READING ROOM: Sustainable Tourism:Can Bulgaria find the right path?

READING ROOM: Sustainable Tourism:Can Bulgaria find the right path?

Rich Fromer/ Sofiaecho 09.05.05

History of Bulgarian Tourism The dramatic growth of tourism in the second half of the 20th Century is one of the most remarkable economic and social phenomena of our time. International tourist arrivals grew from a mere 25 million in 1950 to 700 million in 2003, according to the World Tourism Organization. Thats an average annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent. The receipts generated by these arrivals increased at 12 per cent a year over the same period, well above average annual economic growth rate, reaching $525 billion in 2003. Bulgaria has also experienced tourism growth in recent years and now has an opportunity to further develop tourism as a means of economic and social development. Before 1989, Bulgaria was an important tourism destination in Eastern Europe. The government invested heavily in tourism infrastructure, not only along the Black Sea and in the ski resorts, but with the creation of more than 30 000 km of marked hiking trails, a system of mountain huts and many large health spas. After 1989, Bulgaria lost its international tourists to the European destinations that most Eastern Bloc travelers could not reach before. Additionally, the post-1989 government did not have the knowledge, experience or finances to market Bulgaria in order to bring more tourists here. According to the National Statistics Institute, tourist visits are increasing, but still have not reached the peaks the country experienced in the 1980s. From January to November 2004, approximately 4 million foreign tourists visited Bulgaria, more than a 14 per cent increase over the same period in 2003. Revenues from international tourism were reported as approximately 1.6 billion euro for the first 10 months of 2004, an increase of over 20 per cent over the same period the previous year. Unfortunately, statistics are not available by region, but based on conversations with people in tourism businesses around Bulgaria, the majority of tourists and tourism revenues are going to the large Black Sea and mountain ski resorts and large cities. Relatively few tourists visit smaller towns and rural areas. It is also clear that most tourism revenues generated in Bulgaria are not staying here, and only a small portion of what stays benefits the local community. Tourism and Development Its no wonder the Bulgarian government has named tourism a priority. Tourism provides one of the best opportunities for sustainable economic development. It has several unique attributes that make it valuable to communities, even beyond its economic benefits. Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global economy, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of the worlds gross national product, employment, and investment. Tourism is also very labor intensive. It creates more jobs than any other industry, provides entrepreneurial opportunities for microenterprise, small and medium-sized enterprises and non-governmental organizations. Tourisms diversity expands both the formal and informal economy, bringing tourists to rural areas, for example, or teaching visitors local traditions or about local ecology. Unlike other industries, tourism brings the customer to the product rather than the other way around, so it provides more value-added linkages to other local sectors, such as agriculture, construction and handicrafts. Tourism also can develop in areas that lack development while complementing existing livelihoods and activities. Tourism also has economic spin-offs into other sectors, such as training and education, communication, construction and energy. It generally serves as an economic engine for infrastructure development, increasing standards of living and human, social and cultural development. Introducing tourism in areas rich in natural and cultural resources gives local communities a financial incentive to preserve what they have. Tourism also creates meaningful interactions between visitor and host, shattering stereotypes and bringing together a diversity of cultures, religions, and people. Sustainable Tourism To achieve these goals, however, tourism must be well-planned and managed. It must be socially, culturally, and environmentally responsible. It has to be designed to achieve maximum benefits to local communities and integrated within national policies and strategies for sustainable development. The world has seen far too many examples of the negative impacts of tourism. Unplanned tourism wastes resources or even destroys the environment. Foreign often companies benefit at the expense of local communities. Tourists sometimes offend locals with their behavior. In the Caribbean, it has been estimated that 80 per cent of all money spent by tourists leaks out of the local economy via foreign owned businesses and imports. Perus Machu Pichu, less than 100 years after its discovery, is already finding that it is far above its limit for sustainable usage. Spains Costa del Sol is perhaps the most famous example of the burden of over-development. There too much cheap construction drove tourists away, leaving locals with decaying infrastructure. Bulgaria is running these same risks with its tourism development. It is imperative for future tourism development to find an alternative that avoids these negative effects. Bulgaria needs sustainable, responsible tourism. Sustainable tourism attempts to make a low impact on the environment and local culture while conserving local ecosystems and generating income and employment. It is responsible tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sensitive. Sustainability implies permanence, so sustainable tourism includes optimum use of resources, including biological diversity. It seeks to minimize ecological, cultural and social impacts and to maximize the benefits of conservation for local communities. There are many examples of sustainable tourism. Globally it is becoming increasingly popular for tourists and tourism businesses alike to seek out sustainable alternatives in planning a trip. It is, however, important to realize no body is required to describe their business as Eco-tourism or Cultural Tourism, so these terms are often simply used as marketing buzzwords. Some of the important characteristics of sustainable tourism include hosting small groups of travelers, which