Bulgarien? Nein, Danke!

Novinite Insider » FEATURES | Author: Milena Hristova |April 27, 2009, Monday // 16:22| Views: | Comments: 11
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Bulgaria: Bulgarien? Nein, Danke! Elderly German tourists are making morning exercises at Riviera complex on Bulgaria's Black Sea. Photo by BGNES

Bulgaria's summer tourism faces tough times as German visitor arrivals drop amidst a chronic lack of advertising and the fallout of the global financial crisis


A huge banner adorns Berlin's central station. Thousands of people pass through this location in the cold days of March to see Bulgaria being advertised as a nice ski destination. No doubt, Bulgarian officials think that the huge money spent on it is money well spent. Except that the banner promotes the wrong offer at the wrong time.

Trying to sell something that Germany already has and sell it at the worst possible timing is one of a series of faux pas that Bulgaria has recently made in its promotion as a tourist destination in Germany, the most important for the sector market for the last twenty years.

"Bulgaria is very poorly advertised in Germany," says Ventsislav Tanchev, CEO of Suntours, representative of German tour operator Alltours in Bulgaria. „The channels that are being used are not the most efficient, the messages that are being sent are not the most appropriate."

Germany has traditionally been the primary market for visitors to Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. About half a million Germans come here every year and they are the only one that can fill up hotel vacancies from May till October. German visitors are the largest single country represented within the figure of EU visitors, followed by the UK and Greece.

It was only last year that Bulgaria featured as the only former Eastern Block country among German tourists' top ten preferred destinations. This year, however, the mood is sombre. Tour operators report a 20% drop on average year-upon-year in demand from Germany, the plunge ranging from 10% -15% to 25%-30% with the different companies.

"The fall in the number of bookings for our country is due to a change in the lifestyle of consumers, the lack of low-cost/charter and regular flights to Varna and Burgas with prices of return tickets at about EUR 90-145, the lack of joint advertisement with big tour operators in the German media, the lack of cooperation between the private hoteliers and state institutions, such as the State Tourism Agency," explains Manol Dimitrov, a Bulgarian tourism expert in Germany.

Up to 1996, when Bulgarian resorts were still state-owned, Bulgaria was represented at ten big international tourism fairs. It has participated at only three such fairs over the last three years, including the International Tourism Bourse in Berlin this year.

Meanwhile Bulgaria's rivals for tourists from the German market draw out long-term strategies about how to advertise their tourism sector, the allocated budgets spreading for four-five years ahead.

"Countries such as Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, Austria, Tunisia, Egypt and others hire big advertising companies in Germany, which know how to make the strongest impact on the final consumer. At times of crisis, such as the summer season of 2009, the focus is on prices, incentives for early bookings, massive online advertisements of cheap flights and bonuses," adds Manol Dimitrov.

The combination of reduced flights from Germany to Bulgaria and highly attractive offers from rival destinations easily fritters away the country' price advantage, making prospects in these times of crisis


In tough economic times, luxuries such as vacations are often the first to face the axe as consumers rein in spending. The outbreak of the global economic crisis is the other reason for the drop in demand from Germany, people from the sector in Bulgaria agree.

Not that anyone is immune from the crisis. Greece suffers the biggest losses with bookings down by 30%-40%, while Turkey fares best with only 5% reduction in bookings. In fact until recently it was only Turkey and Spain, which marked an increase in bookings. Over the last few years Turkey welcomed more than 4 million German tourists and topped the ranking of preferred holiday destinations. Following the death of three young Germans, who drank tainted liquor at a prestigious Turkish resort, however, and the bad publicity that followed experts do not expect that growth rate to be in real terms.

Bulgaria is somewhere in between. Here however the impact of the global crisis only aggravates a downturn born by the lack of strategy of how to keep the interest of the German or any other tourist.

Tourism is one of, if not the most important industry for the perennially cash-strapped Bulgaria - it not only provides nearly 14% of the country's GDP, but is also a significant source of foreign currency and jobs. The industry has also been traditionally the favorite sector of those in power - it is the only one that enjoys a reduced value-added-tax. Following its EU accession, Bulgaria was expected to capitalize on its tourism industry potential and benefit from the increased exposure and easier accessibility to its markets. Yet it never made it to the breaking out of the champagne.

Statistics show that the country has started to lose its appeal as an attractive destination for both local and foreign visitors. It is also losing its reputation of a low-cost destination that has given it so far an edge in the tourism sector when compared to some of the other countries in the region. Neither does it have a strong service culture. Overdevelopment is a serious concern, while efforts to promote fledgling alternative offerings have stumbled.

