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Marketing Alternative Tourism In Bulgaria

When travelling around Bulgaria it will immediately occur to everyone the massive potential this country has to market itself to foreign tourists seeking a more personal and invididual holiday with an authentic experience.

These types of holidays are becoming increasingly popular and Bulgaria ticks all the boxes.

The country has a pressing need to get away from its image as a cheap sun, sea, ski destination and to make the most of its staggering natural beauty and resources.

Terms such as "alternative tourism" and "sustainable tourism" abound but what do they really mean? Culture, heritage, nature, adventure, special interest, rich history, good local food, traditions, incredible countryside. In these terms Bulgaria has it all and, unlike most of the rest of the world, much of it untouched, making it the ideal destination.

Bulgaria continuing to go wrong with the 'cheap' image it is promoting, when she can display her true beauty to reap better and more sustainable rewards?

Bulgaria is running huge risks in persisting with a "mass tourism" policy, particularly as global figures point to large increases in tourists wanting an alternative to such.

Why tourism is important

It not only provides excellent opportunities for sustainable economic development but is also one of the fastest growing marketplaces in global terms.

Other factors which impact upon a country and its economic performance are that tourism is labour intensive, so increasing employment, and many businesses in this sector are small businesses, further improving the economy. Not to mention revitalising some of the poorest areas of the country.

Tourism provides an opportunity for others to learn more about the countries they are visiting, interact with local people and this alone can remove pre-conceived prejudices, plus provide introductions to other markets within the country.

Where there is a good tourism-based market in an area, this makes the people in that area more proud of their surroundings and leads to improved infrastructure and thus standards of living.

Indicators also show that tourists who are not part of the mass-tourism market have higher average spending (more than twice as much) during their holidays.

The huge developments in the resorts are thwarting Bulgaria's image as the holiday destination it could be. One of the results of this is that, encouragingly, tourist operators are beginning to steer away from holidays offering 24 hour bars and cheap booze and instead are looking for clients who are seeking to appreciate the real values of Bulgaria. The result is more holidays now which offer the opportunity to explore deep inland.

In turn, some of the local councils reacted to this and established eco and trekking trails, revived traditional crafts and began restorations on cultural buildings.

Tourism during this year

More special tours have arrived on the scene, showing a shift in tourists' perception of Bulgaria's image.An increasing number of keen botanists from Germany, France, England, Israel, Japan, The Nethelands, Scandinavia and USA keen to discover areas of Bulgaria that are still untouched by modern life.
Most experts agree that special tourism has not developed to the huge potential it has in Bulgaria.

what's to be done?

Kiril Kaloyanov says "Eco-tourism in Bulgaria is predominantly developed on territories, whose nature is unaffected by industrialization and civilization. Bulgaria can rightfully boast of quite many such unscathed territories - mostly in its beautiful mountains - Rila, Pirin, the Balkan Range and the Rhodopes, which have a most unique and very well preserved nature, as well as big variety of animal and plant species. The nature reserves mapped out on Bulgaria's territory are ideal for developing eco-tourism. Certain eco-paths have already been made, which provide an easy access to otherwise practically inaccessible divine places, offering breathtaking views of high cliffs, fast mountain streams and crystal clear lakes. There are many rewarding options available on spot of them, such as bird watching, climbing, rafting, trekking, hunting, etc."

Alternative to mass tourism

During the last ten years, special tourism has been consistently gaining ground in global tourism. Experts believe it is already accounting for some 15% of the world tourist industry and has much further to go. Surveys have also shown that more tourists want to holiday in beautiful untouched nature.

The SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) report on Bulgaria, which you can read in full from the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism stressed that Bulgaria has rich resources to develop this kind of tourism.

Bulgaria is awash with potential untapped tourism markets. These include not only its natural beauty suitable for any manner of eco or sustainable tourism projects (horse riding, trekking, paragliding, childrens farms, caving, bird-watching, climbing...) but also include a wealth of cultural possibilities (wine, museum towns, fortresses, monasteries, churches, handicrafts, gourmet...)

Many people with entrepreneurial flair have established small businesses along these lines. These small businesses are filling a gap in the market. As private companies they undertake all their own marketing and promotion. But, how much better they could do if they got some support and how many more would be encouraged to enter this sector if they could see this support and the results which can be achieved?

What's to be done?

With what Bulgaria has to offer there is the opportunity to turn special tourism into a seriously paying industry.

At the moment only 12% of foreigners visiting Bulgaria visit cultural sites and the country is still not investing sufficiently in attracting more of these tourists. It is worth noting that when Veliko Turnovo set up an international exposition to promote cultural tourism, following its promotional activities tourist numbers have been growing and the hotels are at 75% plus occupancy, providing work for numerous locals and a rich experience for the visitors.

With thousands of years of history, from ancient cultures, through to long-standing traditions, wild natural oases and friendly people, Bulgaria is a unique tourist destination. The number of tourists could be significantly increased with more promotion and information in Bulgarian tourism. Particularly in the light of the huge social and economic benefits.

Mass summer and winter tourism remains firmly on the agenda. The focus must be moved from these major resorts and turn to other areas for a sustainable tourism policy.

Where is any national tourism strategy?

The government may be speaking up in support of increasing special tourism rather than just benefitting the big resorts with promotional events and the material presented to the world by the State Agency for Tourism.

Wake up call

This is not to say that the Black Sea coast, the ski resorts, the capital city of Sofia should not be promoted. It's more a "please wake-up now" call to the government, the tourism board and everyone in Bulgaria to promote the natural beauty, culture and heritage of the country. Let's get out of this 'cheap' marketing strategy we are in.

Bulgaria's tourism industry provided nearly 10 % of the country's GDP for 2011 and as of April this year have introduced a flat rate of 9% VAT in the tourism sector.

The publication points out the tourism sector continues to play a very important role in the country's economy by creating new jobs and securing for a steady inflow of foreign tourists.

Bulgaria is one of the best suited lands in the world to offer the highest quality sustainable tourism in the world. If this is promoted effectively, then it will pull in higher spending tourists, as well as those which are interested in Bulgaria and her culture, along with creating much new employment and a paying long term tourism economy.