Bulgaria is one of the most visited countries in Europe. Situated in Southern Europe and occupying northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria has many attractions that keep more than 5 million tourists visiting the country annually. Tourism has been one of the most important sectors of its economy for a long time since it started a revolution about 10-15 years ago. In 2006, more than 6 million tourists visited the country.
This number reached about 8 million in 2007 and is expected to rise further in 2008. The country has both old tourist cites and also new sites which draws that attention of many people all over the world. These sites are reinforced with an effective transport system of railways, automobile, air and water. (Bell 1998, p. 45)
Tourism activities in the country ranges from skiing, hunting, mountaineering, mountain bike riding, caving, bird watching, hiking and walking, and horse riding. These forms the land activities that can be undertaken in the tourism sector in the country. Water activities are diverse ranging from swimming and surfing, rafting, canoying, kaying, and diving. There are also various attraction sites including resorts, national parks, mineral water springs, water parks, Adventure Park and zoo, museums and other archeological sites. Air activities include paragliding in sunny and dry climates. (Mercia 1992, p. 768)
There are a number of attraction sites in Bulgaria ranging from natural sites to man made sites. There are several sites in Bulgaria that are found in UNESCO list of landmarks. It is a world of world natural and cultural heritage. These forms the general attraction sites like Kazanluk Tomb which is dated 4th and 3rd century B.C. This tomb is located in the Tyulbeto hills near the town of Kazanluk. Ivanovo Rock Churches is a monastery compound believed to of Archagel Michael which contains preserved churches.
This is believed to be one of the most significant 14th century Bulgarian arts. The Madar Horseman is a rock reef cutting into the northern slope of Provadiisko Plateau. The Rila Monastery forms an impressive 13th to 14th century architectural work and a spiritual centre for Bulgarian people. Nessebur, forms the old part of the town with architectural, historical and archeological significance situated at the Black Sea coast. Pirin National Park which is a part of the Pirisn Mountain contains plant and animal species. In the UNESCO list there is also Sreburna reserve and Sveshtari tomb.
Also there are several tourist centers in Bulgaria like Borovetz, Bansko, Pamporove, Vitosha and others which are picturesque also popular ski resorts. It also has famous summer resorts like Sozopol, Nessebur, Sunny Beach, Albena, and others. Winter resorts include Bansko, Chepelare, borovetz, Vitosha, and others. Rural tourism attractions include Arbanasi, Madzhorobo, Kumani, and others. It has also developed city tourism in sites like Sofia, Varna, Kardzhali, and others. There is hiking and paragliding in Balkan Mountains. Cultural tourism is greatly developed in Bulgaria. It has been the home of many civilizations including Thracians, Slavs, Romans, Byzantines, and ottomans. People are attracted to Bulgarian to see the architectural and other remains of these civilizations.
There are quality hotels found in major tourist sites in the country. In Sofia there are hotels like Castle Hrankov, Gloria Palace Diplomatic Club, and others. Most of the tourist hotels are found in Sofia. Plovdiv has hotels like Rodopi, Ambassador, Atlantic, and other. In Varna there are quality hotels like City Plane, Elegance, Lukos, and others. Burgas has least number of hotel including Kosmos, Mirage , White Rose, and others. Like in other tourist site in the world, these hotels fall into categories with most of them being 3 star and 5 star hotels. In total there are about 190 000 beds in the Bulgarian hotel sector. Accommodation facilities have grown rapidly in the sector since the government started privatizing the hotel facilities. This has seen a 12% growth in the accommodation sector in the industry.
Tourism in Bulgaria is supported by availability of other facilities which support tourism activities. There are multipurpose halls, conference halls, offices and exhibition areas in major hotels in the country. These facilities are reinforced by technical facilities including simultaneous translation and sound systems, other audio visual facilities including film projectors and video equipments. This ensures that all hotel activities are served with quality services.
Bulgaria has a lot of potential to develop tourism. It has sites that attract people and with little development in some weak areas, the sector can flourish to be an important foreign earner. However there has been criticism that tourism in Bulgaria is underdeveloped. It faces weaknesses which continue to undermine the industry. Seaside tourism heavily relies on short season which make it face stiff competition from other countries offering similar services.
