The July 18 terrorist suicide bomber attack on Israeli tourists at Bourgas Airport has not resulted in foreign tour groups cancelling reservations for holidays in Bulgaria, the country’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Delyan Dobrev said on July 23.
Dobrev has been repeating this message in interviews and statements for several days since the attack, in spite of media reports about cancelled bookings or foreign tourists quitting the country ahead of their scheduled departure date.
In one case of an unconfirmed media report, a website in Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv said that 100 Israeli tourists had checked out of their hotel in the city. Separate reports have claimed that some Israeli tourists had cancelled reservations at Black Sea resorts.
Earlier, as the 2012 summer tourist season began, Bulgaria was optimistic about a further increase in foreign tourists coming to Bulgaria. Among significantly growing markets is Russia, where an eased visa system has boosted the number of Russian tourists coming to Bulgaria, going by official figures issued in Sofia.
Since the July 18 terrorist attack, which left five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver and the terrorist dead, hotels and resorts along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast have seen stepped-up police presences while hotels reportedly also have beefed up the number of private security guards on duty.
Dobrev said that officials at Bulgarian tourism offices abroad would continue to monitor the situation to assess whether any negative trends developed. Media coverage and its impossible impact were being monitored, he said.
Israel’s tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, who arrived in Bulgaria on a July 23 visit to attend a memorial service at Bourgas Airport, and to meet President Rossen Plevneliev, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and members of the Jewish community, was upbeat about efforts being made to further develop mutual tourism.
In 2011, the trend of an increase in the number of Israeli tourists visiting Bulgaria continued, adding up to 135 000. Ahead of the suicide bombing attack, projections had been that this year would see 150 000 Israelis coming on holiday to Bulgaria. Overall, Israeli tourists make up about six per cent of Bulgaria’s foreign tourist market.
Speaking at Sofia Synagogue at a meeting with the Jewish community in the Bulgarian capital city, Misezhnikov said, “Bulgaria is Israel’s friend. Israel is Bulgaria’s friend”.
He said that efforts to develop tourism ties would continue and said that his visit was intended to show that in spite of a campaign of violence against Israelis, “we will keep on living normally”. Terrorism would not be rewarded, Misezhnikov said.
Terrorism knew no borders, he said, adding that Bulgaria and Israel had a mutual enemy, terrorism financed and supported by Iran.
Israel has underlined that it has credible intelligence that the July 18 attack was the work of Hezbollah, acting on the instructions of Iran. Iran has denied the allegation. Bulgaria has declined to point a finger, pending the outcome of the investigation into the terrorist attack, an investigation in which it is being assisted by a number of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including those of the United States and Israel.