minimizes their impact on their destinations, hiring local employees and buying local goods and services to focus financial benefits in the community and educating tourists on local customs and ecology to increase awareness of sustainability issues. Alternative Tourism in Bulgaria As anyone spending time in Bulgaria knows, this country has tremendous natural resources, an incredibly rich history and wonderful traditions, all great ingredients in a tourist destination. Bulgarias vast network of marked trails and mountain huts make it possible to hike from one end of Bulgaria to the other without ever leaving the mountains, or you can hike or bike from village to village without ever using a paved road. Also, unlike almost every other country around the world, so much of the natural heritage of Bulgaria is still untouched by civilization. One of the positive effects of communism here was a lack of industrialization. Environmental groups in Bulgaria are working primarily to prevent damage where, in many other countries, they are working to reverse damage already done. Other amazing natural treasures found in the Bulgarian countryside include a tremendous wealth of native plant species, because two of the major European migratory paths pass through Bulgaria, over 400 species of birds and 70 per cent of all European bird species. The country also features a fascinating diversity of natural landscapes: mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, caves and rock formations, canyons and waterfalls. Entering a village in Bulgaria makes you feel like youve gone back in time to a Europe that no longer exists. The incredibly long history of this small country can be seen not only in museums, but throughout the countryside. Highlights of this history are not limited to the nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bulgaria most notably the Madara Horseman, the Thracian Tomb at Kazanluk, the Rock Church at Ivanovo, and Rila Monastery. State of Alternative Tourism in Bulgaria Given all of these natural, cultural and historical wonders, Bulgaria appears to be an ideal destination for alternative tourism. However, the country is still dominated by mass tourism and is still relatively unknown worldwide as a tourism destination. Recently there has been some good news and some bad news for Bulgarian alternative tourism development. More people are interested in developing alternative tourism here and more tourists here are enjoying it. The government is speaking up in support of alternative tourism, but they have done relatively little to back up those words. Municipalities and entrepreneurs have shown more interest recently for alternative forms of tourism. Communities in all regions of Bulgaria have developed and submitted plans to find funding for cultural tourism and eco-tourism. Membership in the Bulgarian Association of Alternative Tourism (BAAT) has grown. New associations, formed specifically to promote rural, village, cultural and eco-tourism, have entered BAAT competitions. BAAT has also seen a tremendous increase in tour operators offering alternatives to mass tourism, from only a handful seven years ago when the association was founded to about 40 last year. The Bulgarian government has also been advocating sustainable tourism, though actions speak louder than words. At recent national and regional tourism fairs, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the State Agency for Tourism continue to give their verbal support to sustainable tourism initiatives. But the majority of promotional materials and events are still benefiting large resorts. Just last year the government adopted a National Eco-tourism Strategy. Its a great step forward, but somehow there is still no National Tourism Strategy a strange contrast, but unfortunately an example of the inconsistent nature of government interest. The Black Sea coast is already experiencing the effects of over-development. Despite yearly increases in tourists and new construction for the past few years, this year the seaside is expecting fewer visitors. Tourists are complaining about too much construction, overcrowding and lack of infrastructure to support the crowds. Now prices are falling, and owners are giving up. There are already a number of hotels for sale, but few buyers. The saddest part of this situation is that developers have not learned their lesson. They are now setting their sights on beach property further south where there are fewer hotels. Another recent complication for Bulgaria is the so-called Bansko Disease. Municipalities across Bulgaria have seen the success of Bansko and want to become the next in line for large foreign investments and major development. Unfortunately, no one seems to be paying attention to the negatives. Massive erosion from development of the ski runs is destroying the local ecology and will eventually affect the town as well. A large portion of the money tourists spend leaves the community. Throngs of tourists and new construction are spoiling the original attraction of the beautiful old town. If the development of Bansko is not enough, we now have Super Borovets. This project includes plans to build within Rila National Park, despite Bulgarias protected areas laws. Parliament recently considered changing the law to allow construction in protected areas. They didnt make any changes, but somehow Super Borovets won approval anyway. As in other resorts, substantial interest for the development of the project has come from foreign investors. It seems like a bleak picture for Bulgaria, but creating a sustainable future is still a possibility. Achieving the full benefits of tourism requires a commitment to develop responsible tourism. This will require cooperation among national and regional governments, NGOs and other stakeholders, and increased communication between government ministries and industry. This commitment should in turn be followed by an effective national strategy for tourism that ensures an integrated, coordinated, phased approach to sustainable tourism development within a framework of the nations development goals. It will certainly be a challenge to achieve, but it is possible. Bulgarian businesses are gaining an interest in alternative tourism, and this country has so much to offer to tourists beyond the beach and ski resorts. Rich Fromer, an MBA Enterprise Corps volunteer business consultant, is working with the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism.
