We believe that the low cost of land and lack of luxury accommodation make for a good investment environment for international hoteliers and this is likely to encourage further enlargement of their national footholds in the future. Further, although continuing economic uncertainty might affect Bulgaria's tourism industry in the short term, we expect a strong recovery in the future as the region benefits from improving consumer spending and a growing middle class.
Moreover expanding in Bulgaria and in the wider CEE region is a key strategy for many of the top global hotel chains, the majority of which currently have a rather limited presence in the country, where present at all. Equally, we expect Spa tourism to continue to develop, as it is likely to become a key growth area for the Russian market. Finally, we anticipate that many hotels and chains will target business tourism, and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions tourism could be another growth area.
Bulgaria is in the enviable position of being able to appeal to both Western and Eastern European source markets in the years ahead, which should bolster its tourism industry. To raise Bulgaria's profile across Europe and among the wider travelling public, in September 2012 the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism launched a month-long promotional campaign at Frankfurt Airport. Three billboards based on the themes of the sea, culture and ecotourism were promoted at the airport in association with airport operator Fraport - which also operates Varna and Burgas airports in Bulgaria.
However, BMI believes unrestrained hotel construction activity in some of the country's largest seaside and mountain resorts, a shortage of skilled workers in the tourism sector and relatively underdeveloped infrastructure remain key areas the Bulgarian authorities need to address in order to ensure the sustainable development of the tourism industry.
Recent developments include:
- A new passenger terminal has opened at Varna Airport, reports Airport Technology. The BGN75mn (US $51mn) facility will serve as a gateway to the Black Sea region of Bulgaria. It has an area of 20,000 square metres and is approximately three times the size of the previous terminal. Varna Airport served a total of 1.2mn passengers in 2012
- A new railway bridge has opened between Bulgaria and Romania, reports Railway Gazette International. The Danube 2 Bridge will run between Vidin in the former country and Calafat in the latter. It is part of the Pan-European Corridor IV which spans a vast section of the continent encompassing Dresden in Germany, Istanbul in Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece. The line will be used to transport both freight and passenger traffic.
- The Sturma motorway development project in the Yugozapaden region of Southwest Bulgaria has secured EUR274mn (US$359.48mn) in financial assistance from the European Commission (EC). Work comprises the construction of a dual carriageway between Dolna Dikanya and Blagoevgrad, and from Sandanski to the border crossing with Greece at Kulata.
Key BMI Forecasts include:
- We expect total arrivals to reach 9.5mn over 2014.
- of this, the majority will come from Europe, which will account for 8.8mn tourists over 2014.
- The number of hotels will rise to 2,700 (an increase of almost 5% year on year) and the overall value of the hotel industry will reach US$1.14bn