow or wide) geographical area, as were the measures implemented to remedy the situation. In contrast, the Covid-19 pandemic is a global event, and a unique one, which has suspended public life and non-essential activities in a greater part of the world (Higgins-Desboilles, 2020). The current crisis is thus of a significantly larger extent than the previous ones and is different in profile.

Research on the impact of Covid-19 crisis carried out in May 2020 demonstrated that the cost of the pandemic to tourism was already three times that of the 2008/2009 global financial crisis (UNWTO, 2020d); the interim levels of international tourism could fall by 60 % or even 80 % compared to the year before (UNWTO, 2020e). This decline would mean a decrease in the number of international tourists of about 850 million or even more than a billion; the number of people directly employed in tourism could fall by 100 or even 120 million (ibid.). By the end of the 2020, the first estimates showed to be realistic. In 2020, destinations worldwide welcomed one billion fewer international arrivals than in 2019 (UNWTO, 2021). An estimated loss in export revenues should account USD 1.3 trillion, which is more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2008/2009 global economic crisis (ibid.).

Experience gained from past crises demonstrates the importance of domestic tourism during a time of trouble, since the impetus for economic recovery in the sector generally came from domestic tourism. UNTWO (2020e) thus forecasts that countries with a greater proportion of domestic tourism would recover from the present crisis faster than countries with a low percentage of domestic visitors. E.g., in Germany, with 74 % of domestic visitors, tourism will likely recover sooner than in Montenegro, where domestic visitors represent somewhere over 3 % of the overall number of visitors (ETC, 2020). Apart from local visitors, the second most important market during periods of crisis should include short trips to neighbouring countries. Existing professional estimates show, however, that neither domestic nor international markets will be able to compensate for the loss of international visitors in 2020; thus, it should have been unrealistic to expect a return to 2019 levels before 2023 (ETC, 2020).

Some researchers point out that the Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to form new pathways for tourism development (Brouder, 2020; Gossling et al., 2020; Higgins-Desboilles, 2020; Romagosa, 2020). It is expected that our ‘new reality’ will be characterised by a greater resilience to shock and danger, digitalisation, increased inclusivity, and sustainability (ITC, 2020). Similarly, suggestions for re-shaping tourism include a stronger emphasis on developing sustainable tourism, prioritising local suppliers above multinationals, digitalisation, encouraging domestic tourism, etc.


The research was conducted using a combination of methods deemed most appropriate given the qualitative nature of data, the subject of analysis, the broad aims and objectives of the study, and its time frame.

Because of the specific nature of the topic and the newness of the context, we chose to follow the example of Snyder et al. (2019) and use an integrative review to collect information. Instead of summarising all the existing literature on a research topic, the chosen method is characteristic for including and combining diverse perspectives on a subject. Compared to a systematic or a semi-systematic review, it affords a more creative approach. Therefore, it was identified as the most appropriate method for collecting information, which could provide an answer to the research questions and reveal new insight into the topic under discussion.

The data were collected from secondary sources. In order to come up with a high-quality, subject-related selection of sources and documents, a procedure based on steps, criteria, and guidelines employed in literature reviews of comparable studies has been designed and adjusted to the needs of the study. The procedure determined the time frame of the relevant documents, their source databases, search terms and the selection of documents relevant for further analysis. The selected time frame included sources/documents published in English and Slovene from February 2020 to February 2021. The publications in Slovene daily and weekly newspapers have been used, apart to tourism-related publications that appeared on the websites of national and international organisations relevant to the field of tourism, commentary and opinions authored by relevant professionals, and other publications relevant to the research topic. Google and Google Scholar search engines have been used to find online publications. The keywords included: Covid-19, coronavirus pandemic, epidemic and hospitality/tourism/travelling, government measures, tourist vouchers, protective masks, quarantine, traffic light system, in Slovene and English language.

The next step involved the examination and selection of collected documents. The initial, rapid review was aimed at eliminating sources irrelevant to our study. The following step was the analysis of selected sources and their categorisation according to key topics. The final selection of the documents has been thoroughly studied using a content analysis method based on guidelines for analysing qualitative data developed by Miles et al. (2014).

