ARTICLES 
TOURISM BAROMETER: Visitor figures
Article by Ivan Vatahov, The Sofia Echo, 22nd August 2005

A TOTAL of 2 714 000 foreign tourists vacationed in Bulgaria in the first seven months of the year, seven per cent more than the same period a year ago.
Outgoing Culture and Tourism Minister Nina Chilova on August 11 reported this figure among others dealing with Bulgarias tourist sector from January-July 2005.
The report says that European Union (EU) member states are the principal market for tourists in Bulgaria, accounting for nearly 52 per cent of the foreigners who have visited the country.
The number of UK visitors increased by 42 per cent, Spanish tourists by 38 per cent, and Scandinavian tourists by more than 30 per cent.
Polish tourists increased 16 per cent and Czech tourists by 12.5 per cent. There was an 18 per cent rise in Romanian tourists, a 13 per cent rise in Russian tourists and a 42 per cent rise in Turkish tourists.
International tourism earnings totalled 706 million leva during the period, 9.2 per cent more year on year, according to Bulgarian National Bank figures.
The largest Black Sea resorts now have 100 per cent occupancy, Chilova said. She said hoteliers and resort managers are flexible in order to attract Bulgarian tourists. More foreign tour operators now include Bulgaria as part of their vacation options.
Chilova said that the promotion of local and regional initiatives and the encouragement of public-private partnerships took a special place in her ministrys policy. A network of culture and information centres has been set up in Varna, Vidin, Plovdiv, Veliko Turnovo and Rousse.
Decentralising the industry and encouraging more co-operation between central and local governments, branch organisations and the private sector, will boost regional development and create jobs, she said.
Despite favourable trends in the tourism industry, some issues have yet to be addressed, including poor utilities and transport infrastructure, and heavy construction at Slunchev Bryag (Sunny Beach) and Zlatni Pyasutsi (Golden Sands).
The report says that when these problems are solved, the industrys competitiveness will improve and Bulgaria will become an attractive year-round tourist destination.
The document has not analysed the threat of excessive construction for the tourist sector in Bulgaria, according to experts. They also say the Black Sea coasts largest resorts have failed to maintain a 100-per-cent occupancy. Most hotel and restaurant owners said they can hardly fill so much as half their establishments.
Still, the hotel and restaurant managers in Slunchev Bryag and Zlatni Pyasutsi were happy to hear on August 11 that they topped the ranking of the most sought after Bulgarian resorts online at the Neogen.bg website, which includes information on tourist destinations. Albena, Nessebar and Sozopol also ranked highly.
The top ten holiday locations include the coastal village of Lozenets, at eight, followed by the mountain resort Bansko and the Black Sea coastal destination of Obzor.
Online users looking for international destinations, mainly focused on Turkey and Greece, Neogen said.
Although the UK was not among the top destinations sought by Bulgarian travellers, its importance was underscored by a recent decision by national flag carrier Bulgaria Air, which said on August 19 it would launch regular flights twice a week between Sofia and Manchester in its winter schedule to meet increasing demand beginning on October 2.

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