Bulgaria’s winter resorts alarmed by bar on arrival of non-EU nationals from red zone countries

Winter resorts and hotel and restaurant bodies in Bulgaria have expressed alarm at an order by Health Minister Assena Serbezova, taking effect on January 19, that bars the arrival of non-EU nationals – with an exception for permanent and long-term residents, among others – from countries classified as Covid-19 red zones.

The Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association (BHRA) said in a statement that, unless changed, the order would mean that the “winter season will end immediately”.

Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported on January 17 that hoteliers had warned of mass bankruptcies as “all reservations for tourists from Turkey, Israel, Serbia, Russia and North Macedonia had been cancelled”.

The report quoted Malin Bistrin, head of the Union of Tourist Business in Bansko and deputy chairperson of BHRA, as saying that the order had caused “bewilderment” in Bulgaria’s Ministry of Tourism as well.

“We are currently losing everything we have done for the whole season,” Bistrin said.

BNR said that the Bulgaria’s three major winter resorts – Borovets, Pamporovo and Bansko – had written to the Health Minister, Tourism Minister and Chief State Health Inspector asking for the order to be amended.

A statement by BHRA quoted Bistrin as saying that the losses would be not only financial “because the constant unnecessary change of orders makes us an uncertain destination and foreign tour operators are already refusing to organize charters and vacations in Bulgarian resorts”.

“The draft order affects major markets for our winter tourism, such as Serbia, Turkey, North Macedonia and Israel,” Bistrin said.

“We already have a protest letter from Turkish tour operators, as their vacation starts on Friday and we had many reservations for the next seven to 10 days from our southern neighbour. Our partners in Israel are preparing in a similar way,” he said.

Pamporovo PLC director and BHRA board member Marian Belyakov said that close to 15 000 overnight stays in the resort could be declined if the order comes into force.

“It is extremely unfair to always point to tourism as perhaps the most dangerous sector for the spread of the virus and to consider tourism as almost a weapon of mass destruction,” Belyakov said.

BHRA chairperson Georgi Shterev said “Once again, we insist that before health orders are issued that affect the tourism sector, they be discussed in advance with the tourism business and not enter into force overnight”.

The text of Serbezova’s order, posted on January 14, said that the bar on entry from a red zone country does not apply to Bulgarian citizens, those with permanent or long-term residence in Bulgaria and their families, citizens of other European Union countries, the European Economic Area, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as well as family members from those blocs and countries. Further details of rules regarding documentation for admission, along with the new list of red zone countries, are detailed at this link.

There are other exceptions, including medical professionals arriving in the course of their professional duties, workers involved in the supply of medicinal products, foreign officials such as members of governments and diplomats, humanitarian workers and tourism industry employees.

(Photo: Lance Nelson of banskoblog.com)

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