ECONOMY

Bulgaria unaffected by tourism crisis

SOFIA (Dow Jones Newswires) – Bulgaria expects revenues from tourism to rise by 8-12 percent this year as tourists avoid risky areas in the Middle East in favor of Black Sea resorts, a government official said on Monday. «We have no cause to worry about the Iraqi war affecting this year’s tourist season. On the contrary, Bulgaria is one of the few destinations in this region for which there have been no cancellations by major international travel agencies,» Deputy Minister of Economy in charge of tourism Dimitar Hadjinikolov told a media conference. Some travel and insurance companies have listed tourist destinations such as Turkey, Cyprus and Tunisia as risky because of the war. Turkey and Greece are Bulgaria’s major tourism competitors. Travel agencies TUI and Thomas Cook have said Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts are safe. TUI said it had invested 15 million euros in 2002 and plans to invest a similar amount this year to upgrade and revamp their Bulgarian resorts. Thomas Cook has set up a 100-million-euro special fund for construction and refurbishment of its 15 hotels in Bulgaria. The company spent 17.5 million euros revamping nine hotels along the Black Sea coast last year. Also Monday, TUI said it is pulling back on plans to expand into Russia as a tourist destination. «It’s better to be a little bit more cautious at the moment,» Thies Rheinsberg, TUI’s director of corporate development, told Dow Jones Newswires. «According to the bookings we have received so far, we have reason to expect a rise in the number of tourists and higher revenues of between 8 and 12 percent,» said Hadjinikolov. Tourists from EU countries accounted for 42 percent of all tourists last year with the bulk of them from Germany. The country had record revenues from tourism of $1.3 billion in 2002, an 11 percent increase on the previous year. Bulgaria’s ski resorts have attracted 11.4 percent more tourists in the first two months of this year, compared with the same period last year, Economy Ministry figures show. The rise is attributed to better snow conditions this year and improved slopes at some resorts. The government has set tourism alongside energy and telecommunications as a priority for economic growth.