Marko Lenarčič: Myths, Legends and Reality about Slovenia and its Tourism Sphere

“Italy has a shape of a shoe, Austria is famous for Mozart, and we are chicken shaped, but it is never used anywhere”

We met Marko Lenarčič during our visit to the Faculty of Tourism at the University of Maribor. An active young man was looking very busy, but gave his contacts and agreed to have an interview with us. The conversation resulted to be very productive and interesting. Read in our material about unknown Slovenian places and legends, student life and problems of Slovenian touristic sphere.

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– Hello, thank you for finding some time to talk to us. Please, tell us a little bit about yourself.

– My name is Marko. I am 21 years old. I study at the Faculty of Tourism, the University of Maribor. The faculty is located in the town of Brežice.

– Why and how did you choose this university and faculty?

– Well, in Slovenia we have info days when all the higher education institutions come to the secondary schools and gymnasiums and present their faculties. This way it is much easier for us to see, which faculty is convenient for us. From the other side, we do not need to travel from one side of the country to another just to ask 2–3 questions. So, the Faculty of Tourism from Brežice as well as the Faculty of Tourism of Primorska University presented their programs for us. But I really liked a lot the presentation and video of the Faculty from Brežice. It differed a lot from others.

– So, you were impressed by the presentation, and decided to enter this faculty?

– It was also important for me that my future faculty would be situated in that part of Slovenia where I lived. Brežice is very close to the Pomurje region, in which I was born. Murska Sobota is my native city and the capital of this region. Moreover, my secondary school was not very big. I am used to know all people I study with. A small and modern faculty near my area, which I could enter together with my friends, seemed to be totally convenient for me. In Ljubljana, for example, a freshman does not know more than half of the students at his/her faculty because the faculties are much bigger. I was also surprised when I read in some article that the Maribor University was listed among the 99 best universities in the world. The choice was obvious for me—a cozy faculty not far away from my town at a world-renowned university.

– Why did you decide to study Tourism?

– I would like to influence the Slovenian touristic sphere and to change it in some way. The problem is that all touristic organizations in Slovenia and all tourists are interested only in the capital of the country, Bled, Portorož, Piran, and Postojna cave. As the result, the rest of Slovenia is not taken into account, like there is nothing more in this country. Especially my region is always unfairly forgotten. This situation makes me very upset.

– Has something changed about this situation recently?

– I am proud that several days ago it was confirmed that the Slovenian pavilion from the EXPO world exhibition, which took place in Milan, would be now moved to my town. There, on EXPO, they were promoting Slovenia with sticking to the “Green, active, healthy” motto. Now it is supposed to be like a door to Slovenia or a door to Pomurje, a special tourist attraction. Located close to the highway, the attraction will be seen from the road, and hopefully this will inspire tourists for visiting Murska Sobota even if earlier it was not a part of their plan. A Slovenian architect designed the pavilion. He wanted to represent Slovenia as a natural pearl. Therefore, it is actually made of wood and has a lot of space inside. Perhaps it will display some information about all Pomurje attractions. Maybe some presentations will take place there. We still now nothing about it. However, we surely know the location. The pavilion will be located near the Sobota Lake, so that tourists will also be able to visit its beach, which constriction is starting soon.

– It seems like you are really fond of your region.

– We call it “The Dreamy Land along the Mura River” within a framework of the project that we are currently developing. I suppose, it has much to show tourists. For example, we have a lot of castles in the Pomurje region—every 10–15 km. The biggest castle of Slovenia is also located here. It does not have any specific name. The locals call it simply “Grad”. While in the Slovenian language, this word means “a castle”. If you want exact coordinates, it is in the Goričko region, near the Grad village. Some documents prove that it existed already in the 11th century. There is also an interesting legend about this castle. It has been recently reported that the catacombs were discovered under this castle. I apologize in advance if I confuse some small details.

– Please, share it with us!

– The legend says that a count that was living in this castle had parents ruling the region. He fell in love with a farmer’s daughter from the village. His parents, of course, were angry about their son’s choice. They said, “No problem, but you have to decide whether you will be a count here, or you will marry this girl and leave your house.” The young man thought for a while, and afterwards asked his girlfriend to meet with him in the catacombs. Full of hopes, the girl came to the meeting with her beloved. Meanwhile, the cruel count ordered to fill catacombs with water, and the poor girl died. However, she came to that place with the only intention to tell her future murderer that she had his child lying under her heart. People, who live in that part of the town, where in the Middle Ages citizens made a way for the water, say that they still can hear a child screaming.

