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Though chaotic, advertising of the Bulgarian tourist product has had its successes

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Tourism in Bulgaria and the creation of a single positive and sustainable brand “Bulgaria” - this idea was in the focus of attention at a discussion with the participation of practitioners from the advertising industry and communications, analysts and journalists.

Even though the overdevelopment of the Bulgarian Black Sea coastline is going strong, and despite the first reports of a decline, as yet modest, in summer bookings on leading markets such as Russia and Germany, at first glance the picture of international tourism in Bulgaria may, overall, look good. According to Ministry of Tourism data, in 2018 there were more than 9 million visits from abroad, and revenues in the industry were in excess of 8.4 billion Leva. The positive tendency has continued this year: revenues from international tourism over the first 4 months of the year stand at 590 million euro or an increase of 4 percent. This may sound optimistic but there are a great many problems which are a hindrance to the country’s better recognition and assertion as a preferred year-round holiday destination.

“For a place to be a superb tourist destination it needs to be “user-friendly” and to be liked by the local people,” says Vesela Nikolaeva who created a website about tourism in Northwestern Bulgaria - severozapazenabg.com.“One example – a trip we took in the Danube region, where we found, for the umpteenth time, that all signs were in Bulgarian, some were inaccurate or were concealed by shrubbery. So what is the message we are conveying to tourists – not a message of hospitality, but that you need to be constantly on your toes because you have to feel your way around.”

Another problem is that there are many people in this country who do not speak a single foreign language, says Vesela and adds that though in cities like Rousse and Vidin people employed in the tourist industry speak or are learning to speak Romanian, those in Northwestern Bulgaria speak Serbian, communicating with tourists coming from other countries is rendered extremely difficult. Another problem is the fact that the season for some of the destinations in this country is too short, and also that the potential is not being exploited sufficiently, of the various activities that could boost tourism and stretch the season in the respective region to cover the whole year.  But do first-time holidaymakers to this country want to return? The answer from Georgi Awad from Perceptica, the Bulgarian media analysis agency:

“We have data from a 2016 survey focusing on what tourists from European countries think of their vacation in Bulgaria and how many would want to repeat it. What we found was that there are different attitudes as to how a person would choose to come on vacation to Bulgaria. In 2016, due to the migrant wave, people from Northern Europe said they would not come to this country because Bulgarians have a negative attitude to migrants. Which means that for some people the question is not of money, but of ideals. Another problem is that our advertising is very chaotic.”

Advertising is key to the positioning of Bulgarian tourism on the highly competitive international market. What are the target groups, what and how lasting will its effect be, and which are the positive examples are all questions the industry wants to know the answers to. And though experts say that at times it is overly chaotic, there are some good examples, such as the latest campaign advertising Bulgaria in the UK (2018-2019). It is part of a communication project by the Ministry of Tourism, and the considerable increase in bookings for Bulgaria’s summer resorts on the British market shows it is effective.

“In January and February, the National Statistical Institute registered a 53 percent increase in the number of visits from Great Britain.  Compared to data from the previous period - September-December 2018, there is an increase of 15 percent which suggests the campaign was successful,” said Desislava Olovanova, manager of McCann Sofia, author of the award winning advertising campaign from the festival of advertising agencies in Bulgaria held in Plovdiv in June. She adds that Brexit may also have had a hand in this tendency, as Bulgaria is a cheap market, and at a time of total insecurity, the British are not skipping their holidays but are choosing the holiday destination that will be the least expensive.

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