The findings are presented descriptively, using the method of description, compilation, condensation, comparison and interpretation.


The results are presented in three subsections. The first subsection presents key restrictive and preventive government measures, which radically transformed the course of national tourism in the period from the first declaration of the Covid-19 epidemic until the end of 2020. The following subsection compares the results of Slovene tourism in 2020 with 2019. The final subsection highlights the impact of a tourist-specific measures adopted by the regulator to stimulate national tourism, i.e., tourist vouchers, to Slovene tourism in 2020.

Restrictive and preventive measures and the gradual revival of tourism until renewed lockdown

On March 12, 2020, a day after the WHO declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic (WHO, 2020), Slovenia announced a Covid-19 epidemic in the state (Decree declaring the epidemic, 2020a). The declaration served as a formal basis for a series of further preventive and restrictive measures implemented by the Government. Government temporary banned tourism-related services: accommodation, catering, wellness, cinematographic, cultural, and casino services (Decree prohibiting the sale of goods/services, 2020a) and public transport (Decree on the restriction of public transport, 2020). The crossing of external national borders was only allowed in exceptional cases and was limited to specific checkpoints and particular times of day (Decree on measures at the external borders, 2020a). Few days after, a ban on movement of people in public places, areas and towns was adopted (Decree prohibiting movement/gathering, 2020a) and soon after amended by restriction on movement outside municipalities (Decree prohibiting movement/gathering, 2020b). These two measures did not impinge upon tourism-related activities, since these activities had already been banned.

During the initial stages of the ban on tourism activities, Slovene tourism players faced a series of unknowns. Initial forecasts in spring 2020 predicted that reaching even 50 % of the level of the previous year would count as a success for Slovene tourism in 2020. However, for some experts, it should be more realistic expect levels ranging somewhere between 20 % and 30% of those from 2019. At that point, it was still difficult to gauge the depth of the economic crisis, the changes in consumer behaviour, and the capacity of the tourism sector to adapt to the new situation. There was a strong confidence in prediction that travel would definitely resume, albeit with changed customer behaviour; visitors would - at least in the beginning - probably opt to travel to destinations closer to home (Grgič & Pušnik, 2020).

In 2020, the tourism sector was supposedly in for a “reset”, both in terms of supply and demand (Grgič & Pušnik, 2020). The first assessments of changes in tourism indicated an increased demand for nature holidays, smaller, boutique hotels offering individual experience and greater digitalisation, contactless business and safe accommodation. According to some experts, Slovenia was well placed to adapt to the new tourism reality, because it is small, green and boutique. Therefore, it has all the preconditions for becoming a so-called “corona-hit” destination (Kovačič, 2020). Slovenia’s long-term commitment to green, active and healthy tourism should also bring success in the post-Covid period, since the discerning and ecologically aware tourist would naturally gravitate towards this type of offer (Felc, 2020).

It was estimated that the new reality of Slovene tourism would be first experienced mostly by domestic visitors. Therefore, a tourism campaign led by STO chose to target precisely this group of tourists (Grgič, 2020a). STO chose to promote tourism by adapting an old campaign, “Slovenia, moja dežela” (Slovenia, my country), which was created by Studio Marketing 30 years ago (Bojc, 2020). STO responded to new circumstances by developing a new slogan addressing domestic visitors, “The time is now. My Slovenia.” The campaign was embraced by the majority of the tourism economy (Šuligoj, 2020). Larger tourist businesses also joined the campaign, which was mainly promoted through digital channels, and used to address domestic tourists (Kondža, 2020). In preparation for the re-opening of their accommodation capacities, a segment of Slovene hoteliers first launched a marketing campaign on the domestic market, with a view to expanding it abroad once the borders reopened. Due to a significantly smaller market of potential visitors, aggressive marketing was expected (Brkić, 2020).

