Tourists flock to Slovakia in search of budget summer holidays
Aljoša Milenković in Poprad
A parking lot in front of an aqua park in the Slovakian town of Poprad is packed. Car licence plates show the origins of the tourists who arrived here. Most of them are from Poland, followed by Hungarians, and at the end, the locals - Slovaks.
The town of Poprad is located on the foothills of the High Tatra Mountains. It has recently became a surprise favourite tourist destination for people from this part of Europe.
On a busy day, up to 5,000 people visit this aqua park and the park's Executive Director, Lucia Blaskova, insists there are a host of reasons why people are choosing to visit Slovakia, mainly economic.
"The situation with inflation and the conflict (in Ukraine), and the economic situation in general did raise prices all over Europe, not only in the popular destinations. So, everybody is trying to find a more affordable holiday, which you can find in the High Tatras."
In June, the annual inflation rate in the European Union was 6.4 percent, down from 7.1 percent in May. Although this trend is positive for the bloc, people are still feeling the pressure of increasing prices. This has affected many families as they make decisions about summer travel and where to spend their vacations.
The tourists in Poprad confirmed that the high prices in the popular sea resorts on the Adriatic coast forced them to consider spending their vacation closer to home.
The Tatra Mountains are close enough, and they have something to offer them. Close to Poprad is the cable car that takes you to the Bachledka peak.
It is almost 1000 kilometers away from the nearest seaside resort and more than 1100 meters above sea level, yet thousands of people have been drawn there - to the natural beauty, tourism programs and lower prices.
During the winter, Bachledka hilltop is full of skiers. But now they have been replaced by hikers and tourists who want something different, including a festival celebrating the local culture, which has been in full swing in recent days.
Cable cars were full of tourists reaching the hilltop, where the locals performed traditional songs and dances, wearing traditional clothes. Local brandy, honey, and handcrafts are offered, and children enjoyed vintage style playgrounds.
"I think that Slovakia belongs to the 'value for money' category," Lucia Matvija, Director of the Tourism Section of Slovakia Travel, told us. "It is very attractive even in these economically difficult times in Europe, which suffers from overtourism. And all cities, especially the smaller ones, are overcrowded. Our country can offer peace and security."
Local hotels expect this year's numbers to surpass the pre-pandemic record season of 2019.
It seems that inflation rates and the cost of living crisis is working in Slovakia's favour, as more tourists choose mountains and aqua parks over sunsets and sea resorts.