The economic growth that Bulgaria saw over the last few years was built upon the growth in construction, real estate and tourism sectors. It was only natural that the government should focus its efforts on the tourism sector and introduce a package of anti-crisis measures, now that the construction and real estate sectors are facing a collapse.

"Instead of this the only thing that the Bulgarian State Tourism Agency did was to try to convince us that there will be no drop in the number of tourists this season or if there is such a fall it will only be negligible," Tanchev says.

In the meantime Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, which are Bulgaria's rivals in the battle for clients along the sea coast, were quick to introduce anti-crisis measures. The governments of these countries allocated more money for advertising, lowered taxes and fees, which are a heavy burden for the tourism sector, increased investments in the tourist infrastructure. Because they know that Mr and Mrs Average German Tourist will continue to travel despite the crisis. They also know that this year, more than ever before, they will be


Despite their oft-expressed desire to be different, the behaviour of most Germans is highly predictable. Germans are the world's traveling champions, who even managed to outstrip the Americans last year in the number of leisure trips abroad. The average Teuton family goes on holiday for two weeks a year, often within Germany. Turkey, Spain, Egypt and Greece are their favourite destinations abroad in the summer. When the going gets tough, they may give up plans to buy a new car or furniture but will never ax the vacation. A report by Dresdner Bank shows that tourists from Germany splurged a total of 61.5 billion euros on holidays in 2008 and the sum is expected to decrease by no more than 1 billion euros this year. Yet Germans are known to be very practical, searching for the best quality at the best prices.

Nearly half of the tourists, who will go on holidays this summer, are yet to make up their mind where to head for. A slim percentage of them, those who have lost their jobs or fear they may soon become jobless, will most probably stay at home. The bigger part of them, however, will wait for lucrative last-minute offers.

"Now is the time for bargain-hunting in Bulgarian hotels," says Ventsislav Tanchev. "Bulgarian hoteliers have started to reduce prices for foreigners and will continue to do so even at the height of the season."

Apart from a few hotels, which enjoy huge demand and practically sold out all their vacancies as early as in the winter, all other Bulgarian hotels extended the discounts for early bookings from the end of January or February to the end of April and renegotiated the prices and the conditions by the end of the season.

"The fact is that nearly each and every Bulgarian hotel in 2009 will offer more favorable terms for tourists than ever before," argues Tanchev, hoping that this may be a good enough reason to make the Germans remain


Bulgaria does have traditions in the coastal tourism and these are invariably linked to the German clients. The first charter flights from Western Germany to Bulgaria's Black Sea coast were launched as early as 1963. These are times when Turkey, Egypt and many other destinations were not even on the tourist map. The number of tourists from the German Democratic Republic up to 1988 totaled 320 000-370 000. A total of 90 000 - 160 000 tourists on average arrived from The Federal Republic of Germany. Their number could be even more if it was not for the visa barrier, which was lifted in 1997-1998. Even in 1999, which was very difficult for the tourism sector because of NATO air strikes over Serbia, it was only Germany which marked a 5% growth in the number of tourists to Bulgaria's resorts on the Black Sea coast.

Why Bulgaria? German tourists like Bulgaria because it offers good value in terms of food prices and accommodation expenses and last but not least has available package tours. The all-inclusive deals that international tour operators offer to various Bulgarian resorts give Germans an ease of access. Most often they come to Bulgaria with their families, enjoy the classic combination of hotel, beach and sea, behave relatively well and are active participants in all the recreational activities on offer. Tour operators say they are moderate European clients, who like classic packages with good quality at good prices. The German spends an average of 9 days and pays about 70 euros per day for their stay at the hotel most often as part of an all-inclusive package. All of which makes them the perfect tourists each and every Bulgarian hotelier and tour operator craves for.

"The German market will definitely retain its primary significance for the local tourism sector - about 60% of the German tourists, who travel to Bulgaria, are aged over 55. These are people, who travel abroad at least twice a year all the year round," says Manol Dimitrov.

According to him with its modern hotels, diverse infrastructure, well preserved nature, well trained staff and the appeal of a fixed exchange rate to the euro, Bulgaria can accommodate about 600 000 German tourists a year.

"Germany has been and will remain the primary market, generating tourists for Bulgaria," agrees Ventsislav Tanchev. "The holiday is put on a pedestal in Germans' value system and Germans will continue to travel despite the crisis. Each one of us, who work in the tourism sector, should do the best we can not only to attract clients, but also make them happy with what we offer. Only then can we expect that tourism will be a success story in the future."

This year's tourism bourse in Berlin confirmed forecasts for unclear and heavy times ahead. Prominent German experts in the sector go as far as to say that 2010 will be more difficult than 2009 due to a rise in the country's unemployment rate and the expected slow-down in the economy by 6%. Most Germans will definitely allocate the so-called holiday money or Urlaubsgeld (60-70% of the monthly pay) for a trip abroad.