     
  • Pepa From Madrid
    Sent on 24 August 2016
    Un citio presioso pero todo lo demas mentira.la comida,el personal muy mal.No lo recomiendo a nadie.Es una publicidad engañosa.Y de All inclusive nada.No se dejen engañar por las paginas web.Por desgracia en Bulgaria todavia el consumidor no es nadie.
  • Juglena Bankova From Bulgaria
    Sent on 13 May 2016
    Nie byakhme tam na Velikden i pisha malko kŭsno. No vpechatleniata sa ni poveche ot prekrasni! Velikolepna kuhnia (ne savetvat jenite na dieta, da hodiat za poveche ot tri dni, zashtoto yastiyata sa neustoimi, vkusni i ogromni)! Great stil! I mnogo priaten personal!(osobeno damata v restoranta) Pozdravleniya !
  • ger99 From turkey
    Sent on 01 March 2015
    We loved it. Had a perfect 2 bedroom apartment modern, clean new renovated With view to slope. Perfect location in pamporovo as central ski in ski out. Friendly staff, not ovr crowded relaxed athmosphere. our friends (group with total of 7 rooms) all very happy! It is away from city center but close to bowling and 2 nice reaturans.
  • ashley hensman From uk
    Sent on 01 March 2015
    Flora is a lovely hotel clean in a great location and the food was good just make sure you use the safes.
  • Enjoy ski From UK
    Sent on 27 February 2015
    Just came back from Sevlievo in Bulgaria. Drove up to Hotel Impulse in Uzana where I hired skis, boots and poles for myself and two children for just 17 levs for adult and 10 levs each child and used the hotel ski slope 5 levs each. Perfect for the kids first time as parking right at entrance to hotel and slope is 20m walk! Food in restaurant tasty and cheap. Perfect for beginners!
  • Charlotte Hennessy From england
    Sent on 23 February 2015
    WOW, thats all i can say about the previous week of my life. The snow conditions were amazing and the people were so friendly. The night life was always active and the rila hotel was especially fantastic. I loved the accommodation at the rila and i loved the way it is right on the slope. I wouldn't have changed a thing about the holiday and i would recommend this resort to everyone including beginners and experts. Overall, i had an amazing time!!!
  • Brian mcvey From Scotland
    Sent on 20 February 2015
    Going to borovets for 2nd time this time with my son. Had a great time 4 years ago, now with park I expect it to be a lot better now and it was brill last time round. 20 days and counting
  • Lasse WP From Denmark
    Sent on 15 February 2015
    We just had a wonderful trip to Pamporovo. We were a group of 10 adults, and 3 small children (1 to 3 years old), who stayed at the Castle complex, in 4 apartments, for a week (7 days stay, 6 days skiing) Everything at the Castle was great, and the staff was very forthcoming and helpful in every way. The apartments were very practical, and equipped with all necessities. Not luxurious, but really good and adequate in size and layout. You should note though, that towels are not changed every day. Towels are not needed to bring to the spa area and treatments. The food at the Excalibur restaurant was typical for the area, and well prepared. The staff at the restaurant is also great. The Castle complex is situated 2-3 km. from Ski center 2 (Malina). It is of course easiest if you are driving, but there are shuttles from the hotel to the ski center and lift. Ski in-/out is possible at the backside of the complex. We had booked ski- and snowboard packages, and that worked out perfectly as well. The snowboard instructor was a true professional. Patient and very focused on making sure that all of us learned the moves, at our own individual pace. Everyone had a great time, and learned a lot. The area was perfect for us, as we are all beginners on snowboards. Had we been on skies, I suspect the terrain would not be challenging enough for an entire week. We can definitely recommend Pamporovo, and the Castle complex, and will be back next year.
  • james From england
    Sent on 05 February 2015
    Lovely apartments bang on yasterbets slopes. Great spa and swimming pool and cheaper prices than borovets for food and beer. Best hotel and facilites in borovets
  • Jayne Gay From England
    Sent on 25 January 2015
    Just got back from Bansko what a fabulous week. A party of 6 which includes our daughter's aged 20-24 and the night life for them was great. No long queues, food good and we cannot wait for next year!
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