INTERVIEW: “Slovenia is one of the world’s safest and most welcoming countries to visit”
Four Seasons Travel is one of Slovenia’s leading incoming travel agencies providing private tours and transfer services in our beautiful country Slovenia and many other popular destinations throughout Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, north-east Italy and southern Austria.
Here’ s our interview with Graeme Chuter, owner and Managing Director at Four Seasons Travel.
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I am originally from near London in the UK and I have been living in Slovenia for almost 20 years, based in a lovely alpine village close to Lake Bled.
How and why did you start your business in Slovenia?
I first arrived in Slovenia in the summer of 2002, working for the tour operator TUI UK, formerly branded and best known to its customers at the time as Thomson Lakes and Mountains and Crystal Ski. I spent seven happy summer and winter seasons working in Slovenia, Croatia and the Austrian Tirol, before leaving the company to set up my own travel agency business in Bled. Why Slovenia? The answer is very simple, I fell completely in love with this beautiful country from the day I arrived. I was determined never to look back, instead looking forward to pursuing my lifelong dream of running my own business, and in such an idyllic location too!!
The fact that Slovenia was still relatively unknown at the time was both an attraction and a challenge. Meaning that not only was I tasked with establishing and growing a new travel agency business, I also needed to work very hard at promoting more generally my newly adopted home country. Even today, Slovenia remains one of Europe’s lesser known travel destinations, but we are certainly getting there, and a lot of progress has been made particularly over the past few years.
How did your previous long-term professional experiences in the travel industry help you with your current business (in this part of the world)?
In many ways I would say. From a marketing and customer service perspective, to running the operational side of the business, and managing my relationships with our valued supplier partners such as hoteliers, visitor attractions, local tour guides and other transport providers. In any business, the most important elements for success in my opinion are to understand and to deliver what our customers really want, and to try and exceed their expectations. My years working overseas with a leading tour operator, and prior to that working in the field of customer satisfaction research and consultancy back in the UK, has shaped my underlying customer centric values and general way of doing things. The knowledge and experience I have gained over the years about Slovenia and our neighbouring countries has also enabled me to show off the very best that the Alpe-Adria region has to offer to our clients, not just the most famous ‘bucket list’ locations but many lesser known places – the so called ‘hidden gems’ one might say?
Who are your customers and and how do they find out about you and your company services?
The typical profile of our customers tends to be very well experienced travellers who are looking for something different. And typically people who enjoy the relative independence of taking a private tour, whilst at the same time travelling along side someone who can do the ‘donkey work’ for them, and feeling assured that they will enjoy the tour experience through the ‘eyes of a local’.
We tend to work mainly with clients from countries where English language is widely spoken, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. But we have hosted clients from many other countries too, and I guess that I am lucky that my native language English is widely spoken throughout the world. Our clients tend to find us using the most popular search engines on the internet and through travel forums such as TripAdvisor. We also have some regular partner relationships with overseas travel agencies and tour operators, for individuals and group bookings.
What are some of the most popular transfers and tours your customers are interested in?
Goodness me, that is very difficult to answer because there are so many options to choose from. Naturally, the most popular airport transfer routes tend to be connected with Ljubljana airport, but we also have many clients transitting through nearby Zagreb and Venice airports, which offer a much wider range of flights. As far as 1-day tours are concerned, these vary depending on where our clients are staying, but as you might expect it is the most renowned locations and visitor attractions which top the list. For people staying in Bled, the most popular tour combination would be the Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle and Ljubljana. For people staying in Ljubljana the most popular trip would be Lake Bled, combined with Bled Castle, the Vintgar Gorge and Lake Bohinj. And for people taking off-cruise tours from the Port of Koper, the most popular combination would be Lake Bled and Ljubljana – believe it or not all in one day!!
For my private tour packages which tend to have a duration of between 7 and 14 nights, the most popular country combination is Slovenia and Croatia, featuring as you might expect Lake Bled, Ljubljana, the Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle, Piran, Zagreb, Istria, the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Trogir, Split, the Dalmatian Coast and Dubrovnik. Time and budget permitting, Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro are also popular inclusions with this tour.
Tell us about the current quarantine and restrictions within your company services destinations? (how has the covid-19 situation affected your services, what measures have you taken etc.)