The peak of the spring epidemic was followed by the lifting of “the probably most restrictive quarantine we have witnessed in the past centuries,” including in Slovenia (Štamcar, 2020). In the beginning of May 2020, the Government first eased restrictions in the field of catering and allowed service on terraces and in restaurant gardens (Decree prohibiting the sale of goods/services, 2020b). Caterers and customers had to abide by the rules issued by the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH); however, caterers warned that the safety precautions were difficult to implement in practice. For instance, it was impossible for them to verify whether only members of the same household were seated at the same table. The requirement for a minimal distance of at least 1.5 m between guests was also dependent on the discipline of guests and not caterers. In fear of penalties and sanctions, some service providers postponed the opening of terraces and summer gardens (Čepar, 2020a). It was only in the second half of May that service providers were also allowed to open accommodation facilities with up to 30 rooms, while health resorts, pools, gyms, and night clubs remained closed (Decree prohibiting the sale of goods/services, 2020c). At that time, it was estimated that in 2020 hotels would earn a maximum of 40 % of the income from the year before (Čepar, 2020a).

In May 2020, life across the country shifted from adhering to restrictions to following NIPH guidelines regarding mask wearing, hand sanitising, physical distancing, etc. This brought about a certain relief in terms of individuals exercising their free will and pursuing activities, but also a certain degree of confusion. Not all NIPH guidelines were necessarily logical. E.g., people were allowed to drink a cup of coffee in a coffee shop but were prohibited from reading the newspaper while doing so. Furthermore, one can consume an ice cream in a beach cafe but was prohibited from going to the beach while gathering in public places was still forbidden (Hrastar, 2020).

The new circumstances forced providers of tourist accommodation into numerous changes, ranging from adaptations in terms of minimising risk of infection to rationalising cost. Hygiene became the “new luxury” in hotels, with the strict UNTWO guidelines forcing hotels to confront serious challenges (Kovačič, 2020). In order to survive some hotels limited their offer to most essential and financially viable services. Where possible, hotels introduced digitalised services, limited contact between staff and customers and at the same time increased the number of cleaning and disinfecting staff (Brkić, 2020).

The Covid-19 epidemic in Slovenia was officially declared over at the end of May (Decree on the revocation of the epidemic, 2020). The decision was followed by the lifting of restrictions on providing services in health resorts, pools, and night clubs (Decree prohibiting the sale of goods/services, 2020d). Beaches and public baths were opened in June; however, visitors had to follow safety and hygiene protocols (Hrastar, 2020). There was a further easing of restrictions on provision of accommodation in June, but large events were still prohibited (Decree prohibiting the sale of goods/services (2020e).

At the beginning of June 2020, the first hotels at the Slovene seaside re-opened and tested their new hygiene protocols on initially moderate numbers of guests (Šuligoj, 2020). The hotels attracted predominantly Slovene guests with first-minute offers and somewhat lower prices than in the same period in the year before (Čepar, 2020b). In the course of the same month, the majority of hotels and camps also re-opened in other regions of the country, not just the coastal region. With the introduction of health vouchers, there was an increased demand on part of domestic visitors in health resorts and mountain centres; cities, however, were left in a more precarious position. While seaside resorts reported occupancy ranging from 20 % to 70 %, Ljubljana only recorded a 7 % rate for the same period (Grgič, 2020b).

Restrictions preventing Slovenes from travelling to other countries and foreigners from entering Slovenia in the time of officially declared epidemic in the country were also eased in the beginning of June 2020 (Slovenia first opened its borders with Croatia). The tourism sector become gradually more optimistic, at least in those parts of the country attractive to domestic tourists, where the demand was stimulated by the introduction of tourist vouchers (Čepar, 2020c).

Safety and hygiene protocols remained in place throughout, e.g., mandatory mask wearing in enclosed public spaces, adherence to NIPH rules and recommendations regarding moving and staying in closed public spaces (Decree on temporary measures, 2020). Masks continued to be mandatory for catering staff, as was the minimal safety distance between tables in catering facilities and summer gardens and the distance between people from different households.

Still, if they adhered to safety and hygiene protocols, most tourism-related businesses and activities were able to operate in July and August. However, the extent of some tourist activities was severely limited: e.g. tourism transport, event organisers, cultural, business, entertainment and sports activities, tourist agencies, tourist guides, etc. The gathering of people continued to be restricted to a maximum number of 10 people or 50, under the condition if the event organiser was able to provide a list of event participants. The only exceptions to this were public events with 500 attendees allowed in cases where the event organisers gave notice of the event to relevant authorities, provided adequate seating arrangements and ensured minimal contact (Decree prohibiting movement/gathering, 2020c).