Yet experts say that whether and how much of this money they will receive next year remains an open question. Whether Germans will decide to spend this money in Bulgaria remains an open question too.

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» To the forumComments (11)
Taro - 4 Jun 2009 // 10:14:10

Yes, and that's the point. Several low cost carriers (Germanwings, Condor Air, Tui Air) already canceled Varna as a destination. And who from the Western parts of Germany would drive over 500km just to get on their planes?!

I also recognised a increasing number of turkish and moldowian tourists in Varna. Is this the new clientel?!


countryhick - 3 Jun 2009 // 21:08:05

Come now nellie!

Taro - 3 Jun 2009 // 20:43:42

"Hmm, how come as of June 1 there are daily multiple charter flights to Varna from Germany (mostly from German cities located in former East Germany - Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin)."

Yes, and that's the point. Several low cost carriers (Germanwings, Condor Air, Tui Air) already canceled Varna as a destination. And who from the Western parts of Germany would drive over 500km just to get on their planes?!

I also recognised a increasing number of turkish and moldowian tourists in Varna. Is this the new clientel?!


Dutch - 3 Jun 2009 // 15:35:09

"And also on the german travel portals they are not even selling any travels to Bulgaria at all."

Hmm, how come as of June 1 there are daily multiple charter flights to Varna from Germany (mostly from German cities located in former East Germany - Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin).

Must say that the number of flights from Russia increased compared to last year while flights from Germany significantly decreased. So Varna will see more Russians compared to previous years......what a joy!!! :-( I'd rather don't see loud, noisy, dominant, rude Russians. In general I don't like the tourists hitting the Bulgarian resorts anyway. The majority are in their own countries quite low on the social ladder (would it be too offensive to call them a-social rude scum?:-)), while being in BG they're pretending to be all that. Then again, they're bringing (little) money to Bulgaria and I've always been taught not to bite the hand that feeds you (be it directly or indirectly).

NellieotAmerica - 3 Jun 2009 // 14:05:30

"And I prefer that those folks would stay away from the small villages and hidden beaches."

Hidden? Yeah, right. You find a lot of garbage, empty bottles and human excrement all over, they are not that "hidden". lol

"And also on the german travel portals they are not even selling any travels to Bulgaria at all."

TUI used to have Bulgarian packages. A few years ago there was a hotel in Golden Sands full of Germans--Arabella it was called. But maybe not anymore.

Taro - 3 Jun 2009 // 11:39:52

Al, but those destinations, which I personally prefer, are not the destiantions for mass tourism, we are talking here about. And I prefer that those folks would stay away from the small villages and hidden beaches.

I heared that song about Bulgaria is being poorly advertised already last year, and I can experience by myself. When I search for cheap flights from Germany to Varna, there are no such. I consider 300€ for a 2 way flight no bargain. And also on the german travel portals they are not even selling any travels to Bulgaria at all.

So how the tourists should book travels to Bulgaria, even if they want, despite of dirty beaches, constructions sites during summer times and poor service?!

Bulgarians spend most of the day thinking how to make some money, but when there is a change to do so they just don't take it. Just wondering. Maybe they are so used to make money in a "grey" market and with jobs from their "networks", that they just don't know how to make it the legal way.

Just my 2 stotinki.


NellieotAmerica - 30 May 2009 // 15:39:18

I myself prefer Zlatni Piyasutsi, although it can get a bit crowded. But the amenities are there--food, lodging, toilets, etc.

Al - 30 May 2009 // 15:27:04


You wrote: "The Black Sea is ruined, and there is nothing worthwhile left there, except for cheap beer."

Nah, you must be kidding.

Just go to Primosko, where the Strandja mountains begin, and explore the area further south. So much to see and enjoy. Also check out the Stamopolu river a bit north of Primorsko.

Or take a drive from Bourgas to Malko Tarnovo and visit some of the old villages you pass. There ar signs showing way to the tourist attractions. Just follow them.

You can just rent a small car from 25 EUR a day. Try it!

Just my 2 stotinki

GoBu - 30 May 2009 // 12:35:37

The time is fine for many, but not to hideous construction sites, on already over-developed beaches. The Black Sea is ruined, and there is nothing worthwhile left there, except for cheap beer.

NellieotAmerica - 6 May 2009 // 19:30:28

Chocolates on the pillow are not enough. People don't know what their house is worth, their 401K plan has been shredded to pieces, there is a very good chance of job loss, the dollar is on a slippery slope to brokebuck mountain, it is not a good time to travel.

NellieotAmerica - 27 Apr 2009 // 20:07:10

Hey Bill,

Is that you and your girlfriend in the photo?

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