Expectations for a better tourist season this year have been confirmed by statistics. In the first eight months of 2011, more than four million tourists visited Bulgaria, representing an increase of more than five per cent on the year. Sector revenues during the same period were also higher, according to data from the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism.
From January to August, revenues amounted to 1.9 billion euro. This is 5.6 per cent above the same period of 2010, which is indicative of a steady growth pace.
Statistics show that the country’s main income is from sea tourism, with ski tourism coming next in the rankings. The biggest increase was registered in the number of foreign visits from Russia, Ukraine and Central Europe. Bulgaria was able to benefit from the Arab world crisis, which put many tourists off holidaying there.
Tourism industry representatives posted improved results as early as end-August. According to data from the major tour and hotel operators in the main markets, the number of summer visits grew by 10 per cent to 15 per cent and there was a reshuffle in the top three list of countries contributing the highest number of tourists.
According to figures from Bourgas and Varna airports, this year is the first to have the number of Russian tourists (290 000 in total) exceed that of German visitors (242 000), with expectations that the tendency will persist for the rest of the season.
The number of processed passengers from the Czech Republic and Poland has registered significant growth, coming in at around 20 per cent. Guest numbers for Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries remain at last year’s levels or show a slight increase of up to three per cent. Hoteliers operating on the south Black Sea coast report that this year they welcomed their first guests from countries where Bulgaria is not particularly popular as a tourist destination.
Despite the summer pick-up, however, Bulgaria experienced one of its most difficult periods image-wise. A series of incidents and problems marked the entire summer and received widespread media coverage in key countries for the sector.
Among the unfortunate incidents were the poisoning of Russian and Ukrainian children in Kiten, complaints from Danish tourists about over-billing for medical services and the death of a 13-year-old German girl, who was sucked into a hotel pool pipe. There was also the stranding of Russian and Finnish tourists in Bourgas because of a trade dispute between Bulgaria Air and tour operator Alma Tour.
The sector is also optimistic about the incoming winter season. In mid-September, the National Tourism Board predicted an increase of seven per cent in tourist numbers. The board thinks that winter growth will be driven by a rise in Greek visitors to winter resorts. Bookings data indicates that an especially large increase is in store for Pamporovo. There is also greater interest in spa hotels for the period around Christmas and New Year.