Bulgaria is developing into more than just an alternative to Turkey, with attractive beaches for families and better tourism infrastructure, according to German tour operators.
For years the country on the Black Sea was seen only as a cheap destination for mass-market tourists but thanks to investments it is starting to emerge from the shadows of Turkey and Greece as an attractive destination with a broader range of offers for different holidaymakers.
German visitor numbers increased strongly last year. Tour operators have reported continued good demand for summer 2017 and are currently reacting by increasing capacity with more flights.
“At present, the booking figures (for Bulgaria) are showing double-digit growth compared to last year,” said Halina Strzyzewska, FTI’s product manager for Eastern Europe. The Munich-based tour operator has just contracted additional twice-weekly flights from Frankfurt and Düsseldorf with Bulgarian Air Charter from April 30.
“At the moment we’re virtually swamped with enquiries about trips to the Black Sea destination. That’s why we’ve increased flight capacity at short notice,” said Carsten Seeliger, Thomas Cook Germany’s head of sales, marketing and e-commerce. Neckermann Reisen is expanding its Bulgaria programme by 10,000 airline seats with new weekly Condor charter flights from Düsseldorf and Frankfurt to Varna from May 30. Overall, Thomas Cook Germany will offer daily departures from Düsseldorf and five weekly flights from Frankfurt to the country this summer.
Bulgaria has certainly benefited from customers switching away from Turkey over the last year. “I offer the country above all as an alternative (to Turkey) to families with children,” said travel agent Tamara Behrens, from Reisewelt Behrens in Rühen (near Wolfsburg). Bulgaria offers excellent value for money, especially in comparison to Greece and Spain, and is at a similar price level to Turkey, according to FTI’s Strzyzewska.
Rolf-Dieter Maltzahn, DER Touristik’s head of package holidays, commented: “Holidays in Bulgaria are popular. The feedback is good, and there has been a very low level of complaints for many years.”
Opinions differ, however, over the destination’s hotel quality, although experts agree that it has steadily improved in recent years thanks to new investments. “For the coming summer season we see many hotels that are investing in renovations and modernisation, and thus improve the hotel quality,” commented Kevin Ach, senior product manager Bulgaria at Neckermann Reisen. In contrast, Karsten Fricke, head of product management at Alltours, said: “Although a lot has been invested in Bulgaria, the hotels there cannot be compared with those in Turkey.”
DER Touristik’s Maltzahn said that the hotels have improved but pointed out a different problem. “Since Bulgaria’s admission to the EU, many qualified service staff have moved to other EU countries. That creates concerns for tour operators.”
With its flat beaches on the Black Sea coast, Bulgaria is an ideal destination for price-conscious customers, Alltours manager Fricke confirmed. The two main beach areas remain ‘Golden Sands’, north of Varna, and ‘Sunny Beach’, north of Burgas.
DER Touristik’s Maltzahn described the lesser-known resort of Obsor as “a real jewel, especially for families”. He explained: “The hotels are farther apart and the beaches slope gently into the sea, while the infrastructure is ideally developed for holidaymakers with children.” The resort of Albena has also developed rapidly in recent years as a family holiday destination.
But the country certainly has more to offer. Varna’s historic centre, for example, has UNESCO ‘World Cultural Heritage’ status as does Nessebar, while the country’s interior has much to attract cultural tourists and nature-lovers. FTI’s Strzyzewska recommends: “Bulgaria should work on an image campaign to present itself as a modern, young and dynamic destination with many aspects.”