From forex bureaus to package holidays: Bulgaria’s consumer watchdog issues warnings

The head of Bulgaria’s Consumer Protection Commission, Dimitar Margaritov, has issued a series of warnings and advice to tourists visiting the country’s Black Sea coast in summer 2019.

Margaritov issued the warnings in a succession of interviews in June with local media.

He called on tourists to be extremely careful when using foreign exchange offices at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast with regard to the exchange rate information provided.

In the past, the Commission has encountered unfair practices aimed at deceiving consumers – mostly Bulgarians living abroad and foreign citizens who have come on holiday to Bulgaria.

One trick was to display souvenirs with the flags of various countries, especially those whose currencies most often are exchanged, giving the impression that these are the exchange rates offered. In reality, the exchange rate offered was different, and unfavourable: “A misleading practice that is subject to a sanction,” Margaritov said.

He also warned people to be careful when booking holidays online, including through social networks. Tourists should compare different types of offers from different sources, he said. This was especially true with “last-minute” offers.

When buying a package holiday for the summer break, it was extremely important to check the terms. Before signing and paying, customers should be sure that they are dealing with a registered tour operator, he said.

Registered tour operators are obliged to maintain a valid professional liability insurance, and according to Bulgaria’s current regulations, this was the only means of satisfying financial claims in the event of a problem.

Among the most common problems that consumers have reported to the Consumer Protection Commission in connection with travel packages is that prior information is not provided on time or is incomplete or inaccurate.

Other complaints relate to hotel accommodation differing from what was promised.

The commission has a deadline of a month to respond to a complaint, but Margaritov said that in the case of tourists’ problems, much more rapid intervention was needed.

Other complaints relate to the fact that the accommodation is different from the hotel, the hotel conditions do not correspond to those described or transport problems.

“So at the moment we have more teams in places where there are larger numbers of tourists – in order to be able to assist immediately,” he said.

Over the past year, the commission has carried out more than 8000 inspections in the tourism business, resulting in the shutdown of 80 unfair practices and the shutting down of 116 tourist and tour operator offices that were operating in violation of the regulations, without categorization or registration.

He said that one of the major emphases in the commission’s work this summer was to check spa centres, to establish whether they were certified according to regulations.

The most common breaches at spa centres were the lack of a certificate, or the centre providing only some of the services it claimed to, as well as failure to disclose prices of services.

Margaritov urged tourists, when choosing a spa hotel, to check up information. The Ministry of Tourism’s website has a register of spa facilities.

Intensive checks of summer holiday facilities in Bulgaria would begin in early July, he said.

In the interviews, he said that while the commission’s investigations of Bulgaria’s Black Sea holiday facilities accounted for about four per cent of the 23 000 probes it conducted a year, there had a steady decrease in complaints from tourists in recent years.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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