Unfortunately, since the travel restrictions were introduced from March onwards, our ‘on the road’ operations have come to a complete standstill. Some transfers and tours were cancelled completely, and some tours have already been rescheduled for 2021. This is mainly due to the fact that our clients tend to be travelling from countries outside of Europe. So even though Slovenia and most of our other country destinations are open to visitors from some countries, many of our clients do not yet have the possibility to travel here. One possible advantage of providing private transfers and tours, compared with shared bus tours or taking public transport, is that we can offer our clients relatively low-risk travel in the future, when hopefully things will get back to relative normality.
Even before the global pandemic, we were always very conscious about ensuring that our passenger vans were cleaned on a daily basis. We now use sanitizer inside the vehicles rather than standard cleaning liquids, and we have bottles of hand sanitizer available for our passengers, which we will continue to provide even after the spread of the virus subsides, and long into the future.
What is your favourite transfer/tour experience so far that you wish to share with our readers?
Again, this is a tough question to answer because there have been so many enjoyable highlights over the years. But if I should pick just one stand out private 1-day tour, which also happens to be available from both Bled and Ljubljana, it would have to be our combined Julian Alps, Soča Valley and Goriška Brda tour. In itself the road tour takes in some magnificent alpine scenery and we always take plenty of opportunities to stretch our legs and to take photographs along the way, stopping at all of the best viewing points.
Our longer sightseeing breaks really give us an opportunity to get off the beaten path and to explore further on foot, including the Jasna Lakes near Kranjska Gora, the Lago di Predil (on the Italian side of the mountains), the Boka waterfall near Bovec, the Kozjak waterfall & the Soča River walk near Kobarid, and the quaint medieval village of Šmartno in Goriška Brda. If all of this wasn’t enough, an optional wine tasting in Goriška Brda can be included, or the fascinating First World War museum in Kobarid – in the region which inspired Ernest Hemingways’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’. This tour has a little bit of everything and is my personal favourite. And I normally use the opportunity to pick up one or two bottles of my favourite wine to take home with me!!
Have you taken “advantage” of these last probably more quiet corona months, to curate new experiences or discover new locations/destinations in the region? If YES Which ?
Yes, indeed. Another great thing about working in this business is that there is always something new to discover and learn about. Within Slovenia itself I have made several road trips to enhance my knowledge, which have been inspirational for generating new ideas for tours. The eastern side of the country tends to be less frequented by foreign visitors, mainly because the most famous attractions are located on the western side of the country. But the eastern regions of Štajerska and Prekmurje to the north, and Dolenjska and Bela Krajina to the south, contain many hidden beauties just waiting to be discovered. Logarska Dolina, Ptuj, the wine hills around Jeruzalem and Ljutomer, the Rogaška area, and the Sava, Krka and Kolpa river valleys have been particularly delightful areas for me to explore in recent times.
Please add any additional information you believe would be helpful to raise travellers trust levels in order to visit Slovenia and other places you provide transfers to?
It is already quite well known that Slovenia is one of the world’s safest and most welcoming countries to visit, with a low crime rate and typically very friendly and hospitable people. English, German and Italian is widely spoken, with apparently around a third of all Slovenes speaking one or more foreign languages. The standards of cleanliness and hygiene were already very good in Slovenia before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which is perhaps one of the main reasons why the spread of the virus has remained under reasonable control here. The same can also be said for neighbouring Austria, and to a similar degree in Croatia. I would say that there are probably not too many other countries in the world which might be deemed safer and cleaner to visit compared with Slovenia and the rest of the Alpe-Adria region.
Would you like to add anything else about Slovenia or maybe your transfer and tour services?
Firstly, may I please say a big thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and views with your readers and yourself. I would say that from my own perspective the most important thing we can do at this time is to stay positive and to look forward to everything hopefully getting back to normal by next year.
If you haven’t visited Slovenia before, please consider a visit to our beautiful country in the near future. My own agency Four Seasons Travel is slowly starting to receive enquiries and confirmed reservations for 2021. And it would be a tremendous boost for us to see this picking up during the coming weeks and months.
In order to try and encourage more booking activity, we have revised our terms so that any new bookings received from now onwards can be secured without making any financial commitment in the form of a deposit payment until early next year. By which time hopefully the picture will be a lot clearer. So please contact myself in person for a custom made itinerary and a quotation, without any obligations. Many thanks again, and however and whenever you decide to visit Slovenia in the future, I would like to wish you a fantastic time!!
To plan and book your next travel experience, please contact Graeme directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 00386 40 522365
This is NON SPONSORED cooperation and blog content.
Interview by Marijana Podhraski (@mari_podhraski) / Twitter