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Can Spa and Wellness Solve Bulgaria's Tourism Woes?

Source: International Medical Travel Journal
Published Date: 31 Oct 2009

Having experienced a poor summer season, with earnings and bookings down, Bulgaria's tourism industry is using the winter months to review the situation and find a solution. While official sources try to play down the problem, private operators say the 2009 situation is bad and likely to get worse.

Figures issued by state agencies and the industry initially suggested problems, with official sources saying arrival numbers down by between 4 and 8%, compared to the 20% down that private organisations were reporting. The reality is worse, as Bulgarian tourism this year is expected to record a decrease in revenue of between 20 and 25 per cent, according to Rumen Draganov of the Institute for Analysis and Evaluation of Tourism.

Some Black Sea resort regions reported occupancy rates below 25% in the peak month of August, despite having slashed prices by as much as 50%. The poor season has prompted many in the industry to sell up, with 700 of Bulgaria's 3000 hotels put up for sale on the market, according to figures from the Institute for Analysis and Evaluation of Tourism. The institute says the problem is a mixture of economic crisis, poor standards and increased competition from rivals Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Northern coast of Africa.

To counter the recent downturn and the longer-term malaise predicted by some for the industry, tourism operators and officials are being advised to diversify their product and develop niche appeal rather than continue to promote Bulgaria's mass-market sun-and-sea image. The EU is Bulgaria's main source of tourism revenues, with around 75% of visitors coming from Europe. The tourism industry in Bulgaria is largely dependent on the country's summer seaside resorts and mountain ski resorts.

One idea is to increase the profile and the quality of Bulgaria's spa and wellness tourism segment. Spa and wellness tourism is expected to play an increasing role in the future, and it has been made a part of the state's national strategy for sustainable development of the sector. Bulgaria has splendid opportunities for the development of a spa and wellness industry, said Anelya Krushkova of the State Agency for Tourism, She suggested that the 8000 mineral springs in Bulgaria are fresh stimulus for the development of that kind of tourism. Shortly after her statement at a Bulgarian conference on spa and wellness, the government abolished the organization, on the basis that the ex-communist state still works on the principle that if something goes wrong it must find someone to blame, and that the government has to find some money after the agency spent 140% of its 2009 budget.

A new Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism, will now be in charge of the tourism sector. How or even if, it will promote the local spa and wellness industry is too early to say.