The industry is also faced by inadequacy of hotels in the ski resorts and the resorts are also underdeveloped. Support services in the transport are also inadequate and are undermined by low airline services and poor road condition which makes it difficult to access most tourist sites in the country. (Grint 1995, p. 65)
Tourism marketing strategies in Bulgaria
Tourism marketing strategies must take into consideration some very important facts including designing of attractive product to be marketed, identifying potential markets, and designing the product to cut an inch in the competitive market. The state and the private in Bulgaria has done remarkable job in trying to come up with the above marketing requirements. The State Agency for Tourism has made a lot of strategies aimed at marketing Bulgaria as a tourist destination in the world.
This has resulted to increased number of tourist visiting the country in the recent past. The government has taken stem in recognizing some of the most potential marketing including other EU countries. With the country expected to join the EU on January 2007, the tourism agency has taken steps towards marketing the country all over the world. This is expected to increase business tourism into the country and the government has undertaken necessary measures to upgrade business support services. (Kaytcheve and Purchell 2006, p. 21)
On of the most important made by the government in promotion of tourism in the country is through privatization of most hotels in the country. Most of the hotels in Bulgaria were state owned which led to poor management and consequently most of the facilities became worn out. From 2001, the government embarked on a plan to privatize most of the facilities. The government also embarked on renovation of most of the tourist attraction sites and facilities. The government has also responded well by holding foreign trade fairs through which it has been able to market its tourism sector.
The private sector has also responded very well. With the privatization of most tourist facilities in the country and the consequent renovation and upgrading of the facilities, major international tourist operators has responded very well into acquisition of these tourist facilities. Over the last ten years, accommodation facilities has grown by more than 75% in the country while it has actually doubled in the Black Sea regions due to the concerted input from the government and the private sector.
In the new marketing strategies that have adopted by the government, it is focused on reaching a number of markets which has been classified into three categories. One category includes markets of the geographical region within the EU. Germany had been a leading market for tourism in Bulgaria but other countries like United Kingdom, Russia, Scandinavia, Greece, ad others have emerged as potential markets as well for the industry.
It has held exhibition in these markets which has enabled exchange of information about tourist sites in the country. The other categories include emerging markets where the government should continue to lay more emphases on. These markets are a special market category in which the government has continued to hold special trade fairs and exhibitions. The government has done a lot of promotions for the domestic market which has continued to make contribution to the tourism industry. (Poon 1993, p.67)
The government however needs to do more in order to advertise the country well in special and emerging markets. There are new emerging markets in East Asia and Far East where there is an emerging middle class resulting from economic growth.
The government should make more ties with these countries in order to market the country well. There should also be concerted efforts from the government and the private sector to promote domestic tourism which can make a huge impact in the tourism industry in the country. The government is bound to emphasize more on the mass type of marketing and the coastal leisure which forms the strengths of the tourism industry in the country. The new marketing strategy should keep on emphasizing the key sectors of the industry like the skiing activities in which it has a competitive edge over its competitors. (Annastove and Purchel 1997, p. 89)
However the government has been crictsized as having not done enough to market tourism in the world. Tourism has developed purely based on market demand and the input by private tourist operators. The government has just carried out promotions and licensing of the private sector which is not enough for the development of the industry. The government has failed to integrate activities for regularization and for marketing tourism in its tourism plans.
Future opportunities and threats
Tourism in Bulgaria is bound to expand in the coming future. This will by many interacting factors in the macro environment that has enabled the industry to flourish for the last five years.
Politically there has been political will from the government to stimulate growth in the industry. There has been necessary legislation which has enabled the government to privatize all the tourist facilities in the country. There is a strong indication that the government will continue in ensuring that that the sector will grow looking at its contribution to the country economy. Government commitment to privatization of the industry has led to a massive contribution to the GDP, about 12.5% in the recent years.
In the future the government is expected to come with strategic plans that will enhance more legislation that will guide the development of tourism. As for 2001 there was no proper legislation that guided the industry. There have legislations that have been put into practice but more legislation is needed in order to make the operations of the industry more cordial. With Bulgaria joining the EU, there is expected to be a more serene political atmosphere that will help in the development of tourism sector in the country.
