Bulgaria Can Reach Pre-Pandemic Summer Registration Levels despite Unforeseen Situation with Kakhovka Dam

More than a million tourist registrations in accommodation in Bulgaria have been reported in the Unified Tourist Information System for the period June 1 – July 2 this year, which is an increase of nearly 7% compared to the same period of 2022, Deputy Tourism Minister Irena Georgieva told BTA.

For this period, a drop in registrations of Bulgarian citizens of 5% is reported, but according to the Deputy Minister, this is a small decrease, with 525,000 registrations for the period in question, compared to 553,000 a year earlier. Among the explanations for the current decline is the recently increasing interest of Bulgarians to spend their summer holidays abroad after the COVID restrictions were lifted, Georgieva said.

There has been an increase in foreign visits. Registrations from abroad in accommodation in the country are more than 530,000 for June 1 – July 2, compared to 433,000 for the same period in 2022. Deputy Minister Georgieva stressed that these figures do not include Ukrainian citizens.

The data cannot be compared with those in 2019, a good year for Bulgarian tourism, because the Unified Tourist Information System started working in October of 2019, Georgieva reminded.

Arrivals by airport

Burgas Airport reported more passenger arrivals in June this year compared to the same month in 2019. Foreigners come mainly from Poland and their number has increased by 23%, Slovakia (up 13%), and Sweden – (up 9%). Bulgaria’s two most important markets however have only partially recovered to 57% (UK) and 53% (Germany) compared to the same period in 2019.

Varna Airport also reported markets from which more tourists arrived this June compared to the same month in 2019. For example, there were 17% more visitors from the Czech Republic and 2% more from the UK. However, the recovery in passenger traffic from Poland compared to 2019 is at 85% and from Germany – at 80%.

The concerns of the tourism industry are mainly about the Northern Black Sea coast, Deputy Minister Georgieva said.

With regard to the German market, Georgieva cited the forecasts of Bulgaria’s tourist attaché there and pointed out that despite the reported caution in late bookings to seaside holidays in the country (as there is also for the UK market), there is interest for leisure in the interior of Bulgaria and for specialized types of tourism. The expectation for Germany is for a minimal growth of 2-5%. In this connection, she pointed out that it could not be said that tourists’ fears were mainly related to the spill of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine. The trend on the German market was also observed the previous year, the deputy minister reminded, adding that it could be a change in the attitude of German tourists after the COVID pandemic. What the state can do is to promote the image of Bulgaria as a safe destination where the quality-price ratio is optimal, Georgieva said and pointed out that such an approach helps a lot on the Polish market as well. She clarified that the advertising campaigns – the marketing mix on the different channels, for tourism opportunities in the interior of the country – have not stopped, and the idea to advertise Bulgaria through tour operators needs to be refined in terms of the Public Procurement Act, because this funding is supposed to come from the budget.

Fears and problems

The constant talk about the problems at the seaside obviously does not affect Bulgarians’ desire to go on holiday there, and there is probably an ongoing attack against this country, said Deputy Minister Georgieva. She reminded that in 2019 there were again concerns about the success of the summer season, and then the ministry, in partnership with the media, undertook a promotion campaign. Intensifying advertisement is a good way to dispel the fears. For this summer, however, the effect of the proposed changes to the Public Procurement Act, which eases the advertising of this country on social media, is not expected to be felt, but it is an opportunity to advertise specialised types of tourism that complement the holiday tourism portfolio. The good practices that the media can promote could also help boost tourists’ desire for summer holidays on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, Georgieva added.

Pessimistic and optimistic scenarios for summer 2023

In the most pessimistic scenario, the hope is to reach 4 million tourist registrations for this summer season against 4.6 million for the summer of 2019, Deputy Minister Georgieva said. “However, we remain optimistic that we can reach 2019 summer registrations despite the unforeseen situation with the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine,” she added, reminding that holidays in the summer season are not only at the seaside, but in recent years there has been a trend of increasing registrations in the interior of the country as well.

Settlements with hoteliers

A large part of the money owed to hoteliers is to cover their food expenses for Ukrainian refugees under the second “BGN 15” scheme (State aid of BGN 10 per night and BGN 5 for food for the period from 1 June, 2022 to November 15, 2022), the deputy minister said. The list of hotels to which the meal allowance is due is ready, a decision of the Council of Ministers is being processed to pay the amounts, the deputy minister said. She added that Albena AD, whose representative at one of the meetings of the relevant committee in the National Assembly announced that the company expects BGN 500,000 from the State under the programme for Ukrainian refugees, is on this list, Georgieva said.

The government has extended the current programme for humanitarian assistance to displaced persons from Ukraine with temporary protection in Bulgaria until September 30. According to the decision, hoteliers will continue to receive BGN 15 per person per day for accommodation, but effective integration measures are expected to be developed within the extended programme.