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Bulgarian tourism: many questions, good wishes for the future and no answers

Date: 06.11.2008

Would the Bulgarian tourist industry survive the global financial crisis? What precautions need to be taken so the influx of foreign tourists remained steady? Is the country ready for the imminent ski season? Those were only some of the questions raised at a news conference that attracted members of the tourist guild to discuss the future of the industry on November 4 2008.

Recently the UN World Tourist Organisation (UNWTO) issued a warning that local and regional authorities should allocate at least two per cent out of their budget to market tourist products.

It is a well-known fact that the Bulgarian State Tourist Agency receives an annual budget of six million leva, which is not nearly enough to advertise what the country has to offer on the international market. At the news conference, professionals requested the budget for 2009 to be increased to 20 million leva.

Vetko Arabadjiev from the Union of Investors in Tourism said that the industry should focus on how to win back – through special offers – the thousands of Bulgarian tourists who prefer to holiday in Turkey and Greece. He believed that the financial crisis would not affect the type of tourists that come to Bulgaria – usually families or individuals who would only have funds for one holiday a year.
Arabadjiev suggested that Bulgaria should be promoted more aggressively abroad as a cheap destination with a good quality of service. The state needs to secure preferential airplane tickets on charters servicing Varna and Bourgas airports. Arabadjiev wished that the Government would create favourable conditions for the development of infrastructural projects.

“I think we should concentrate on the law for tourism that so far has undergone 16 amendments and there is another one on the way,” said Irina Naidenova of the Association of Bulgarian Tour Operators and Travel Agents (ABTTA). “Most of the clauses are contradictory and do not regulate the relations among all players on the tourism market.” In addition, Naidenova pointed out that the law did not ensure a unified system for categorising tourist facilities.

Petya Slavova from the Union of Bulgarian Tourism Industry (UBTI) said that her organisation is initiating several anti-crisis moves. “We will meet members of political parties that are capable of ruling the country, and I do not think that we should try to convince them that culture and tourism will make us rich.”

Slavova also said that UBTI intends to meet archaeologists, historians, musicians and diplomats to probe their personal experience of how best to enhance Bulgaria's image abroad. In the row of planned meetings, Slavova also mentioned future talks with Italian, Turkish or Croatian ministers who could provide lessons on how to develop a successful tourist industry.

Bulgaria could very well count on its spa and wellness tourism, Stefan Sharlopov, a hotel owner and a large-scale investor, said. However, hotels that offer spa tourism should be certified by the European Spa Association. “Otherwise, we could push tourists away by advertising spas in every hotel, where at some places there is just a jacuzzi and a single couch for massages, conducted by random people,” Sharlopov said. Certification is a very expensive procedure, he said, and so far there are only two certified spa hotels. One is in the process of getting a certificate and five have applied for one.

Asked whether Bulgaria was prepared for the pending ski season, participants replied that the winter resort of Pamporovo may suffer because the nearest airport in Plovdiv is not equipped for bad-weather landing. So potential tourists need to be directed to Sofia and travel from there to Pamporovo. Compared to the number of visitors in the season 2006/07, tourist numbers this winter are expected to record a 30 per cent decrease.

No mention was made as to whether other resorts such as Bansko and Borovets were ready to greet tourists for the season.


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