However the industry is threatened by the non-continuity of government emphases in supporting the development needs of the industry. Lack of political will on the side of the government could threaten toe crumble the emerging industry. The legislative changes implied from joining the EU may also be a threat to the industry. The political atmosphere with the neighboring countries should be used to attract visitors from those countries especially on weekend packages. (Hutt 2001, p. 90)
Economically, Bulgaria has been doing well and the trend is bound to rise in the coming years. The tourism sector is expected to make more contribution to the countries economy and the government is expected to spend more on coming up with new tourist facilities and new sites to support tourism.
More money is expected to be spent on improving qualifications and skills of the staff working in the industry. Attraction of foreign investors in the industry is bound to make positive contribution to the industry. There is also economic advantage that is expected to come from the flow of European Structural Funds and from other donor funding sources to develop tourism in the country. Economically there is a threat due to lack of proper advertisement due to lack of funds. It is not clear how much funds the industry will get from donors.
There is another opportunity arising from the diversity and serenity of social atmosphere in the country. The social environment has a potential of attracting more and more tourist in the country. The importance of the industry has been socially accepted and people are becoming friendlier to visitors. However there is a social security threat to the industry due to border issues following the accession of the country to EU. The country may be in conflict with other neighbors which may pose a social security threat to visitors in the country. People in the country are becoming more conscious about the environment and the environment is becoming more attractive. (Morgan and Pritchard 2002, p. 123)
Technologically, Bulgaria is catching up with the world. It has come up with up to date tourist facilities. With the accession to EU, the country is bound to make a huge reap in the technology world since it will be able to attract new investors from other countries who can install new technology in the industry. The funds from EU are expected to upgrade the facilities to make them more modern. The industry hopes to increase by 20% foreign investment in the industry from major world players. This is bound to make a positive impact in the industry in terms of technology.
Bulgaria is faced with stiff competition from other countries in the region which have the same tourist activities. This competition is based on selection of tourist country after analyses of the market and comparing all the markets in these countries. Hence a proper strategy to tackle micro-economic policy should be based on improving the market of the country to be at par with that of competitors. There are a lot of opportunities and threats that the country is facing in relation to the market image of the competitor.
Opportunities and threats
It is faced with a challenge of keeping it infrastructure to be at par with that of its competitors. The competitor has developed beach tourism which has not been developed in Bulgaria. The country has high potential of developing beach tourism as well.
The competitors have established tourism sector with highly priced activities. The country is threatened by loss of competitive advantage due to low price policy. Some of them like Greece have “internal sub destination brand” having hosted Olympics recently. Bulgaria has an opportunity of creating a highly priced destination and opportunity to develop alternative tourism.
Bulgaria offers low quality services compared to its competitors. The country has an opportunity of using incoming funds in the industry to upgrade the skills of the workers in the industry. This will ensure that the country offers high quality products at varied prices.
All competitors offer an all round the year tourism facilities while Bulgaria continues to offer seasonal packages. The country has not focused on competitive destinations and lack spatial planning and zoning or tourist areas. The country has a potential of offering all year around tourism packages and emphasizing in activities like skiing which are not offered in other countries.
It has an opportunity to improve the marketing strategy in order to be at par with its competitors. The country is threatened with losing the already established market if it does not repackage its product and market them effectively.
Development of tourism activities in this country will depend on how the country will address micro environment factors like accommodation and catering, transport, tour operators and travel agencies, destinations, consultancy and media research. These microenvironments will help it achieve the much desired standard to compete with the neighbors. (Vellas and Becherel 1999, p. 43)
With the need to improve the above environment in the industry, the country needs to implement a marketing strategy that will be aimed at creating a competitive edge over other destinations in the region. This means the country needs to target the right market. Geographically it can target countries in the EU as potential markets. These countries can be regarded as the old markets for the country. It also needs to tap into new markets within fare world.
These will include special interests market which can support all year tourism in the industry. It also needs to make a lot of promotions to encourage domestic tourism as well as target the neighboring countries in Eastern Europe and Balkans where the country is reputed as a tourist destination. In order to reach these markets, strategies should be put in place in order to reach them. This could be through trade fairs and exhibitions while partnership with foreign countries can be pursued where the cost of market access is high.
In reaching these markets, the country needs to present its as highly priced destination offering high quality services. It also needs to market itself on bases of its tourism diversity and emphasize on package like skiing tourist which are not well developed in other destinations.
Proper marketing and expansion of the tourist packages can turn Bulgaria to be a major tourist destination in the world. It has destinations that can attract many people if only it changes it market approach and develops the industry more.
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