Interview Persons

Lachezar Todorov – CEO Terra Tour Service EOOD

Our hotels establish Bulgaria as a destination on the World Travel Destinations Map

– Mr. Todorov, thank you for this conversation! Tell us briefly when and how your career in tourism started and what are the emblematic places where you worked before taking up the position of Executive Director of Terra Tour Service EOOD – a company that has focused on the field of investment, construction and operation of real estate and significant tourist sites on the territory of Bulgaria.

– After working for 10 years at Carlson Wagonly Travel, I joined the team of Agrohold and together we laid the foundations of Terra Tour Service EOOD, that is the largest company in the holding in terms of assets and turnover, which concentrates investments in tourism in Bulgaria. The company started its activities in the hotel business in 2000, and to date it is one of the significant companies in this sector in the country. There are 8 hotels offering a total of over 2,300 rooms and suites, ranging from 3 to 5 stars, operated by international brands.

Over the years, we have successfully implemented two projects in the field of real estate (apartments and villas), a golf complex, we work together with the state authorities in several hunting farms and with the Municipality of Pravets in the management of the sports complex in the city.

– Workers in the tourism industry and consumers await with great interest the answer to the question how your hotels which have so far welcomed guests under the RIU brand will continue their development. In August, your company officially announced that it suspended its previous cooperation with RIU SA II. The partnership with Riu Helios Bay, Riu Helios, Riu Helios Paradise and Riu Palace Sunny Beach will continue until the end of 2022 and with SUNEO Helios Beach and Riu Pravets Resort – until the end of 2021. Tell us about the concept of the hotels after 1 January 2022.

– The partnership between Terra Tour Service EOOD and RIU SA II led to the stable presence of the brand in Bulgaria. The past twenty years will remain a good example in the tourism of our country of stable business relations. The implementation of good practices and procedures by a chain with experience and hotels all over the world has laid the foundations for sustainable holiday tourism. After 20 years of fruitful partnership for both parties, we decided it was time to look for new horizons.

In 2022, SUNEO Helios Beach will continue to operate under the same brand of the world tour operator TUI, and from January, Pravets Resort will operate independently until the long-awaited planned renovation, that will start later in 2022.

We negotiate intensively with different potential partners to find the most suitable brand for each of the hotels. At this moment, we have conversations with several international chains standing out with impeccable quality of service. Attracting them will inevitably contribute not only to the product offered by the hotels of Terra Tour Service EOOD, but it will also contribute to the establishment of Bulgaria as a destination on the world tourist map.

– The newest pride of your company is the 5-star Hyatt Regency Sofia, which opened its doors in the heart of the capital a little over a year ago. You have extensive experience in managing high quality hotels. What is more difficult today – to find high-quality staff or guests looking for a high-quality product?

– I don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic has lessened guests’ desire for high quality. I am sure that when travel and, in particular, international travel, regains its full potential, we will welcome the same and even greater number of guests compared to 2019.

High quality is not always associated with high prices, so even today, even with objectively suppressed demand, the hotel already has its loyal customers. They choose from our Italian boss Sami Flavio’s suggestions in the Revolutionary Dining Room and from the signature cocktails in The Scene Rooftop Bar. The infinite possibilities of the modern conference centre are a prerequisite for hosting a large number of the latest events taking place in the capital at the moment.

– New 4 and 5-star hotels opened doors over the last year in the capital. The accommodation capacity and the competition have increased considerably. Has the time come for the capital to have new and more opportunities (big and prestigious sports events, concerts, etc. events) to attract tourists and fill the hotels?

– Definitely most hotels allow for the organization of large scale international events and with a large number of visitors. However, putting Sofia on the European map of events can only happen with excellent coordination between private, municipal and state interests. From the reception at Sofia Airport, the holding of the event in the National Palace of Culture and other major event centres to the opening of the door of the luxury hotel room after the dinner in the modern restaurant of the hotel – the event should give a guest a sense of uniqueness, which will make them visit our country again and this time with their family. We have the opportunity to show the international organizations and companies the advantages of Sofia as a convention centre, as well as the symbiosis between tradition, history and modern technologies, delicious food and modern trends but with clean local products. All this, of course, can only happen with the full support of Sofia Municipality.

– Coronavirus caused huge losses to the tourism industry worldwide – cancelled flights and reservations, cancelled events, loss of staff, additional hygiene costs and much more. What do your estimates for the last two years show? How did Covid-19 affect the company you represent?

– Severely. A drop in turnover of more than 60% in 2020 and severe financial losses. We have seen significant improvement for 2021, but still too far from 2019 results and our projections at that time for this year. With the help of the banks that support us, the accumulated reserves and the confidence of the owner of the company we continue to develop the existing projects. The thing we are most proud of is that we managed to keep a large number of the staff and move forward together.

– Your hotels were among the pioneers in the implementation of anti-epidemic measures in Bulgaria at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. How did you decide on the measures that would keep the health both of the staff and the guests. And today, can you say that they were the most appropriate?

– Fortunately, we gained access very quickly to the Covid protocols of both chains, which in turn developed them on the basis of international and long-standing experience. By comparing them, we found that, in addition to overlapping for the most part, they are also adequate and very appropriate. Thanks to the measures this year the summer season was also successful with excellent occupation, albeit too short in duration.

– What is your forecast for 2022 and when do you expect the tourism industry to recover from the global pandemic? 

– Although the early bookings for the 2022 season are quite optimistic for our hotels, I expect a conservative growth compared to 2021 and results still 10 to 20% lower than those in 2019. Full recovery to pre-crisis levels we anticipate in 2023.

Interview by Ruslan Yordanov

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