How Americans learn about Bulgaria as a tourist destination

Written by on December 25, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on How Americans learn about Bulgaria as a tourist destination

“Oh, you’re from Bulgaria? Awesome! It’s part of Russia, right?”: To many in the United States of America, Bulgaria is a mystery. They believe it is far away. Well, it isn’t compared to New Zealand. Some Americans think Bulgaria might be dangerous, which it isn’t either, in comparison.

Bulgaria and the United States are working on ways to encourage travel between the two countries. The main point is to increase the number of American tourists in Bulgaria, a country which has about as many inhabitants as New York City, and to boost investments in the small country.

For that purpose, Bulgaria’s Minister of Tourism, Nikolina Angelkova, welcomed an important guest at her office shortly before Christmas: She presented her plans for 2018 to the Ambassador of the United States of America to Bulgaria, Eric Rubin.

First of all, two high-level meetings on tourism will be taking place in Sofia. In February of 2018, tourism ministers of several countries will gather during Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Nikolina Angelkova will not miss the opportunity to promote Bulgaria at that meeting. Also the EU Presidency itself will serve as a promotion vehicle.

In addition, a “Congress of World Civilizations and Ancient Routes” will be held. Bulgaria definitely has plenty of those. Minister Angelkova even said Richard Quest, one of the most prominent show hosts at CNN, might moderate that event.

Ambassador Rubin knows Bulgaria very well, also since he has been to the country long before he became an Ambassador, as a researcher. He even speaks the language. Rubin believes Bulgaria should emphasise its natural assets, along with “opportunities for tourism related to exploration” such as ornithological tourism.

US Ambassador Rubin with Minister Angelkova. Photo by Ministry of Tourism.

Americans should be informed about the fact that Bulgaria is a safe travel destination, Rubin stated. He and the minister said a direct flight between Bulgaria and the US would boost the development of tourism between these countries.

While Serbia has direct flights to the United States, Bulgaria does not. But this kind of discussion is being revived on a regular basis, without any outcome. From Sofia, flights to the US always involve connecting flights at other European airports. This aspect increases the travel time substantially.

Regarding promotion in America, Minister Nikolina Angelkova has already delivered. She said her ministry had run an advertising campaign on billboards in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Las Vegas, along with online ads, in the past few months. She pointed out that these were the very first Bulgarian tourism ads in the US ever.

So far, the numbers are relatively low. From January to October of 2017, 80,000 American tourists came to Bulgaria. At least there is a 10 percent increase compared to last year.

Since taking office, Angelkova has worked on promoting Bulgaria as a year-round tourist destination. Apart from the obvious way of spending holidays in Bulgaria, at the Black Sea coast in summer, this is about cultural tourism, spa tourism (hot water springs) and winter tourism.

Things work quite well the other way around. Bulgarians who can afford overseas travel do fly to the United States a lot. A shopping spree on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, museum visits in Washington D.C., selfies at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, or staring at the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington: Rich Bulgarians do all of that. They know the US exist, they know how to get there and what to look at. This way around, the travel business basically promotes itself.

Constantly, Minister Nikolina Angelkova is searching for new ways to promote her country. The latest one she is exploring is “the link between tourism and the cinema industry”. Both Ambassador Rubin and the minister said they believed an increase in international movie productions in Bulgaria would have a positive effect.

What this approach is concerned, Angelkova is in touch with the obvious place: Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia. Just days ago, Nu Boyana’s director Yariv Lerner told The Sofia Globe, Minister Angelkova was already talking to him.

Hollywood stars who have been shooting motion pictures at Nu Boyana like Bulgaria. Gerard Butler even came back for a private vacation. But his stay did not increase the number of American tourists in Bulgaria at all. The problem: He is not American, but Scottish.

“Doctored” photo at top of page: Nevski Cathedral, but Imanuel Marcus.

 

Yariv Lerner and all the action at Nu Boyana Film Studios in Bulgaria

 

 

 

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