An in-depth conversation with the world tourism personality of the year on transforming Jahorina Olympic Centre
In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Dejan Ljevnaić, the visionary Director of Jahorina Olympic Centre, whose innovative strategies have not only revitalized the Centre but also earned him the prestigious title of ‘World Tourism Personality of the Year’. Under his leadership, Jahorina has transformed into a modern, efficient ski destination, setting new standards in the industry. Join us as we investigate the passion of a man who has successfully placed Jahorina on the world map of premier ski resorts and explore his plans for the future of this dynamic winter sports hub.
What aspects of your development strategy for the Jahorina Olympic Center do you consider to be key to achieving such success as the recognition of “World Tourism Personality of the Year”?
I see the recognition of the “World Tourism Personality of the Year” award not only as my success but as the result of an exceptional team effort and dedication of my entire team. The key aspects of our development strategy for the Olympic Center “Jahorina” that contributed to this success include the construction and modernization of infrastructure. I am proud of the fact that my team and I have built the most lifts in the world, setting high standards in the ski industry. Our commitment to improving ski destinations is visible through the efforts we invest in transforming ski centers into modern, efficient ones adapted to the needs of modern skiers. Besides being the director of the “Jahorina” Olympic Center, my private company actively participates in projects around the world, including countries such as Turkey, China, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. Through successful cooperation with these countries, we create ski destinations that provide a superior experience to visitors, setting new standards in the tourism industry. The recognition of “World Tourism Personality of the Year” inspires me and further obliges me to continue with the innovation and improvement of ski centers around the world. We look forward to further cooperation and the challenges ahead to continue raising the bar in the tourism industry.
How do you plan to continue to innovate in the ski industry?
We plan to continue with innovations in the ski industry by actively promoting cooperation with other ski centers. We have already made significant progress in this regard, connecting ski resorts from Slovenia to North Macedonia through a single ski pass. This connection allows skiers flexibility and easy access to different destinations, which encourages the exchange of experiences and the improvement of the entire ski offer. We will continue to work on adapting the Jahorina mountain to the needs of skiers and boarders. This includes continuous improvement of infrastructure, trails, and services to ensure a superior visitor experience. We are also planning to build a lake in Skočina, which will provide us with an additional 20,000 cubic meters of water. This investment will significantly improve the capacity for snowmaking and maintenance of the slopes, which will ensure optimal conditions for skiing throughout the season. Our goal is to stay one step ahead of trends in the European ski industry, we strive to be leaders in innovation and providing the ultimate skiing experience. Through further cooperation with other ski centers and continuous investment in infrastructure, we plan to maintain high standards and continue to grow side by side with the best European ski destinations.
You often talk about the importance of teamwork in your success. How would you describe your leadership style and what approach do you use to motivate and inspire your team?
My leadership style is based on strong teamwork and investment in the people who make up the “Jahorina” Olympic Center. I am aware that the key to achieving success in the ski industry is cooperation and the development of a quality team. Most of the challenges at Jahorina have been overcome by creating a working system that works efficiently, and this has been achieved thanks to the commitment and trust we have built among all members. As a director, I realized that success cannot be individual, and I am focused on investing in my team. I encourage the personal and professional development of each of them. I am open to ideas and innovations that contribute to the improvement of our organization. We travel together, which allows for team bonding and mutual growth. Also, I provide the opportunity for every team member to attend courses and trainings that contribute to their personal and professional progress. One of the key elements of my leadership is setting clear rules and procedures in the company. Although I also have certain discretionary rights, I try to create a system in which they are rewarded for exceptional work, and at the same time, there are responsibilities for lack of engagement. This approach enables stable business and a sense of shared responsibility among all of us. My goal is not only for the worker to do his job, but also to grow as a professional, and to build a successful and innovative Olympic Center “Jahorina” together.
Our goal is to stay one step ahead of trends in the European ski industry, we strive to be leaders in innovation and providing the ultimate skiing experience
Your work on projects all over the world, from Turkey to China and Europe, is impressive. How does international cooperation affect the development of the Jahorina Olympic Center?
Through our engagement, we create a global network of knowledge and practices that directly contribute to the improvement of our ski center. One of the key benefits of such international experiences is the exchange of best practices and innovations. Through cooperation with different cultures and ski destinations, we create a unique platform for learning and applying new ideas. This allows us to stay alongside the latest trends in the ski and tourism industry, making us more competitive in the global market. Also, connecting with different ski resort destinations allows us to improve infrastructure, services, and attractions in Jahorina. We learn from global examples of success, apply them locally, and thus raise the quality standards of our ski center. This diversity in the team brings different perspectives, experiences, and skills, which directly contribute to creativity and innovation in the work of the Olympic Center “Jahorina”.
You faced several challenges this winter, including snow problems. How did you manage these challenges and what did you learn from these experiences?
We are pleased to confirm that the 2023/24 winter season on Jahorina has been extremely successful so far. With 67 days to go, this season has already shown its great potential. The trails are well-prepared, and we are actively working on the production of artificial snow. We have at our disposal the “SnowFactory” snowmaking system that produces snow for 20 hours every day. Thanks to it, our ski range is constantly full, and a large number of beginners have the opportunity to ski within the ski range. We invested in upgrading the artificial snow system, with 25 new cannons, which further ensured optimal conditions on the slopes throughout the season. Thanks to this, Jahorina has so far hosted more than 115,000 skiers who have made over 850,000 passes. We have expanded our influence to new markets, particularly highlighting the successful entry into the English market with a charter flight from London. Jahorina has become a destination that attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the region, including Romania, Hungary, and Turkey. When you take a walk on the mountain, you will come across Russian-speaking, Chinese, German people from all over the world. Following the weather, we are planning to expand the capacity of the ski area to meet the needs of visitors even more. More than 70% of the ski center’s capacity is already available to skiers, and we are working intensively on the remaining capacities. Night skiing is also in full swing every evening from 6 pm to 9 pm. We would like to emphasize the dedication of our employees, technological improvements, and commitment to quality, which was reflected in a significant increase in financial results, even nine times compared to the same period last year. Considering the already impressive number of reservations, we expect this season to break all attendance records. In addition, I would like to share the information that next week we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Winter Olympic Games with various events, activities, and interesting things for all visitors.
