Ivo Marinov, Deputy Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism with field Tourism, talks about the start of the summer tourist season and the amendments to the Tourism Act, in an interview for Focus News Agency.
Focus: Mr Marinov, are the expectations for a good tourist season being met, at the moment?
Ivo Marinov: The summer season is going well for now, despite the difficulties, as in a short period of time we have a concentration of a considerable number of tourists. Thanks to the measures we took for facilitation of the visa regime and opening of additional visa-issuing centres in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the countries from the Persian Gulf, we witness a growth of the number of foreign tourists, which is different for the different countries. The data we have reveals that the expectations for a 10-15% growth of Russian tourists are being met. The 10,000th visa for a Russian citizen for Bulgaria was issued in the beginning of the month. From a point of view of issued visas, the growth compared to last year is 15%. The Ukrainian market is also going well. Towards the end of June we registered a 75% growth of Ukrainian tourists, compared to 2011. The situation with Belarus is similar, as by the end of June the growth, compared to last year, was 31%. The data of big tour operators, sending British citizens to Bulgaria, reveals a growth of around 10% for the summer season, which will compensate the downturn we registered from this market in the winter season. The German market will also have a slight growth, compared to last year.
The data that we have from the airports in Varna and Burgas confirm this trend, as the number of chartered flights, servicing foreign tourists, has surged. The results by now are promising and we expect a successful season.
Focus: What is the situation with regards to internal tourism?
Ivo Marinov: The investments made in the road infrastructure, with the opening of Meden Rudnik road junction between Burgas and Sozopol, Lot 3 of Trakiya Motorway from Nova Zagora to Yambol, and the upcoming opening of the Petolachkata road junction, would facilitate the tourists’ travel to the seaside.
We have registered a nearly 48.6% growth of the income from sleeping accommodations in May 2012, compared to April 2012, according to the National Statistical Institute. The income from foreign tourists was nearly 78% higher, while the one from Bulgarian tourists – nearly 19% higher. The total number of rooms, in all accommodation facilities, taken in May was 51% higher than in April. All information we receive from different sources speak about a successful season.
Focus: Are there any markets, from where a downturn of the number of tourists, compared to last year, is observed?
Ivo Marinov: We do not have such information. There was a slight downturn from some markets in May, but in June all markets have registered growth in the number tourists.
Focus: What is the data for the tourist flow from neighbouring countries to Bulgaria? From Greece, for example, as it is one of our main competitors in the sphere of tourism.
Ivo Marinov: The data for Greece shows a slight growth of tourists from that country, compared to last year. The markets of Serbia, Macedonia, and Romania are going well. Generally speaking, there is high interest for holidays in Bulgaria from all markets.
Focus: You mentioned some of the factors, which would contribute positively for the surge of tourist flow to Bulgaria. Could you draw a conclusion on how the crisis affects the tourism sector? Is the crisis in the tourism sector over?
Ivo Marinov: It is different for different markets. The economic situation in each country is very individual and this reflects on the tourist plans of the people from each country, regardless of the destination. The data we have shows that the economic situation in different countries has not, by now, affected the people’s intention to travel to Bulgaria, especially when you bear in mind the fact that we are a very competitive destination with regards to the price-to-quality ratio.
Focus: Apart from seaside tourism, which is preferred, are there any other types of tourism that attract interest during the summer season?
Ivo Marinov: Naturally, seaside tourism is the leading tourist sphere, and will continue being such in the future, for this time of the year. There are, however, other types of tourism, which are attracting more and more popularity – cultural tourism, rural tourism, and eco tourism. Many tourist objects were constructed, over the last few years, around Bulgaria, which offer very good conditions. We should not forget balneotherapy and spa tourism, which is year-round and has enjoyed a very positive development over the last couple of years.
Focus: Could the recent price hike of electricity in Bulgaria and the implemented full smoking ban on public places have a negative effect on this season?
Ivo Marinov: There are no reports on financial losses for the business in the summer season, as a result of the smoking ban. There are certain segments, which would suffer slightly – for example casinos, night clubs, and discos.
With regards to the price of electricity, you know that the prices in the tourism sector are being negotiated one year earlier. The prices, which are currently announced, and at which hotel services have been sold last year and earlier this year cannot be renegotiated. The price hike could reduce, slightly, the profit of hotel and restaurant owners, or they could compensate from some other sectors. This compensation, however, should not reflect the quality of the offered services.
Focus: How do you expect the proposed amendments to the Tourism Act to affect the future of the tourism sector?
Ivo Marinov: The amendments will have a positive effect. We will guarantee a higher quality of the offered services, based on the term of categorisation, introduction of standards for balneotherapy and spa services, a better regulation of the tour operator and tour agent activities, and the level of information of the different tourism regions in Bulgaria will be improved, in order to be able to have a more accurate data on the number of tourist objects in different regions and what the potential flow of tourists that can be absorbed by each region is.
Focus: How are the legislative amendments viewed by the companies from the tourism sector?
Ivo Marinov: I think that we reached a consensus on the texts of the amendments. We have been discussing these amendments with all branch organisations over the last two years. The members of the tourism business were given a chance to supply their proposals and opinions on the possible amendments, and they did so, and naturally we accepted the good proposals. During our last meeting, a month ago, with representatives of the tourism sector, we reached a final consensus on all amendments to the legislation. You have to bear in mind that when we talk about legislative amendments it is very difficult to reach a consensus, but I think that this time we succeeded.
Focus: What was the reason behind the proposal for the term of categorisation?
Ivo Marinov: The theory and practice show that a hotel is amortised for a period of seven years. Over the last few years many new hotels of high categories were built. Having this in mind, we will change the categorisation term to five years, in order to guarantee the quality of services offered by hotels, and thus protect the rights of consumers. The idea is not to impose additional administrative expenses to hotels, but rather to have a detailed review of a hotel, during which the category it is in will be verified.
Focus: How does the advertising campaign for Bulgaria as a tourist destination affect the number of foreign tourists? Have you noticed any positive results, since the start of the advertising campaign, or do you still have a lot of work in this sphere?
Ivo Marinov: Naturally, the funds that were earmarked from the national budget for advertising Bulgaria as a tourist destination, as well as the money absorbed from OP Regional Development, have had a positive effect. There were many projects, logically interconnected, and each one of them improved the effect of the others. Currently we are preparing tender procedures for five new projects, which will have an additional positive effect on the activities made by now. There are several projects, which are of key importance, as the Integrated Communication Campaign for sale-pitching Bulgaria as a year-round tourism destination on the Russian, German, Swedish, Romanian, Polish, and Ukrainian markets. We are also preparing a communication campaign for encouraging internal tourism.