Opinion: Bulgaria’s extended winter tourism season

As the winter ski season nears its end and before we get to read the official statistics that show that “2018 was a record year with x per cent more visitors than last year,” a fact which will probably come to fruition despite the perhaps cynical thought that such news nowadays sounds like a blast from the past; rather like the old communist party manifesto reporting year on year growth with regular monotony despite the fact that in reality there was no growth.

However, I digress because those who have invested in the ski product should be pretty proud of the current product; a product that can stand shoulder to shoulder with many European rivals and a product that provides a huge financial boost to the country’s GDP. It is interesting though to look at where the Bulgarian ski industry is missing out as the world of travel evolves from the once obligatory seven-night package.

The weekend of March when the clocks go forward and welcome spring is, unofficially at least, the end of many people’s ski season. Except that is, if you are a skier!

Taking Bansko as an example, during this season-changing March weekend, the bars and restaurants on the Saturday  are all open; on the Sunday many are not: they have finished their season. Snow may be in abundance, the pistes are perfect but many entrepreneurs have decided that this is when the close, so close their business they do.

Not very long ago, the ski industry was dependent on tour operators charter flights to bring in the masses and they operated Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday; it was seven-night, take it or leave it.

The “clock changing weekend” was when they operated their last return flights and the final tourists said goodbye for the season. The world recently has changed, though it seems this message has not got across to many.

So-called “low cost” airlines now connect Bulgaria with what seems like every corner of Europe, flights to traditional source ski markets like the UK and Germany operate countless times per day; skiers can now come for a weekend or a few days, they can come at short notice if they see ski conditions are good and they skiers are more affluent than times gone by.

While skiing during the “clock change weekend”, it was noticeable that the pistes were full of British, Greeks and a fair share of Israelis and other nationalities. Almost certainly none were a part of a typical package holiday.

People were talking of “a quick visit’’ from the UK to take in a few days skiing while the conditions were perfect, and indeed perfect they were. Indeed, conditions for skiing are often better at the end of March and into April than they are around the Christmas/New Year period.

People are nowadays flexible in when and how they take their holidays, that flexibility needs to also be shown by the people within the ski resorts, otherwise the scenario prevails where “people don’t come skiing because there is nothing working” allied with “there is nothing working because there are no people!”

Funnily enough, the same adage can be applied to the Black Sea, which seems to want to close as early in September as is possible despite the potential for warm weather and despite the potential of expanding the summer season by several weeks.

Mother Nature’s gift to Bulgaria may have been its climate with the clear seasons, it would therefore be silly that if, while other European ski resorts can and do happily open until well into April, and continue to attract tourists at this time, Bulgaria loses a month or 25 per cent of its season because it can’t get its tourism act together.

(Photo: Via the Facebook page of Bansko Blog)



Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is Managing Director of Jamadvice Travel / BCD Bulgaria, one of Bulgaria’s leading Travel Management Companies with 28 years market leading presence on the Bulgarian market.