Interview Persons

From the creation of a separate Ministry of tourism until the worldwide pandemic, tourism in Bulgaria grew 34%

The stable annual growth achieved by Bulgarian tourism since the creation of a separate Ministry of tourism in 2014 proved without doubt the decision of the government under Prime minister Boyko Borisov to highlight the importance of this sector for Bulgaria’s economy. Already then, minister Nikolina Angelkova concentrated her efforts on establishing Bulgaria as a high-class, year-round tourist destination. Together with her team, she focused on the development of specialized types of tourism, improving the quality of the national tourist product, and its competitiveness. 

– Two years were enough time for our country to be established as a preferred destination. Already in 2016, Bulgaria was showing record growth in tourist visits. Between January and September, nearly 7 million foreign tourists visited our country, 15% more than in 2015. 

– Boyko Borisov’s government also focused on foreign investments. Worldwide brands in the sector started making large-scale investments in the country in recent years – Hyatt, Marriot, Orbis, Intercontinental. This was also direct proof of the successful processes of rebranding Bulgaria as a destination, and our country began to attract an ever higher class of tourists.

In just 5 years, the trend was reversed, and Bulgaria’s image was no longer that of a country offering cheap tourism, but a destination with a quality product and modern facilities at competitive prices.

– In the period between 2015 and 2019 inclusive, national and European statistics showed 31% growth in the number of foreign tourists and 34% increased revenue. These indicators were highlighted as extremely successful in comparison analyses in worldwide tourist bulletins.      

– 2019 was a record year for Bulgarian tourism with 9.3 million foreign tourist visits in Bulgaria, over BGN 8 billion revenue, and over 27 million nights sold in facilities with over 10 beds within the country. 

– Bulgaria showed a strong presence as a partner to international and European tourist organizations, participated in their management bodies, worldwide tourist agencies directed a steady flow of their chartered programs to the Black sea and our winter resorts.

– The Ministry of tourism developed a platform for specialized tourism in cooperation with sector and specialized organizations in tourism. 9 cultural and historical destinations were created, 12 wine and food destinations, and 7 balenological and spa.

–  MT organized participation and promotion of Bulgaria as a destination at 26 international tourist fairs and targeted and prospective markets. It held integrated communication campaigns on 16 targeted markets (Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Greece, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and France), as well as a campaign within the television and digital channels of CNN, National Geographic, Euronews, Travel channel. On BBC, the campaign promoted the opportunities for investments in tourism through the first edition of Investing in Tourism Sustainability Conference in Sunny Beach. We also partnered with leading international companies TUI and Der Touristik. Through these campaigns, we managed to achieve a competitive position and to maintain last year’s record-breaking results.

– The Ministry of tourism became the first state administration to introduce an option for its services to be used 24/7 using face identification. This was done to facilitate tourist business and was introduced long before the need to observe physical distance had arisen. For this innovation, the Ministry of tourism received an award at the annual BAIT awards in the “State administration” category.       

– In 2019, Bulgaria scored a big win by gaining the confidence of a key market like Germany in the health tourism sector. Thanks to the joint efforts of Minister Angelkova, BUBSPA, and the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, our country was given the green light to work together with German health funds by signing an agreement, and they committed to send German citizens to Bulgaria to use the services of our balneological and spa facilities. 

– The Unified tourist information system started operating in 2019. The system’s goal is to provide an overview of the diverse tourist activity within the country to take justified decisions in the sector, and also to guarantee a transparent economic environment, placing competitiveness in the sector on a real foundation. 

– Bulgaria was among the few countries that preserved their image among foreign tourists as a stable and hospitable destination in the worldwide crisis surrounding the bankruptcy of the oldest international tourist agency Thomas Cook. Despite the great financial damage caused by the bankruptcy, there were no tourists stranded on airports in Bulgaria, as seen in many other countries, including popular tourist destinations. The work done by the Ministry of tourism and Bulgarian hotel operators to organize the successful completion of the holidays of tourists left in our country was widely and gratefully covered in worldwide press.   

– Despite the Thomas Cook crisis, the prediction for Bulgaria to welcome its 10 millionth tourist in 2020 was realistic. The winter of 2019/2020 began with serious and stable growth. And so up to early 2020, when the entire world faced the COVID-19 pandemic. 

– Immediately after the announcement of a State of emergency in the country, the Ministry of tourism was prepared and suggested 25 measures directed entirely at the tourist business in our country. They were all created when the CОVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented damage all over the world and stopped travel. 

– The Ministry of tourism prepared for the tourist sector Recommendations to accommodation providers to begin operation after the end of the State of emergency approved by the Health ministry. The effect of the measures was demonstrated in the summer – not a single tourist, Bulgarian or foreign, was infected at the accommodation facilities. The rules of operation at hotels and accommodation providers are still in force now and will be observed during the upcoming winter season. 

– A great success as a result of the tremendous effort of Minister Nikolina Angelkova was the support mechanism for organized tourism in Bulgaria approved by the European commission, with EUR 35 in charters per foreign tourist brought to our country by a tourist agency. This guarantees an increased number of tourists in our country immediately after the end of quarantine, when regular travel becomes possible.  

– Another serious measure undertaken by Angelkova to support the sector were vouchers for a late summer season with a focus on stimulating domestic tourism, as well as providing holiday vouchers to front-line workers in the fight against coronavirus, allowing them to use the sites included in the National tourist register.

– Already within the first months of the pandemic, measures undertaken by Boyko Borisov’s government to protect the life and health of tourists received indisputable international recognition. Bulgaria was among the first countries to receive a Safe Travel stamp – a token of safety and hygiene from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) which allows differentiating destinations with increased hygiene standards for travel.  

– By suggestion of the Ministry of tourism, a form of support for tourist agencies was introduced in the Law on measures and actions during the State of emergency. A tourist agency which has to refund an amount paid to a tourist for travel cancelled because of the State of emergency may offer the tourist a voucher for that value, as well as an agreement for a replacement tourist package. 

– Other measures included an extension by one month after the end of the State of emergency of the deadlines envisaged in the Law on tourism related to the rights and obligations of persons and companies within the sector. This hypothesis included also the deadlines for provision of all types of documents under the Law on tourism and the deadlines related to the work of various specialized commissions. During the State of emergency, on-site audits for claimed category and certification were suspended. In case of expiration of the duration of categorization certificates and temporary certificates, it was extended by one month from the end of the State of emergency. 

– A long-term measure, on which the Ministry of tourism focused its efforts, was the creation of a Guarantee fund. The idea was not new. Back in 2016 and in early 2017, this option was the subject of serious debate, but it was entirely rejected by the sector. The bankruptcy of Thomas Cook brought the subject back into the limelight by suggestion of hotel operators, so work on the guarantee fund was started even before the pandemic. 

– To deal with the crisis and to stimulate domestic tourism, Angelkova considered options for substantial reduction of prices of beach equipment under contracts for operation of beaches. Tourists also took advantage of 25 beaches where facilities were free of charge, which doubtlessly supported the increased interest of families toward Bulgarian resorts.
– By Angelkova’s suggestion, in early July, the 60/40 measure for the tourism sector became 80/20. Additional BGN 290 were given per employed person.