March 11, 2016 / 3:34 PM / 4 years ago

Bulgaria markets Black Sea resorts as tourists seek safe haven

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.

Data from the World Travel & Tourism Council shows tourism accounts for about 13 percent of Bulgaria’s national output.

German travel search site said online searches for flights to Varna and Bourgas, the two main tourist airports on the Black Sea coast, were up 13 percent and 15 percent respectively in the first two months of the year.

The five-star Duni Royal Resort in Sozopol, which has more than 1,300 rooms, said reservations for the summer were currently up almost 20 percent from last year, largely thanks to German tourists.

Last year, tourist arrivals fell by about 1 percent, largely hurt by a slump in travel by Russians, Bakalov said.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Gareth Jones

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