TOURISM BAROMETER: International wine exhibition starts in Bulgaria

TOURISM BAROMETER: International wine exhibition starts in Bulgaria

Sofia Echo, Ivan Vatashov

The largest vine-growing and wine-making exhibition in the Balkans started in Bulgarias second-largest city of Plovdiv on March 15, hosted by the International Plovdiv Fair. The wine fair, as it is also popularly known, has already proven in the past decade to be the shortest bridge between what Bulgaria hopes to be in the world of wine and what it is on the global map of wine dealers, critics and lovers. But it is also a chance for this country to develop a very attractive form of spending anyones vacation - wine tourism. And while wine tasting and other lures during the fair (continuing through March 18) are music to the ears of visitors, some exhibitors discovered the way to promote both things - wine and tourism. Wine has been a cultural art in these lands since some of the first-known tribes that inhabited them - the Thracians. To honour this fact, the company Vinprom Peshtera (mostly known for the rakia it produces and sells on the domestic market, but also for its wine brand) brought a sacred vine to its stand at Vinaria. The vine comes from the ancient Thracian temple near the village of Starosel in central Bulgaria. In 2000, archaeologists found there a large temple and tomb of what is believed to be a Thracian ruler, possibly Sitalkes I (r. 431-424 BCE), the first king of a combined Thracian empire. The art of making wine comes from the Thracians. Thanks to the cult for their god of wine, Dionysus, they started growing vine and learned the craft of making the sacred elixir. The Starosel temple holds some of the secrets of the ancient civilisation. A key function of the sanctuary was to honour Dionysus with wine, vine and fire. The two stairs of the temple, the huge ritual platform and the wine-storage tub testify of the Thracians homage to wine. One of the most popular rituals in their world was to predict the future through wine and fire. Usually the ruler himself, who was dressed as Dionysus, carried it out. Bringing this ancient history to Vinaria is a way of reminding tourists of what a cradle of civilisation the lands occupied by Bulgaria today are. This is a chance for any person coming from any corner of the world to taste both wine and the rich culture of this country in concert. Of course, many entrepreneurs in Bulgaria still hardly believe that anything else but its seaside and ski resorts could bring more tourists. With the winter season still rolling on, the country once again found out about its appeal to foreigners. A report by Agence France Presse (AFP) from the past week says that every year more UK skiers flood Bulgarias high-altitude mountain resorts, attracted by the well-managed slopes and low prices. AFP continues: A two-hour drive south from the capital Sofia gets you to the most-popular Bansko ski resort, where numerous construction sites testify to tourisms rapid development on the Pirin mountain slopes. The agency pays special attention to the appeal of Bulgarias resorts as a destination for second-home buying. Bulgaria offers an enormous potential with its bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the European Union accession, says Tim Savva, a Briton running a property agency in Bansko, quoted by the AFP. Bulgaria is like Andorra - high-quality skiing at low prices, says Janet, a visiting Londoner. All costs included - with the flight here, a week in a four-star hotel, pool and spa, plus a week-round ski-tow pass - total 800 euro. Nothing like the prices in the Alps, says the middle-aged skier. A rather discouraging World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) study has shown that tourism in Bulgaria is expected to register a growth of 6.3 per cent in 2006 and of 4.3 per cent on average every year between 2007 and 2016. The data indicate a serious decrease in the growth of the countrys tourism industry. The growth in the number of foreign tourists in Bulgaria was 13.6 per cent in 2004 and 18 per cent in 2003, official statistics showed. Revenue from tourism is expected to total more than 5.6 billion euro in 2006, or about 16 per cent of the forecasted GDP of the country. The sector will employ about 400 000, or 13.6 per cent, of the total workforce, WTTC analysts say. Bulgaria ranks 68th out of the 174 countries presented in the study in terms of nominal size of tourism revenue, and 43rd in terms of sector contribution to GDP.