Can you tell us more about your long-term plans, especially the Pale-Jahorina gondola and the sports hall? How do these projects contribute to the sustainable development of Jahorina as a year-round tourist destination?
The planned Pale-Jahorina gondola project represents a key initiative to connect Pale with Jahorina. This ambitious gondola, with a total length of 7 km, will provide an incredible skiing experience that will cover the trail from the top of Ogorjelica all the way to Pale. We are focused on creating a track that will be as wide as a highway, illuminated for night skiing, which will further enrich the ski center. This project has a dual goal: to provide an amazing skiing experience and at the same time to stop further construction on the mountain, thereby protecting its summit. We are convinced that this gondola will encourage greater interactions between Pale and Jahorina, providing additional benefits to the local population. We expect that future investors will recognize the advantages and beauty of Jahorina, which will encourage an increase in tourism and attract new visitors. In addition, we are considering another important project, the construction of a sports hall that would serve for the preparation of athletes. Within this hall, we plan to create a large children’s playground, a modern spa center, and a spacious gym. This sports hall will be connected to a complex of buildings that will contain bars on the ground floor that help life on the mountain. This is only part of our broader vision, which also includes the creation of squares with communal facilities such as a post office, pharmacy, medical clinic, and market, along with modern housing units and underground garages. The strategic plan also includes connecting the location of Dvorište with Jahorina via a cable car, further improving the infrastructure and connecting our community. In addition to these projects, it is important to note that 17 hotels and 500,000 m2 of residential space are currently being built in Jahorina, which represents a total investment of 3 billion BAM. These facilities will further boost tourism and attract new visitors, providing them with modern and comfortable infrastructure during their stay. Ultimately, we believe that these projects will contribute to the development of Jahorina as a year-round destination, creating a new dimension of tourist attraction and encouraging the sustainable development of the region.
My ultimate goal is to build a ski camp on the mountain in the last phase of these actions, where the overnight stay would be a maximum of 5-10 BAM per child
How does the Jahorina Olympic Center contribute to the local community? Are there special programs or initiatives aimed at supporting the local population?
Compared to the base year, 2016, after which we took over the management of the Olympic Center “Jahorina” with 48 fixed-term workers and three workers who are employed for an indefinite period, we increased the number of employees to 120 indefinite periods and 150 temporary workers. 3,000 workers depend directly on Jahorina, and we managed to save every job and increase the number of people we employed. There is no local company that does not provide its services in Jahorina. Also, it is important to note that the average age of the workers was reduced from 56 to 42 years, which contributed to a more dynamic and energetic team that achieved these impressive results. This shift in the generational diversity of our staff brings new perspectives and ideas, which is crucial for the further successful development of Jahorina as a tourist destination. The development of Jahorina directly affects the development of the local community. Investing in the community is reflected in investing in the future, that is, in the development of children. I believe that skiing has the power to open horizons, deepen the expanse of the imagination, expand the spectrum of concepts, and encourage thinking. These activities not only bring joy and fun but also encourage the development of physical fitness, coordination, and self-confidence in children and adults. That’s why I launched a series of actions to bring skiing closer to children and show that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sport for the rich. In the commercial world, these actions have a positive impact on children and the environment. We started with “Be a child of Jahorina”, through “A thousand skis and helmets for our children” and my ultimate goal is to build a ski camp on the mountain in the last phase of these actions, where the overnight stay would be a maximum of 5-10 BAM per child and where there would not be any tourist stars, but it would be an accommodation camp for children. A place where they would communicate with each other in the evening, but during the day they would be on the slopes skiing, and then that part of the accommodation would also reduce the cost for the parents, and I don’t think the children would lose much in the quality of service. It is not necessary that it must be only skiing, let them come and play handball, basketball, and football, and run, through these camps, and help the children return to nature and the mountain, and that is the essence of the actions for me.
How do you see the future of Jahorina in 5 to 10 years? What are the main goals, but also the challenges along the way, and how do you plan to achieve them or prevent them?
I see Jahorina as a destination that will continue to attract people with its beautiful nature and rich offer in the next 5 to 10 years. The main goals along the way include the improvement of infrastructure, investments in ski slopes, roads, and other key elements to maintain and improve the attractiveness of Jahorina. This includes expanding and improving existing trails, modernizing ski lifts, and maintaining roads for easier access. Diversifying the offer is key to attracting different groups of visitors throughout the year. A diverse offer beyond skiing, including hiking, cycling, adventure sports, and cultural events, will add to the attractiveness of the destination. Environmental sustainability is necessary given the growing awareness of the preservation of the natural environment. Plans for recycling, use of renewable energy sources, and conservation of natural resources should be integrated into all aspects of Jahorina’s development. Education and training of the local workforce in the tourism sector will play a key role in improving the quality of service and visitor satisfaction. Also, support for local entrepreneurs will stimulate the development of small businesses on the mountain. Cooperation with the local community and institutions is the foundation of successful development. Regular communication, inclusion of local residents in the decision-making process, and sharing the benefits of tourism with the local community are key aspects that will ensure the sustainable development of Jahorina.