ECONOMY

Bulgaria sees tourism sector growth and competitive boost

SOFIA – Bulgaria said yesterday it expected tourism revenues to reach up to $1.5 billion in 2002, which would be the best performance in more than a decade for one of the poorest European Union candidate countries. Tourism remains one of few profitable industries in Bulgaria, a country with Black Sea and mountain resorts, and helps to counter a rising trade deficit. Demand for Bulgarian exports has been hit by the global economic slowdown. Once a favored holiday destination for the ex-Soviet bloc, Bulgaria now relies on improved quality to woo a growing number of West European tourists, the deputy economy minister in charge of tourism, Dimitar Hadzhinikolov, told Reuters in an interview. «This is no longer the old Socialist-style tourism with mostly one- and two-star hotels. This is a tourist industry that meets West European standards and attracts tourists with an optimal ratio of quality and price,» Hadzhinikolov said. Revenue from tourism, which has been steadily increasing in recent years, rose to $1.21 billion in 2001 from $1.0 billion in the previous year and $931.7 million in 1999, mainly on the back of a rising number of EU tourists. Hadzhinikolov said the ministry’s conservative forecast for 2002 was a revenue growth of some 10 percent to $1.3 million. «If the summer season proves to be good, revenue could reach up to $1.5 billion and that would the best result in as many as 15 years,» he said. A total of 1.6 million foreign tourists visited Bulgaria from January to the end of July, a 7-percent rise from a year ago. The total for 2002 is expected to reach at least 3 million compared with 2.8 million last year. Some 40 percent of the tourists visiting Bulgaria come from the EU, with the biggest number coming from Germany. Hadzhinikolov said some 400,000 German tourists were expected in Bulgaria this year, a 20-percent rise from 2001. The number of tourists from ex-communist allies the Czech Republic and Poland has also increased. However, Bulgaria expects a 30-percent drop in Russian tourists, once the largest national group, due to entry visas which Sofia imposed last year in line with pledges to the EU. To counter tough competition from neighboring Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria will work to further increase the quality of services and upgrade its Black Sea hotels, of which 50 percent are now three-star and some 20 percent are four- or five-star, Hadzhinikolov said. Bulgaria also aims to attract foreign investment in the sector, which stood at a mere $150 million for the past 12 years. It is now in talks with European investors for projects that could attract between $500 and $800 million in coming years. Job worries