Jahorina is one of the most prettiest mountains on the Balkans, but its potential was completely unfulfilled. Planned work, constant business improvement and a deep feeling of the mountain were enough to make it a mountain resort with the best price-quality relationship in Europe, which even the foreigners acknowledge.It’s apparent that the director of Olympic Center ”Jahorina“ lives for skiing, but the studiousness with which he approaches his work is less obvious. ”Since I had a huge fear of ignorance, I had to learn by myself and from the very beginning. That approach payed off and the fact that I do what I love more than anything for a living certainly helped. But I’ll never know enough“, he says. Still, the results that he and his team have made in only one year of managing the most beautiful mountain of Republic of Srpska show that he knows how a mountain resort should work. That’s why he talks about it with a sense of piety. „I responsibly claim that there’s no better price-quality relationship“, Ljevnaić adds.
You’ve been the CEO of Skijališta Srbije since 2008 until 2016, so what comparison can be made to OC ”Jahorina“?
He who loves skiing loves all the mountains. However, business deals with target groups. Stara planina and Zlatibor offered a family dimension, Kopaonik offered entertainment and business aspects as well… four years ago, I noticed the unfulfilled potential of Jahorina. It has a huge difference of piste-height levels of 550 meters. In old Yugoslavia, only Brezovica can compete with that, while the difference in Serbia surpass 320 meters. That’s why Jahorina got the homologation for Olympic downhill race, and that brand is very important in this business. It has many advantages – the big city of Sarajevo is near, international airport too, and you just can’t replace the domestic, direct spirit of benevolent locals. We made Kopaonik a respectable ski resort in 10 years, and the spike in real estate prices confirms that. You could make a comparison to Bansko, a ski resort in Bulgaria, which invested just as much as we did, but its real estate prices fell through because it has only one gondola lift which transfers skiers from the resort to the pistes. And the most important thing in this business is to oversee the relation between the piste, the infrastructure and the accomodation capacity, several years ahead. If any of these aspects falls through, undoing the damage is extremely hard. Skiers are an educated, demanding clientele, their season is temporally limited and they definitely won’t come back to your resort if something doesn’t suit them.
In what other aspects did your experience in Skijališta Srbije help you in managing OC ”Jahorina“?
I used to put on a disguise on Kopaonik and ride the most popular pistes at the beginning of the season and I used to hand out five demissions a day. You see, we had trainings and courses for employees during summer and anyone who doesn’t follows the rules doesn’t really need to be there. Skiing as a sport carries certain risks and everybody has to be fully responsible. At the season’s peak, every lift is seating around 200 people in the air and if one of them costs seven million Euros, but the person operating it is drunk, has hands in his or her pockets and is constantly looking at the phone, it’s value doesn’t ammount to a single Euro, especially in case of an accident. I also learned about the importance of stimulating multi-day ski pass sales, because you’ll improve tourism consumption as well. Lastly, the number of skiers has globally been falling for years, except in this year. It’s an expensive sport, among other reasons. That’s why we’ve organized free ski schools for children from neighbouring local governments – 12.800 passes, only on Jahorina – thus hopefully renewing our clientele. Currently, not even two percent of Serbian population is skiing. Most importantly, we’ve introduced new generations to this wonderful sport.
In what state was OC ”Jahorina“ before you came to manage it?
Post-war effects and bad business decisions slowed down the fulfillment of Jahorina’s potential. First, we changed thevisual identity – we replaced 16 or so guideposts at the enterance of the resort with a set of illuminated Olympic rings. There aren’t many Olympic mountains in the world. We tore down old ski lifts which were out of use and we sold them to the scrapyards. The biggest objection in the past few years was that Jahorina was a mountain full of steep pistes, so we made new, approachable pistes. We put more sales outlets which diminished long queues. We built four new parking spaces which enlarged the capacity for up to a thousand. We placed new garbage containers, even though that wasn’t our jurisdiction. We made new ski traverses for children and we placed new infrastructure. We legalized ski schools and made substantial revenues. Results were better than expected. We had 131 days of skiing, Jahorina was the first to open the pistes and the last one to close them, so we had the longest season in old Yugoslavia. That attracted new investors, so five new hotels are being built as we speak. The number of skiers grew for 90 percent, up to 185.000 skiers. We made 500.000 Euros more than in two previous years combined. Land value has quadrupled.
Mountains can’t live only during the winter and ski season. How important is event marketing?
We completed a big project od building an accumulation lake of some 30 thousand cubic meters on the top of Jahorina which will facilitate and cheapen snowmaking, and it will be a summer attraction as well. By placing events at the beginning and at the end of the ski season, you’ll make it longer and you’ll boost tourism consumption. Since New Years Eve, we’ve hosted some of the biggest music stars from the region, some will come by the end of this year – Ceca on December 1st, for example –, we’ve hosted the Celebrity race where Bojan Križaj and Alberto Tomba were some of the participants, and in March we’ve had the very first mountain edition of EXIT festival. We’ve established new connections with Chinese tourists, we’ll soon turn to Hungarian and Turkish market, and we’ve already made deals with Slovenian ski resorts. This season will be special both for Jahorina and for me, because we’ll host Winter Youth Olympic Games in February. There’s no better proof that we’re doing something right after all.
By Slavko Stefanović