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Bulgaria Tries to Avoid Mass-Tourism Quagmire

Source: Deutsche Welle, Germany
Published Date: 12 Aug 2007

The Mediterranean island of Mallorca has come to symbolize everything bad about cheap, mass tourism: crowded beaches full of drunken louts and cheapskates. Buglaria's Black Sea Coast wants to avoid the same fate.

Bulgarian vacation spots along the Black Sea are in a quandary. They are drawn to the short-term money mass tourism brings, but don't want to make the same mistakes as the Spanish.

Yet without a significant change in direction, that seems to be the way the country's coastline is headed.

Investors have built gigantic hotel complexes, significantly increasing the number of beds along the Black Sea Coast. This has caused a price war. A night in a holiday apartment costs on average 25 euros ($34.50) while a night in a single room can be as little as 2 euros. Hotels without a water view sit nearly empty.

Too little infrastructure

Empty beds are only one of the Bulgarian tourism industry's problems. During the recent building spree, the accompanying infrastructure never materialized, said Marin Neschkow, head of the tourism board and a tourism expert at the university in Varna, the largest city on Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast.

Businesses have invested millions of euros to build beautiful hotel grounds, bars and other amenities. But the corresponding transportation and communication networks are lacking. There's also insufficient water supply and sewage treatment, Neschkow said.

Hotels are built so quickly that skilled workers can not be trained quickly enough. Their apprenticeships take several years. But the problem, according to Neschkow is not the dearth of places in Bulgarian training programs, it's the fact that many students no longer stick around in the summers to work in the Bulgarian tourism industry. Instead, they go abroad.

"Tourism pays the lowest average wage in Bulgaria. It is not logical, when one thinks about it, that international tourism amounts to 14 percent of the country's gross national product," Neschkow said.

Tourism provides two billion euros each year, approximately half of Bulgaria's trade deficit.

Responsible tourism?

The tourism industry represents the biggest hope for an economic boom in Bulgaria. The number of tourists continues to rise and Bulgaria has managed to build modern hotels, which provide quality similar to that guests would expect to find in central Europe. That contrasts with nearby Romania, Neschkow said.

But Bulgaria needs to be careful not to rely solely on Black Sea mass tourism, Neschkow said. In the long term, the country will need to increase not only the overall revenue from tourism but also how much each tourist spends.

It seems the Bulgarian government is considering a change in its tourism strategy.

"We're trying to market Bulgaria as a year-round tourism destination," said Stanislaw Nowakow of the state tourism agency.

"We're actively promoting the possibilities in health and wellness tourism, since there are a lot of mineral springs in Bulgaria. In the upcoming year we will highlight our cultural monuments and promote Bulgaria as a country with a multifaceted cultural past."