– So, we have our own “Dracula”. Isn’t it interesting?

– It really is. You know a lot about your region. Don’t you plan to become a tourist guide after your graduation?

– I, basically, do, if for some reasons I decide not to study on a Master’s degree program. I am 70% sure that I will, but we will see how the life turns around. The problem with this certificate is that it is very hard to obtain it. You have to pass an examination, which consists of two parts— an oral and a written one. Besides, you need to know everything about each region, because on exam you never know, which region you will have to talk about. Anyway, I also plan to work on different touristic projects in my region after I graduate from the faculty.

– Good plan! What do you think is most important in the tourist guide profession, except the excellent knowledge of each route point?

– Good question. There is something I will try to avoid. When I travel, I often hear many dates. A lot of dates about each building. OK, it is nice to know it, but who will remember those dates after some time? I think that if you have a story or a legend behind a place, it is sticking to the memory much more. For example, I was in the oldest hotel in my town talking to its manager, and he told me that the municipality was not supporting them. However, this hotel is related to the Republic of Mura (Murska Republika)! In 1919, we lived in our own country, not Hungary or Slovenia. That country lived for 10 days! I guess this is an interesting way to promote your town.

– Really, what an interesting fact! By the way, do you have any global dreams concerning your profession?

– I would like to launch a hotel in future, but not in Slovenia. I have never been to Sweden, but read everything possible about this country. I like its culture, the way of living.

– How do you imagine your ideal hotel?

– I want to build it in an old, abandoned palace. I like vintage style combined with modern architecture and interiors. My ideal design is the mix of Scandinavian and Slovenian styles. Particularly, I want to have something, which will remind me on my region. The hotel will be distinguished with its unique suites, each with its own story and a name. One of them will be dedicated to Mura. It will be made of wood, combining both the water theme and specific features of the Swedish culture. Another suite will be dedicated to Abba, as it is the most famous band from Sweden. These suites will be designed for businesspersons, for mothers and daughters, fathers and sons’ vacations. This should be something fantastic.

– Wow! Sounds like a goal, not a dream. Is your faculty helping you in achieving you career goals and making your dreams come true?

– It gives me a lot of practical knowledge. In the secondary school, I was studying tourism that is why I have a strong background, which helps me a lot at my faculty studies. At the university, we get more, and more, and more into the practice. For example, as part of the “Events Management” classes we had to organize an event in the Brežice castle, in the beautiful Knights Hall, which was also used for filming some Hollywood movies. The event was held on the Mother’s Day for all our women. Now I am the head of the biggest project I have ever had. We work on the Pomurje Days project (Pomurske dnevi). It is a 2-days event, which will be held on 9 and 10 of November 2016.

– Do you already have a program for it?

– The first day will be dedicated to the opening with the cultural program, afterwards the tourism conference will start — “The Dreamy Land along the Mura River”. Tourism fair and photo exhibition are also planned. In the evening, we will organize the Gala Cuisine event and The Head of the Chicken party.

– Excuse me? The Head of the Chicken party?

– It is really hard to translate as it is in our dialect. If you look on the map, Slovenia has the shape of a chicken with its head on Pomurje. By the way, what I also don’t understand is why not to use this in touristic promotion? We really need to work more on our souvenirs. Italy has a shape of a shoe, Austria is famous for Mozart, and we are chicken shaped, but it is never used anywhere.

– Well, maybe, it is even better…

– Oh, the Slovenians are mostly very proud of such shape. It is funny and interesting. In schools we are taught that our country is a chicken, and we grow with the chicken thing inside of our personalities.

– Sounds reasonable. Nevertheless, returning to the Pomurje Days…

– Yes, on 10 November, we will continue with the tourism conference. We have invited many famous and important tourism workers from our region to participate, and prepared a sightseeing tour for them. In the evening, we will hold a closing ceremony in a traditional student party style. Now we do photo shooting around the region. It is important to have our own pictures. We also want to make a promo-video for Pomurje.

– Marko, do you do all this for free, or does the faculty help you financially?

