'Melaniamania' hits Slovenia
Businesses in future US First Lady's hometown create goods to entice tourists after she puts homeland in spotlight
Golden "Melania" cakes, "White House" slippers and guided tours tracing her rise to model stardom - tiny Slovenia has lost no time tapping into the marketing opportunities from its most famous daughter's rise to future US First Lady.
The glamorous wife of US President-elect Donald Trump has helped put her homeland on the map for US tourists visiting Europe.
The number of American visitors jumped by 11 per cent to 80,000 between January and October last year, compared to the same period in 2015, according to the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB).
"Slovenia, as a boutique holiday destination, has become better known among the US public and media... Due to the increased interest, the STB is planning its most intense digital campaign ever in the US market for this year," a spokesman told AFP.
The spokesman is also expecting the trend to be further boosted once Mr Trump takes office on Jan 20, especially in Mrs Trump's hometown of Sevnica, 100km from capital Ljubljana.
Until recently, the small town of 5,000 was better known for its factories and a 900-year-old castle.
Few in Sevnica even remember the young girl called Melanija Knavs, who was born in 1970.
She had left in her late teens to embark on a modelling career, which would eventually lead her to New York, where she became Mr Trump's third wife in 2005.
She took up US citizenship and has only rarely returned to Slovenia, where her parents still own a house in Sevnica but mostly live also in the US, according to local media.
But this has not stopped savvy local entrepreneurs from tapping into what they call "Melaniamania".
At a bakery on Sevnica's main street, you can have your very own slice of "Melania" for just €3. The white chocolate cake has been a hit with locals and foreigners, according to bakery employee Darja Jelenc.
"It is a national pride... We have been selling many of these cakes over the last few weeks. People come all the way from Ljubljana to buy them," she told AFP.
Ms Jelenc is already dreaming of even bigger success after Mr Trump's inauguration, saying: "The local tourist board has announced a whole bus of foreign journalists will come then."
Nearby, a restaurant is offering a "Melania" menu featuring locally-caught trout, while a shop is selling "Melania" pancakes with gold dust.
Also joining the hype is a travel agency, which is planning to launch a Melania Tour that will include visits around landmarks in Sevnica and Ljubljana, as well as Milan, where Mrs Trump started her modelling career.
Even a local footwear manufacturer has joined the craze, launching a limited edition pair of luxurious felt slippers called "White House".
"We sent the future First Lady a pair hoping they will keep her feet warm in the coming winter months," a spokesman told AFP.
The Trumps, however, were not charmed by the "Melania" gimmicks - the couple recently hired a Slovenian lawyer to stop the use of their name and image for commercial purposes without their consent.
The Sevnica council promptly took down an advertising billboard with Mrs Trump's image while a honey producer removed jars claiming to be from "Melania's home garden".
But not everyone is buying into the hype. For Slovenian columnist Dejan Steinbuch, it is merely a marketing ploy.
Most ordinary Slovenians do not care about Mrs Trump, he said.
"They feel that she went to the US because she was fed up with Slovenia. Melania's attitude towards her homeland is determined by her departure," he wrote in an editorial. - AFP