While in Slovenia, our class is staying at a hotel in the town of Bled. For our second course visit, the mayor of Bled stopped by to give us his insights into the primary economic driver of the region: tourism. I had expected something of an academic lecture, but then, it is not the mayor’s job to be an academic. Rather, what he gave us was the story of Bled… and that from someone of Bled. “We learned something of history in our schools, and then something else in church, and at home we learned the truth, but that we were told to keep to ourselves,” he half-joked.
Personally, I was impressed and glad that the mayor began his talk with the geographical formation of the area (i.e.- three glaciers carving out the lake). Geography is really the foremost key and primary constant that determines how a population interacts with an area, albeit the natural landscape in much of the settled world can hardly be described as a constant in our day. When my brother visited me in Clifton Park, NY, we spent a great deal of time searching for maps and nature centres from which we might be able to better understand how the the Adirondacks allowed for the formation of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers; we eventually learned that glacial movement dumped into what is now the pine bush, and understanding this history provides insights into why and how industries and cities appeared (i.e.- were built) where they did in the region. Back in Slovenia, the mayor helped likewise with such understanding in Bled.
Within that context, the lecture (conversationally styled) continued. Within the Julian Alps (south-eastern) and at the northern edge of the Adriatic sea, the region was and is one of the easiest channels of passage between what is now Italy to the west and the eastern region that became Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia, and so on. Despite its nature as a strategic territory, the natural beauty of Lake Bled kept the site relatively undisturbed through the major regional invasions, conflicts, and world wars since its first appearance in history in 1004AD. It is this reputation, as well as the close proximity of the Alps for mountaineering, that brings tourists regularly from China, South Korea, Russia, Holland and so on.
Beyond all that, we learned a bit more of the nitty-gritty: the struggle between traditional hotels and the “Air B&B” model, both taxed and each with its own pros and cons. As a mayoral concern, the busloads of tourists were not so much an issue in and of themselves, but rather the roads in Bled were not built to handle quite so many busses; decisions on whether to expand roads are not so simple, since “anywhere we dig, we find artefacts”. Such is the nature of tourism and such are the responsibilities of a mayor.
Finally, here is another reason why someone might visit Bled: