Bulgaria expresses hopes of luring more business travelers

SOFIA (SeeNews) – The Bulgarian government expects 350,000 business travelers to visit the EU-hopeful country in 2006, each spending an average of about $1,000 (825 euros) during their stay, a senior government official said on Friday. The number of business travelers to Bulgaria will grow because the country is becoming a more attractive destination for investments and business contacts, and due to the increased number of business conferences held in the country, Bulgarian Deputy Culture Minister Dimitar Hadzhinikolov told reporters. He added that 185,000 business travelers visited Bulgaria in 2001. Data for the following years were not immediately available. Bulgaria, which hopes to join the European Union in 2007, has become an attractive destination for foreign investors, seeking to expand their operations in Southeast Europe. The government expects to draw about 2.3 billion euros in foreign direct investments (FDI) in the current year, unchanged from 2005. The 2004 FDI in Bulgaria, estimated at 11.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, rose to 2.278 billion euros from 1.851 billion in 2003 due to privatizations in the energy sector. An industry expert said last year that conference tourism could add around $100 million to Bulgaria’s gross domestic product (GDP) after five years if the country develops the sector. The main barrier to enhancing conference tourism in Bulgaria is the country’s underdeveloped infrastructure, Hadzhinikolov said earlier. Tourism contributes about 12 percent to Bulgaria’s GDP. The Bulgarian economy rose in 2004 by a preliminary 5.6 percent, to 38.008 billion levs ($23.498 billion/19.405 billion euros). A total of 4.59 million tourists visited Bulgaria in the first 11 months of 2005, up from 4.36 million for the same period of 2004. The number of foreign tourists visiting the country is seen rising by up to 12 percent last year, from more than 4 million in 2004.

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