Despite successfully curbing the spread of the virus during the summer months of 2020, the national epidemiological situation in the state worsened in September. The Government consequently adopted stricter restrictions regarding border-crossing from countries with non-adequate epidemiological situations (Decree on measures at external borders, 2020b). In September, the EU introduced recommendations and indicators for the so-called traffic light system, which marked countries (or geographical regions within countries) according to levels of risk (green, orange, red, and grey). Whereas member states were relatively unanimous regarding the criteria and indicators for tracing infections within countries, they were less united when it came to a negative Covid-19 test as a prerequisite for entering a country, to quarantine and its length. One of the key guidelines in introducing measures was that all restrictions of individual freedom should be based on scientific grounds (EC, 2020). Due to rather uneven application of EU guidelines and recommendations, the Slovene public was soon under the impression that the border regime was more a reflection of disparate state interests than of the number of infections in individual countries (Knavs, 2020).

Apart from tightening rules on border-crossing in the first month of autumn, the government also introduced stricter measures for gathering of people, closed night clubs, limited catering during night time (with the exception of room service and personal collection of food and drink) and the number of people allowed at the same table (Decree prohibiting the goods/services, 2020e). Events with up to 500 people were still allowed but had to be approved by NIPH and were not allowed to provide catering (Decree prohibiting the goods/services, 2020f; Decree on prohibiting movement/gathering, 2020d).

Following the second declaration of the epidemic on October 19, 2020 (Decree on the declaration of the epidemic, 2020b), the first restriction – the same as in March – was aimed at temporarily restricting the movement and gathering of people. This measure was then followed by a renewed suspension of certain activities, including those directly related to tourism (Decree prohibiting the goods/services, 2020g). Once again, tourism in Slovenia came to a standstill and remained in this position until the end of 2020.

Measuring success in tourism before the pandemic and in the year of “corona tourism”

In the 21st century, Slovenia has become an increasingly interesting and recognisable tourism destination, which has also been reflected in the number of visitors and overnight stays. In the years following the 2008/2009 financial crisis, both quantitative and qualitative indicators for Slovene tourism have been steadily increasing. In 2019, tourism represented 12 % of the national GDP; on the national level 15.7 million overnight stays were recorded and 6 million of tourist arrivals, which was 5 % more than the year before (STO 2019, 2020). Indicators of international tourist arrivals (4.7 million international tourists) showed a rate of growth of 6.3 %, faster than European and global growth, which was 4 % in 2019 (SURS, 2020). With regard to the number of overnight stays, the most successful municipalities in 2019 were Ljubljana (325,000), Kranjska Gora (246,000), Piran (168,000), Brežice (126,000) and Moravske Toplice (116,000), i.e., the capital, the mountain and seaside municipalities, and municipalities with health resorts. Bled and Zreče recorded slightly fewer overnight stays than Moravske Toplice did (STO 2019, 2020).

In terms of the structure of tourists (domestic vs. international visitors), the share of international visitors has been increasing steadily in the 21st century. In 2019, three quarters of all tourists in Slovenia were international visitors, whereas domestic visitors represented only a quarter. Among the international visitors, 13 % were tourists from Italy and the same percentage from Germany, while 8 % were from Austria (STO 2019, 2020).

In public, the success of Slovene tourism is usually discussed in the context of non-financial indicators, which have been promising for years. However, data collected by the Bank of Slovenia (2020) revealed that in 2019 (and the years before) the financial indicators of success for tourism in Slovenia lagged behind the non-financial indicators. From financial point of view, Slovenia was also considerably behind on goals set in the Strategy for sustainable development of Slovene tourism 2017-2021 (2017). In 2021, tourism was supposed to bring from 3.7 to 4 billion EUR; failing to implement the strategic objectives would keep the revenue at 2.76 billion EUR. In fact, in 2019 Slovene tourism generated only 2.52 billion EUR from travel, which is only 1.9 % more than the year before (Bank of Slovenia, 2020) and considerably less than the predicted revenue growth in national tourism strategy.

