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The challenges spa tourism in Bulgaria faces and the possible options

Photo: BGNES

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about a sharp decline in the number of foreign tourists coming to Bulgaria. The travel restrictions also stopped Bulgarian tourists from travelling abroad for their holidays.

Though with a great deal of uncertainty, after the forced closure from March until May, hotels have opened their doors to tourists, though many owners do not believe that by the end of the year they will have made any profit at all.

This is true of summer resorts, and also of spa destinations in the country. Occupancy of spa facilities is mostly on weekends, and this, in combination with the fact there are no reservations for the upcoming traditional “conference” months – October and November - has been making spa hotel operators very worried about their balance sheets.

And yet, the months of July and August turned out to be busy tourist season for Bulgaria’s spa destinations, thanks most of all to the Bulgarian tourists. As to the development of the tourism industry as a whole, Siyka Katsarova, chair of the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and Spa tourism is adamant that the potential is there in many parts of the country. What it will take is for the local authorities to put it on their list of priorities. Spa destinations are divided up into several groups, Siyka Katsarova says for Radio Bulgaria and explains:

Сийка Кацарова

“We have internationally recognized destinations of local significance, and destinations with potential. The places which are pushing our health tourism forward are the well-known resorts of Albena, St. Constantine and Helena, Golden Sands, Pomorie, Pavel Banya, Hissarya, Kyustendil, Velingrad and Belchin, which is actually a new destination. Climatotherapy destinations such as Pamporovo and Borovets are also important. What they have to do is develop the summer season which has the potential to grow even stronger than the winter season.”

A much more serious commitment needs to be made by the government with regard to public health prevention in order to stimulate and develop spa tourism. A good example in this respect is the Czech Republic. There, the state provides every Czech citizen 150 euro as an addition to the expenditures made for a 6-day holiday at a spa resort in the country.

Such financial assistance is possible in this country as well, says Siyka Katsarova:

“We have sent out letters on the matter to the ministers of finance and of tourism, we have talked to the trade unions and to the employer organizations. A minor normative change needs to be made that will allow health prevention vouchers to be added to the food vouchers provided to workers. This will stimulate employers. And when I say employers I do not mean just the state, I also mean private companies. If such a programme is put in place spa destinations will be able to work at full capacity, not just in July and August, if the programmes they offer are good. This would mean stimulating domestic tourism and saving jobs, and that is an important thing.”

Photos: BGNES

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