Bulgaria markets Black Sea resorts as tourists seek safe haven

Fri Mar 11, 2016 10:32am EST
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By Maria Sheahan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Bulgaria is showing off its Black Sea resorts and lush nature at this year's ITB travel trade fair in hopes of attracting tourists scared away from formerly popular destinations such as Egypt and Tunisia following militant Islamist attacks.

"Expectations are so great that many hotel operators are concerned about whether they'll have enough beds," Plamen Bakalov, Consul for Economic Affairs at Bulgaria's consulate in Frankfurt, told Reuters at ITB, the world's largest travel fair, on Friday.

Attacks in tourist hotspots including a Tunisian beach resort and the city of Paris over the past year have rattled travellers' confidence, sending bookings for many destinations including Tunisia and Egypt plummeting and heralding a slowdown in demand for international travel.

Bulgaria's southern neighbor Turkey has also seen a series of attacks by both Islamist militants and Kurdish separatists, while Greece, another neighbor, is on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis.

The beneficiaries are destinations perceived to carry a smaller risk of becoming the target of attacks, such as Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria.

Tour operator Suntours, based in the Bulgarian seaside city of Varna, said summer bookings from Germany were currently up 12 percent compared with this time last year, and that it expected Russian bookings to gain 10-15 percent.

"That is probably because we are perceived as a safe destination," Suntours manager Nina Chamova told Reuters at the ITB fair, which is held in Berlin.

Boasting almost 380 kilometres (236 miles) of Black Sea coast dotted with beach resorts once popular with communist party officials as well as mountain ranges, medieval monasteries and classical ruins, Bulgaria markets itself as family-friendly and low-priced.   Continued...