Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bulgaria’s Black Sea tourism – ‘Sunny Beach’ to dark storms




Bulgaria’s Black Sea tourism – ‘Sunny Beach’ to dark storms

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Bulgaria’s once-bustling Black Sea beaches sit mostly empty as the tourism sector, which accounts for roughly 12 per cent of the economy of the EU’s poorest country, has collapsed. AFP

Bulgaria’s Black Sea tourism – ‘Sunny Beach’ to dark storms

‘We need at least 100 charter flights a day,” says Plamen Kopchev, head of the hotel owners’ association in Bulgaria’s mammoth Black Sea resort of Sunny Beach, laid waste by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the trouble is, only a fraction of those flights have been arriving, a disaster for a resort Kopchev explains “is made for mass tourism” – a model that some Bulgarians have long been questioning and which now lies in tatters.

Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union and will be dealt a body blow by the virtual collapse of its tourism sector, which accounts for 12 per cent of annual economic output.

Initially, Bulgaria managed to control its infection numbers but after easing its lockdown comparatively early, it has found itself in the midst of a fresh spike.

With more than 12,000 infected and a peak of 330 new cases a day in late July, the country has been hit with travel restrictions from several western European countries.

British tourists who would normally be thronging the fine golden sands are nowhere to be seen, while the occasional Czech, Polish or Romanian family scurries to the beach through the deserted alleys or enjoy having a hotel pool to themselves.

Rows and rows of sunbeds and umbrellas lie empty while hawkers selling inflatable flamingos and other beach must-haves wait idly by.

“Our turnover is down 90 per cent from last year, there are simply no foreigners and Bulgarian visitors are few,” beach bar manager Nedelin Yankov, 37, told AFP.

“Our bar is open and that’s fine with us even if the hotel is only 15 per cent full,” said Czech teacher Lenka Svobodova, 35, who ventured on holiday with three friends.

‘Years of turbulence’

The government has tried to tackle the crisis by launching a campaign to encourage Bulgarians to holiday at home.

In addition, the tourism ministry decided to subsidise charter flights and allow in tourists with a negative virus PCR test from several neighbouring non-EU countries, as well as from Israel and Kuwait.

But those efforts seem to have largely been in vain.

Figures from Burgas airport, which services Sunny Beach, show a 98 per cent drop in charter flights in June, followed by 87 per cent in July when fewer than 400 out of an expected 2,800 planes arrived.

There is little hope the numbers will pick up for the rest of the season.

The collapse is unprecedented and “tragic” says Kopchev, adding: “None of us ever imagined anything like this could befall us.”

He says that of Sunny Beach’s more than 150 hotels, more than half have not opened and many of those that have may well have to close early.

“Mass tourism as we knew it probably won’t end but will go through years of turbulence,” Kopchev said, citing an estimate from a German tour operator that visitor numbers at Sunny Beach will likely only return to pre-virus 2019 levels in 2022.

Last year, 9.3 million foreign tourists visited Bulgaria and the government had hoped for an increase this year.

Where are the Bulgarians?

The crisis may be hitting the economy but some say there may be some positives to take from it, especially those who have long been advocating a rethink of Bulgaria’s tourism model and the construction boom it has helped fuel.

Rampant construction all along the coast – even in protected nature reserves – has put off many Bulgarians from holidaying at home, despite the government’s efforts.

They have instead largely been heading to neighbouring Turkey and Greece.

Even the long queues at the Kulata border crossing and the Greek requirement for a recent negative coronavirus test have not deterred Bulgarians from heading south.

“It’s a pity but our whole Black Sea coast is dotted with bigger or smaller villas, hotels and all kinds of buildings, many still under construction, others abandoned,” environmental activist Kremena Vateva, 38, told AFP.

In theory, construction is banned within 100m of the seashore outside urban areas but Vateva points to various loopholes that need closing in the legislation.

New construction work on a small beach bordering Alepu marsh, a protected area south of Burgas, prompted Vateva to organise a series of protests this summer under the motto “Sea without concrete”.

She is an optimist when it comes to the prospects for improving the country’s treasured coast.

“It’s not too late yet,” Vateva says.

“The important thing is to . . . repair the damage that’s already been done and make so that no new outrageous things happen,” she adds.

Whether that can be made to fit with Bulgaria’s ambition to revive its tourism sector remains to be seen.

MOST VIEWED

  • Tourists urged not to skip trip

    The Ministry of Tourism has called on international tourists not to cancel trips to Cambodia, but urged them to adhere to several dos and don’ts when arriving in the Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry released an eight-point instruction manual on Wednesday published

  • The taxman cometh – Cambodia’s capital gains tax casts the net on individual taxpayers

    In a country where only limited personal income tax existed, the new taxation law beginning January 1, 2021, will make taxpayers out of Cambodians, whether they are ready for it or not About two years ago, a little known amendment was made to Article 7 of the Law

  • Cambodian-American gets Star Trek treatment

    Kevin Ung, a Cambodian-American whose family escaped genocide during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, was recently selected from thousands of applicants to participate in the Television Academy Foundation’s inaugural 2020 Star Trek Command Training Programme, a course intended to give hands-on filmmaking experience

  • Cambodia seeks to be transport hub

    Cambodia is working on several fronts to modernise its transport infrastructure and services, concentrating on opening new international gates to relieve and balance traffic congestion at its borders, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol said on Thursday. This is part of the Kingdom’

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • Deminers unearth ancient lion statue

    Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on Tuesday that a statue of a lion was found by mine clearance experts while they were digging for a development project. It was sent to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts last