Sofia, Bulgaria: The new tourist magnet

Written by on October 25, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Sofia, Bulgaria: The new tourist magnet

Sofia, the South-Eastern European marvel, the insider tip on the Balkans, the beauty at the foot of Vitosha mountain, the oldest capital in Europe, is now officially a tourist magnet. Visitors from abroad flock the city more and more.

The Sofia Investment Agency (SIA) just came up with numbers and insights, which suggest things are looking up, regarding tourism. Bulgaria, the country Sofia is the capital of, breaks one tourism record after another. Every year, more foreign tourists show up at Sozopol’s overcrowded beaches and Bansko’s skiing slopes. To a certain extent, the growth is hitting Sofia too.

In Sofia, the number of good hotels is increasing, while the number of potholes is being reduced. A halfhearted fight against Sofia’s extremely polluted air has begun. It will hopefully turn into a real fight, with actual results, sooner rather than later.

An unconventional view on Sofia. Photo by Antoni Georgiev.

SIA’s latest report just documented the growth of tourism in Sofia. While, in 2015, about 640 000 foreign tourists visited the city, that number skyrocketed to almost 740 000 in 2016, which adds up to a 15.3 per cent increase.

Out of those visitors, 87 per cent came for leisure. Less than 13 per cent of all foreign visitors came to Sofia for business. Most foreign visitors arrived from Germany, the UK and Greece, Italy, Israel, Turkey, the United States, France, Romania and Spain.

According to SIA, two main factors contributed to the impressive growth. One was an increased number of available flights, mostly on low cost airlines. The other, a competitive value-for-money ratio

Along with the number of visitors, Sofia’s hotel market is growing rather rapidly too. Since 2009, the number of nights spent at hotels in the Bulgarian capital city has increased constantly. In 2016, it amounted to almost 1.8 million, compared to 1.1 million in 2011. In both cases, foreign visitors contributed the bigger part.

The revenue from those many nights spent in Sofia in 2016 was 130 457 649 leva, the equivalent of 66 698 007 euro. It is expected to increase further in 2017, and especially in 2018.

First of all, the trend is pointing upwards anyway. Secondly, Bulgaria is about to take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This aspect will lead to an even sharper increase, since thousands of additional visitors will show up in Sofia for meetings.

In its report, SIA, which is part of Sofia Municipality, concedes that Sofia’s hotel market “remains relatively immature, compared to other major European cities”. The presence of international hotel chains is actually the lowest in Europe, with only 16 per cent of the entire market.

But that is changing too. More and more international luxury hotel chains are coming to Sofia, a trend started by Hilton, which built its Sofia hotel as early as 2001. One of the chains determined to conquer Bulgaria’s capital soon is Hyatt. At Levski Monument in Sofia’s city centre, a huge hole was already dug. Soon, a state-of-the-art Hyatt luxury hotel will fill that cavity.

While the occupancy of all of those hotel rooms was rather disappointing in 2016, at 45 per cent, it is expected to rise.

But Sofia Airport definitely does feel the growth, which was 21.8 percent in 2016. The number of passengers almost reached five million. Hungary’s low- cost carrier Wizz Air transported 30.6 per cent of those passengers, almost as much as Bulgaria Air (21.7 per cent) and Ryanair (10.2 per cent) combined.

 

Photo at top of page by Antoni Georgiev

 

 

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