The year 2014 has been a record year for cruise ships visiting Bulgaria, with the Black Sea port of Varna seeing 40 passenger vessels with more than 25 000 tourists and Bourgas and Nessebur totalling a similar number, Bulgarian National Television said on September 27.
The increased number of cruise ships visiting Bulgarian Black Sea ports is a result of the crisis in Ukraine, but also, according Port of Varna director Bozhidar Chaparov, the country’s ports had been rediscovered by cruise operators because of the services provided and the attractions of the seaside resorts.
The cruise ships visiting Bulgaria meant good revenue for local businesses and the state, the report said.
Tour operator Vladimir Karadzhov said that one ship with more than 2000 passengers on board meant on average 300 000 to 4000 euro a day for Varna
However, the report added, tourism experts held that port fees should be reduced for the positive trend in the number of visiting cruise ships to be maintained.
An indication of the significant increase is that in 2013, just 13 cruise ships with less than 3000 tourists docked at Varna.
By mid-September, this year 13 passenger vessels with more than 18 000 passengers docked at Bourgas and in Nessebur there had been 26 ships with a total of 6928 passengers.
Bulgarian media reports said that each tourist spent about 100 euro a day.
The cruise ship industry was seeing more intense market competition among large companies offering the service.
Cruise tourists were generally more affluent that the customary all-inclusive holidaymakers who came to Bulgaria’s Black Sea for the relatively cheap alcohol or sex tourism.
The average age of the passengers on board the vessels was 50, many of them travelling the globe and interested in learning more about Bulgaria, a destination otherwise not well-known to them.
However, the industry is calling out for its warnings about port fees to be taken seriously.
Earlier in September, Karadzhov told a discussion in Varna on cruise tourism, “sorry to disappoint you, but Bulgaria is not a unique destination like Egypt or Venice. Companies are interested in cost, and here they are the highest.”
He was quoted by local media as saying that for the next two years, Royal Caribbean had excluded the Black Sea from its calendar, while Carnival was still considering.
Bulgaria’s record year for visiting cruise ships was because of circumstances – the crisis in Ukraine – and not because of any special effort by the Bulgarian state to attract them.
Currently, a passenger ship with 2000 tourists was paying a fee of $70 000 and with new tariffs would be paying $90 000. By comparison, the fee for the same vessel in Constanta was $40 000.
The Bulgarian Association of Ship Brokers and Agents have said that they would appeal in court against the new tariffs, saying that the increased costs would mean that ships would redirect to Constanta and Thessaloniki.
The Transport Ministry has defended the increase in fees, saying that according to a new European Directive it had to also include an eco-tax for waste treatment.
The ministry, however, could not explain why this was not also reflected in fees at ports in Romania, also a European Union country which must comply with the directive, local media reports commented.
(Photo, of the Europa 2 cruise ship in Bulgaria’s port of Varna: screenshot from BNT)