In 2020, the success of tourism would prove particularly challenging both in terms of financial and non-financial indicators. Whereas the number of tourist arrivals and overnight stays in January and February 2020 was comparable to the previous year, the Covid-19 epidemic in March and April brought Slovene tourism to a halt: from mid-March to mid-May, there were no tourist arrivals. The scarce number of overnight stays were realised by people staying in Slovenia as part of international student exchanges (SURS, 2020).

After the epidemic in Slovenia was declared over, tourism gradually came back to life. A comparison of non-financial results for the period from the beginning of January to the end of August 2020 shows that Slovenia recorded approximately 2.4 million tourist arrivals in this period (47 % less than in the same period in 2019) and about 7 million overnight stays (40 % less than in the same period in 2019). During this time the number of foreign tourists decreased by 70 % compared to the same period in 2019 (SURS, 2020). However, the end results for 2020 revelled that with 3 million, there was 50.8 % less tourist arrivals in 2020 than in the year before (1.8 million domestic tourists and 1.2 million from abroad) (STO, 2021). From the total overnight stays perspective, there was 41.7 % less overnight stays (9.2 million) in 2020 compared to the figures in 2019.

The greatest number of stays was recorded in mountain municipalities (31 % of the total), with seaside municipalities in the second place (24 % of the total). Compared to the same period in 2019, in 2020 the municipality of Ljubljana suffered the greatest decrease in the proportion of tourists; only 6 % of all tourists in 2020 visited the capital. In the structure of international tourists, Germans, Austrians and Italians kept the first three highest share (STO, 2021).

The crisis hit some of the iconic landmarks of Slovene tourism. E.g., for Postojna Cave Park, which used to attract million visitors yearly, it was estimated that in 2020 would generate only 15 % of the revenue from 2019. Bled, which was brought to a point of paralysis by the tourist overload of the past few years (Tomažič, 2020), saw the number of tourists reduced by a half in 2020 (Čepar, 2020d), with an even greater fall recorded in Ljubljana (Pušnik, 2020).

The decline in the number of overnight stays in 2020 consequently led to 60 % reduction of revenue generated from the tourism exports compared to 2019: from 2.75 million EUD generated in 2019 the revenue fell to slight above one million in 2020 (STO, 2021).  There was severe reduction in promotion tax revenue (from 5.1 million EUR to 2 million EUR) and the municipalities budgets were hit by smaller revenues generated from the tourist tax (Šuligoj, 2020).

According to some professional estimates, the ban on tourism activities jeopardised at least 20,000 jobs in Slovene tourism. Despite the help provided by the state, the number of unemployed in the sector of tourism rose by 2,880 in the period from the end of February to the end of May 2020 (Grgič, 2020c). In August 2020, the number of unemployed in tourism rose by 68 % compared to the same period in the year before (Čepar, 2020e).

Tourist vouchers: a ‘New Deal’ for tourism

While the state limited the extent of a number of economic activities and even fully suspended tourism-related business for over two months in spring 2020, it also introduced measures aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic. This segment of the paper will refer to these measures with the term “anti-corona packages” (ACP), an expression used by the regulator and well established in public discourse. The general measures for mitigating the effects of the epidemic on the economy were also applicable to most tourism-related activities, whereas sector-specific systemic measures were introduced specifically to help tourism-related activities.

The amendments to first ACP measures (Act on intervention measures, 2020a) allowed tourist agencies to issue vouchers to those passengers who were forced to cancel their services booked before the pandemic. The consumers were entitled to redeem the vouchers within the following next two years; instead of redeeming a voucher, they are also entitled to a refund, however, not before June 2021.

The third ACP proved the financial assistance for operators of ski resorts and cableways (Act on intervention measures, 2020b). The most notable tourism-specific measure included the introduction of “tourist vouchers” at the end of May 2020. Residents of Slovenia became eligible for a tourist voucher in the value of 200 EUR (50 EUR for minors). The voucher could only be used with providers of tourist accommodation (hotels, holiday homes, resorts, farm stays, private rooms, mountain huts, camps, and other short-term accommodation) registered before the introduction of the law. The initial regulation stipulated that the voucher should be used before the end of 2020. To cover the cost of the vouchers the state provides 350 million EUR, which should cut the overall loss to Slovene tourism in 2020 by a third.

