Looking Back at 2016 in Bulgaria: The Tourist Invasion

Written by on December 7, 2016 in Latest, Leisure, Tourism - No comments

When Bulgaria’s Minister of Tourism, Nikolina Angelkova, started spreading truly exciting numbers at several press conferences in the summer of 2016, it became clear that this year would most likely hit a record. Her latest big announcement, made in November, suggests that the number of tourists in Bulgaria, both Bulgarian and foreign, will amount to 11 million this year. That would be more than 1.5 tourists per inhabitant. A huge number.

In April, Minister Angelkova had said, she wanted to turn Bulgaria into “a year-round tourist destination”. This has basically been achieved, while, naturally, the summer and winter seasons draw the most tourists. By the end of August, the number of foreign tourists in Bulgaria had already hit 6 million, which was a clear indicator for 2016 becoming a record year. The tourists were all over those resorts, from the infamous Slanchev Briag to Nesebar, Sozopol, Golden Sands, Albena and many others.

The German invasion coming every summer is nothing new. Neither are the British or Romanian ones. But the numbers are rising, for several reasons: The prices for family holidays in Bulgaria are still substantially lower than in countries like Spain or Italy. But there is another important aspect. Due to a wave of terror attacks in Turkey, and the same security concerns in northern Africa, big tour operators in England, Germany and elsewhere are increasingly turning towards Bulgaria, by offering attractive packages. Even tour operators which had completely ignored Bulgaria so far, jumped on the band wagon. They had to, because the Turkish tourist market was breaking away under their feet.

Bulgarian towns located far away from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, such as Ruse, the marvel up at the Danube river, got their share of tourists too. So did the wonderful mountain ranges in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian skiing tourism is on the rise as well. This year’s season in Bansko and elsewhere just started, a few days ago.

National tourism, meaning Bulgarian tourists in Bulgaria, are important as well. The ministry of tourism and hotels are trying to convince Bulgarians to visit their own coast, rather than the ones in Halkidiki or on the Pelopones peninsula in neighbouring Greece. Everyone is working hard on the numbers, including the ministry, which is running a large ad campaign for Bulgaria as a tourist destination. PR people are trying to get those numbers up too.

The sun, the sand, the wet and salty sea. In those ministry and PR circles, everything is positive. But, in reality, it isn’t. First of all, most Bulgarians can not afford trips to the coast, or anywhere. Sure, the Sofia middle class and the upper 10,000 can. But that’s it. The number of national tourists would rise substantially, if the economical boom, especially in the tourism sector, would ultimately help everyone. It doesn’t.

Another huge issue, one of a different kind, is looming at the horizon, which is the Black Sea itself. According to experts, including those interviewed by Deutsche Welle in summer of 2016, the Black Sea’s eco system might fail sooner rather than later, because of the wastewater flowing into the sea, unfiltered, from all the resorts. European funds for larger purification plants, which were avaliable, seem to have vanished.

Biologist Dimitar Popov told Deutsche Welle, the water quality in the Black Sea was worse than anywhere else in Europe. It is affecting the dolphins already. Soon, it will affect humans swimming in those waters. Bulgaria might soon pay a heavy price for swiping that problem under the carpet.

By Imanuel Marcus

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