Sofia should be transformed into a cultural, religious and food tourism destination and target foreign travellers aged between 16 and 30, according to a new strategy prepared by Austrian company ATC Consultants.
The project forms part of an experience-sharing programme between Sofia and Athens financed with 276 000 leva through the Regional Development operational programme.
The consultants say that Bulgarian capital city could attract tourists with its varied music scene, nice shopping opportunities, the young and attractive population, good food and fine wine.
According to the strategy, Sofia could become one of the next youth hotspots, following in the steps of Barcelona, Prague, Budapest and Vilnius.
Sofia’s popularity as a tourist destination could benefit greatly from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, according to the consultants.
To bring in young travellers, the municipality should poll efforts with budget airlines.
Sofia’s major drawback is bad infrastructure. New information signs should be created and an information centre set up.
A special company should be incorporated the oversee implementation of the entire strategy.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian hoteliers and tour operators are pinning their hopes on the forecasted heavy snowfalls in March to encouraging tourists to warm up to Bulgarian resorts amid the freeze of the downturn.
A poll by Dnevnik showed that the sector is preparing special packages that will be backed by advertising and marketing campaigns. Some hoteliers hope to extend the winter season until early April for Easter.
Bulgarian hotels will target mostly local and Greek and holidaymakers. However, most are downbeat about this season’s performance, with various estimates pegging the decline at between five per cent and 12 per cent thanks to lower prices from the previous winter season and travellers scarcely bother to pay extra on the package.
Despite snow of more than a metre expected to blanket Bulgarian resorts, according to the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, tour operators do not plan more chartered programmes to Sofia and Plovdiv airports.
"Chartered flights from Russia will run until the end of March, bookings are now underway," said Alma Tour president Lyubomir Pankovski.
Sevda Ivanova, the local representative of British tour operator Thomas Cook, said chartered flights will run until March 13, with bookings faring more or less well.
But optimistic news about the UK and the Russian market are not enough to brighten up Bulgarian hoteliers, who expect to welcome a small number of tourists from the two countries.
In March, hoteliers will sharpen their focus on Bulgarians and Greeks, who can book last-minute vacations and several holidays.
Bulgarian hotels plan to slash prices by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent in March as compared with the same month of 2009. They expect more tourists than in winter 2009 but say levels before the crisis broke will not come back soon.