The tourist vouchers, characterised as a ‘New Deal for tourism’, represent the biggest state intervention in tourism in the history of independent Slovenia. Their issue and use were intended to stimulate internal tourist consumption (Jager, 2020) whose multiplier effect would benefit tourism businesses, their suppliers, catering, etc. (Gole et al., 2020). The voucher should be also a step towards restructuring Slovene tourism to meet the demands of contemporary tourists and the post-Covid reality (Jager, 2020).

The tourism service suppliers welcomed the vouchers, but at the same time emphasised they would not constitute a systemic solution. Some tourism businesses were disconcerted by their narrow applicability (they only covered overnight stays with breakfast), which meant that state intervention was limited to only a part of tourism sector (Jager, 2020). They warned that tourism is comprised of more than just hotels and bed and breakfasts; it also includes cultural and natural sights, cultural heritage, tourist agencies, tourist guides, etc. The measure also failed to cover the whole country, particularly Ljubljana and other cities, since Slovene tourists would not holiday there (Gole et al., 2020). Economically speaking, the vouchers were understood too narrow in scope, since they would likely result in people concentrating in three traditional Slovene destinations: the seaside, health resorts, and mountains. They contain at least three significant deficiencies: a) they fail to support urban, conference, and cultural tourism, b) they do not disperse tourists, and c) they do not contribute to niche tourism.

The fact was that the summer tourism season of 2020 would have been significantly worse, if it had not been for the vouchers; on the other hand, they deepened the gap between various tourism businesses and destinations (Grgič, 2020e). The state used them to “put out a fire” at the beginning of the epidemic; however, tourist subsectors expected from the regulators to eventually introduce measures which would also support the hardest hit tourism segments (Rus, 2020). E.g., only 1 % of vouchers was used in Ljubljana. The vouchers also failed to help receptive tourism (ibid.). From June 19 to October 1, 2020, fewer than half of the vouchers were used, amounting to a total of 113 million EUR, only 30 % of their overall value (Redemption of tourist vouchers, 2020). Due to new declaration of epidemic in the state, the validity of the vouchers was prolonged until the end of 2021 (Conclusion on prolongation, 2020).


The study synthesises the changes in the tourism environment in Slovenia caused by measures to limit the spread of the Covid-19 implemented by Slovene authorities in 2020. The research gives answers to two research questions.

The results show that several state regulations, adopted from March to October 2020, managed the tourism sector in that period: from total closure of all tourism related businesses in March to partially opening some of them in June and to the total closure once again in October. The research highlights the consequences that tourism in the state was faced within the period from the first to the second declaration of epidemic until the end of the year 2020.

The ‘new reality’ resulted in some major changes in the Slovene tourism sector:
• First, there was a significant drop in the number of tourist arrivals and overnight stays in 2020, more than half of the number compared to the previous year.
• Second, in 2020, the year-long structure of domestic and foreign segments of tourists significantly altered in favour of domestic segment (three third of domestic vs one third of foreign tourist). The change was triggered by tourist vouchers given to Slovene residents issued by the state to promote domestic tourism. Tourist vouchers benefited the national tourist sector, but also demonstrated certain limitations: consumption was concentrated to only three types of destinations (seaside, resort, and mountain) and limited to providers with specific types of offer (accommodation, accommodation with partial catering). A number of tourism businesses therefore did not recognise vouchers as a much-needed systemic measure to support tourism. Unfortunately, only half of the vouchers were used by the time of the second lock-down.
• Third, due to a significant drop of international tourists in the country some destinations, which were interesting for foreign tourists during previous years (e.g., Ljubljana, Bled, Postojna Cave) suffered the most from the tourism decrease.
• Fourth, due to restrictive and preventive measures of the Government, some segments of tourism providers were unable to operate in 2020 (e.g., organisers of events, concerts, meetings, tour guides etc.). The other part of tourism suppliers could operate but with limited capacity and only few month in the year (e.g., food and beverage providers, providers of accommodations, museums, sport activities, etc.).
• Fifth, despite the general financial and tourism-specific supporting measures of the state to tourism sector, the number of unemployed people in the tourism had increased in the course of the year.

