Bulgaria’s Plovdiv faces tourist accommodation challenge as European Capital of Culture 2019 approaches

The number of tourists coming to Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv is expected to double in 2019 when it holds the European Capital of Culture title – creating a challenge in providing accommodation in a destination already seeing sharply higher tourist numbers in recent years.

According to Bulgaria’s National Statistical Institute, there are just 9643 beds for tourists in Plovdiv, although this figure is not seen as including less formal accommodation such as city residents letting out premises through, for instance, airbnb.

In 2016, going by official figures, about a million tourists visited Plovdiv. Separate figures show that between 2014 and 2017, the number of foreign tourists visiting Plovdiv increased by close to 40 per cent.

Yordan Iliev of the Old Plovdiv municipal institute told local media that the city had seen a 105 per cent increase in tourists in the past four years.

Photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The European Capital of Culture status in 2019 is forecast to see two million people visiting Plovdiv. Mayor Ivan Totev expects the opening weekend alone, in early January, to bring between 50 000 and 80 000 people to the city – exceeding hotel capacity 10 times over.

Two hotels are opening in coming months, but the city will largely have to rely on private homes and small hotels to accommodate its guests.

Iliev said that the trend in visitors to the city was of weekend visits, mainly young Bulgarians aged 30 to 40, attracted by the rising number of cultural and entertainment events and by Plovdiv’s vibrant nightlife. He said that in 2019, the trend would turn to an increase in foreign tourists.

Plovdiv’s Kapana district. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Currently, the largest numbers of foreign tourists visiting Plovdiv came from Spain, Italy, Germany and France, followed by Turks, Greeks, US and UK nationals. In 2017, the number of nights spent by foreigners in Plovdiv was 50 per cent higher than in 2014.

Ivo Prodanov, owner of Plovdiv’s popular Hemingway restaurant, told local news website Plovdiv24: “”We are worried and proud of what is happening in Plovdiv, and I do not know exactly if the forecasts will come true, but if even one third of what is expected will happen, the city will find it hard to cope”.

According to Prodanov, Plovdiv entrepreneurs have been late in investing in new hotels and restaurants before the expected influx of foreign tourists when the city is European Capital of Culture.

Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

A few new hotels have opened or will relatively soon. One is the Residence City Garden, next to the Tsar Simeon Garden, which opened this autumn after a three million leva investment in the five-storey hotel. Another is the Puldin Coop, reportedly to begin hosting guests by the end of the year, which will have 42 rooms, 73 beds, a restaurant and conference facilities, at Tsar Boris III Obedinitel Boulevard.

A building on Angel Bukuresliev Street, dating from the late 19th century, is being renovated for conversion into a boutique hotel, while a three-star, 150-bed hotel is to open near Plovdiv Central Railway Station. Construction of a 60-room hotel near St Petka Church began in May 2018 but is due for completion only in May 2020.

Plovdiv24 said according to AirDNA, there were currently 640 places available via airbnb in Plovdiv, with 460 hosts, a huge increase since 2014 when there were just 65 such places in the city.

Most of the accommodation on offer was one- and two-room apartments. September is the peak time for airbnb places in Plovdiv, with more than 50 per cent occupancy, compared with the weakest month, December, when it drops to about 25 per cent.

Plovdiv 2019 Foundation director Kiril Velchev said that the situation would be helped by the accommodation in resort towns in the Plovdiv district. He said that a month ago, he had held a meeting with the mayor of the town of Hisariya, who had promised to help, while tourists also could be accommodated in Peshtera, Assenovgrad and Pamporovo.

Iliev said that efforts were being made to co-ordinate events in the city among the different organisers.

“We have spoken to the organisers of the Kapana Fest, to hold the Festival of the Old Town after next year, and for the two events to flow in sequence.” The idea was not to have competition, but to offer a product that adds value, leaving guests satisfied with their experience and putting money into the city’s economy, Iliev said.

For Velchev, the increase in the flow of tourists to Plovdiv in 2019 was not a problem, but a challenge, similar to that faces by other cities that had held the European Capital of Culture title. The organisers and the private sector were aware of the situation. “I am absolutely sure that we will cope,” Velchev said.

(Main photo: Marcelo Gerpe/freeimages.com)



The Sofia Globe staff

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