– No, it is all for free, if we are talking about paying to students for organizing this even. We do this only because we want to place Pomurje into the context of Slovenian tourism. But, of course, we hope to take advantage of it. We believe that while organizing this event, we will meet our future employers. But the main reason is that Slovenia will get to know the Pomurje region in a different way.

– But you still have a lot of expenses…

– Yes, that is why now we have a bunch of meetings, really a lot of them. Meetings, discussions, again meetings. In the beginning, when the whole thing was only getting started, we found the main problem, but then it grew like a snowball during the process of logo and motto creation. So, we started to write some documentation and send it to different organizations in our region with a hope that they would get interested in our project and would help us from the financial side. Unfortunately, the majority of touristic organizations and the biggest municipalities were not interested nor in our e-mails neither in our phone calls. They were, probably, thinking, “Oh, another student project!” The things changed only after talking to them in person and explaining the opportunities provided by the project, as well as the Pomurje tourism promotion, which our project gives. After the meeting, they usually say, “Oh, what a great idea, what a great project!” Now they are willing to participate.

– Who is invited to your event except tourism specialists?

– Everyone, included mayors from the region. We also negotiate now with famous singers, TV-personalities, etc. For example, Primož Kozmus, who won a golden Olympic medal, now also works in the tourism sphere and helps us with the promotion. All people should see Pomurje outside of their stereotypes, the strongest of which is that we live in the middle of nowhere. It is interesting that when people come to Murska Sobota, they say something like, “Oh, it is such a big city, such a clean city!”

– Tell us more about your faculty life.

– Well, we have many different subjects, like Basic Tourism, Tourism in Slovenia, Events Management, which I have already mentioned. Moreover, we learn German and English. Informal curriculum includes excursions around the region, the majority of which we organize by ourselves. For example, this year we have visited some parts of Pomurje, a town of Lendava, and later Hungary, the Balaton Lake and Budapest.

– Wow! What do you plan for the next year?

– In the spring of 2017, we will visit Pomurje with the Pomurje Days project to see everything in person and to visit all the people who helped us to make this project. Just because of crisis, we need to be careful with the prices. We always try to find a variant, which is convenient for everyone. Even if five students cannot go because of money, that is unacceptable. Everyone needs to be able to join us. I can be sure about that while talking at least about my group, as I am its president.

– By the way, you haven’t yet told us, how many students there are on your course?

– Officially, we are more than 70. However, there are around 35 active people.

– What about the professors?

– They are very nice. As everyone in Slovenia, we have to complete the questionnaire about our experience of studying at a particular professor. It is like grading, but opposite. We have to grade their professionalism after taking an exam. If the professor has got a lot of minuses, he/she needs to discuss this situation with the Dean. Everyone can get a fair feedback. Generally I am very satisfied with the level of knowledge we get. We always can communicate whomever from the faculty, they are very responsive.

– What do you like the most in your study program?

– The Events Management, I guess. In the past, I was working a lot as a volunteer in my town. I was organizing different events like movie nights, Swedish night at the castle in my town… I think the Event Management is really interesting.

– What is the most important in event organization?

– The team. The people in your team must be those, whom you trust, and who really work. It won’t work if their surnames will be present just on paper — those are free riders. Everyone needs to contribute.

– What could you propose for Slovenian tourism?

– I think it should also be promoted under the umbrella of Slovenian wines. They are great, from my point of view. Personally, I prefer wines from my region. Not only because I was born there. There is one interesting legend about these wines. Do you know that Pomurje region is divided into the Prekmurje and the Prlekija areas? We have a place called Jeruzalem here. The legend says that the Great Napoleon once visited this land. While tasting local wines, he exclaimed, “What wonderful and tasty wine!” It sounded like “Si bon!” But the people heard “sipon”, and now one of the wines is called Šipon. It is sad that only a few people know that.

– Interesting! How do you think, in which direction Slovenia will develop from now on?

– Slovenia is the third most forested country in Europe, and I think we should use this advantage. I think we will continue using the motto “Green. Active. Healthy”. Green tourism is getting more and more popular. At the same time, Ljubljana, probably, will put more attention to the business tourism.

– Please, wish something to those who plan to come to Slovenia.

– I guess, Slovenia is a very good country to spend here your student years. One of the reasons is, of course, food coupons. And, generally, I think that future students would like to live in a chicken country.

© 2TM d.o.o. The editors are not responsible for the facts stated in the course of the conversation the Speaker