The study demonstrates that Slovene authorities responded to the spread of the virus similarly to authorities in other countries in the world. Also, from the scope and the scale viewpoints of tourism, the findings for Slovenia’s tourism in 2020 are in major part in accordance with the situation and forecasts presented by international tourism organisations and with the situation of tourism worldwide. The long-term assessment of the negative impact of the pandemic on the nation tourism still remain unknown. One of the reasons might be that even in 2020 it was still unclear when the restrictions adopted to curb the second wave of infection – which once again paralysed tourism – would be lifted. It also remains to be seen whether it will be possible to limit the spread of the virus through pharmacological means (vaccine).

After the pandemic, it will be possible to ascertain whether (like in the past) tourism will once again prove to be a sector resilient to turbulent events in the external environment. Moreover, it will be interesting to gauge the rate of its recovery in Slovenia and to trace the potential transformation of tourist flows in terms of possible changes of top destinations, of tourist segments, demand for altered services, etc. One of the biggest challenges of Slovene tourism will be the restructuring of tourism offer, e.g., a move from mass towards niche tourism, sustainable and innovative services, etc. Future tourism flows in the country will demonstrate to what extent tourists truly recognise Slovenia as a boutique destination.

The restructuring of tourism offer and service innovation open up an extensive field of research in Slovene tourism, while there have already been some evidences that a part of the innovative process has already started during the ‘corona-time’. Some of the tourism service suppliers have already showed their innovativeness in tourism related services. E.g., food and beverage caterers, including tourism farms in Slovenia, showed their creativity offering their product “on distance” or on-line. Some tourism farms started selling crates of fresh and pickled vegetables to their guests and to the interested inquirers, which could be delivered once a week even to their long-distance customers. There is an example of a tourism farm that developed a collection of products from their own ingredients to increase body immunity. Some of the Slovene well-known restaurants offer a half-prepared meal to take-away and put on the web on-line videos about how to prepare the meals. Furthermore, the chef of the restaurant with the Michelin stars linked the top gastronomy, local ingredients and top Slovenian growers to offer their high-quality products to Slovene public through the well-established merchant. Some museums transferred their exhibitions on the web. The above-mentioned examples are only some representing that in Slovenia the suppliers of tourism services can also be innovative and adaptable to a new situation.

Some limitations related to the study need to be mentioned. The first one is the subjectivity of the researchers, which commonly accompanies the choice of methodology and the qualitative nature of data. Subjectivity could affect the choice, selection, analysis, and interpretation of data. To minimise this limitation, researchers performed some steps independently, compared results and proceeded to the next step after the consensus had been reached. The second limitation is tied to the limited extent of available sources and its quality, which are the consequence of the newness of the research topic. In academia, some of the resources used in this research might be characterised by the term ‘grey literature’ or papers ‘more driven by the practice than research’. However, the fact is that there have not yet been many studies on the topic. The third limitation can be the time difference between the collection of data and publication of the results, while at the time of publishing the results might not give real-time information any more. Yet, due to the time frame for the revision process in academic studies the limitation cannot be circumvented. However, due to the applicability of the study (presented in the next paragraph) this limitation might not be of such importance. The geographical limitation of the study means that its results are only applicable to Slovenia. However, they might be used for comparison of the tourism situation in other countries and as a starting point for further research in the state, which has already been in process. As the Covid-19 pandemic is still present, it will be urgently needed for scholars and practitioners to follow further evolvement of the events and consequences of the Covid-19 crisis to the tourism sector in the state.

The present synthesis of events and consequences of the pandemic for Slovene tourism in 2020 is useful for researchers and practitioners interested in this research field. It can also be used as a study material and as a historical record on the effects of the most turbulent event that has occurred in the tourism sector in the history of Slovenia after gaining independence. Furthermore, the synthesis may be of use to designers of the new Slovene tourism strategy for the forthcoming period (from 2022 to 2028).


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