Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts are expected to record lower visitor numbers in the 2019 summer season, which current estimates put at between five and eight per cent compared to last year, Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said on July 5.
Angelkova, who was in Parliament to speak in support of the bill of amendments to the Concessions Act, which would give the Tourism Ministry control over concession tenders for beaches, said that the latest numbers were in line with forecasts made at the start of the year.
She blamed the efforts of countries like Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt to increase their appeal as tourist destinations, but said that efforts were being made to salvage this year’s summer season. “We are doing everything possible to increase interest towards last-minute bookings,” she said, as quoted by Bulgarian National Radio (BNR).
In the longer-term, the ministry was working on a mechanism to help organised tourism, similar to models employed by Greece, Spain and Croatia, which would be put to industry discussion in August and could start working as early as next year, Angelkova said.
“This would allow large tour operators, who impact the market and tourist flows, to take it into account and direct charter flights capacity and tourists towards Bulgaria for the summer of 2020,” she was quoted as saying.
MPs passed at first reading the Concession Act amendments, which envision beach concessions once again being regulated under the Black Sea Act. The bill also envisions quicker tenders, which could run afoul of EU concession regulations, according to some environmental groups, Sega daily reported.
The vote comes a day after Angelkova attended a meeting with industry representatives in the seaside resort of Slunchev Bryag to discuss issues faced by the tourism sector.
The meeting appeared to have been prompted by recent photos on social media, which showed empty rows of umbrellas and chaise longues at Bulgarian beaches, with posts decrying the high daily rental costs charged by concessionaires.
Angelkova said after the meeting that ministry began a review of older concession contracts, signed under previous rules that did not take into account prices charged to consumers. She did not say what levers the ministry had, if any, to force concessionaires to cut rental prices.
Speaking to MPs on July 5, Angelkova said that “it is important to find a balance, to have the correct and competitive development of the Bulgarian Black Sea tourist product. I am very angry when I see this entire negative campaign that has an enormous impact on the image of Bulgarian tourism,” as quoted by BNR.
But criticism of Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts is not new, with news reports and social media posts about high prices intermingled with complaints about over-development becoming a routine occurrence each summer for more than a decade.
In the meantime, the number of Bulgarians heading for their summer holidays to Greece has grown steadily in recent years, with the Interior Ministry announcing on July 5 plans to open additional lanes to ease the passage of cars at the Kulata border checkpoint this weekend.
(Angelkova, left, on a visit to the Kamchia beach in June 2019. Photo: Tourism Ministry)