Ilin Dimitrov, member of the board of the Union for Private Economic Enterprise and chairman of the Varna Tourist Chamber for the prospects and challenges for the tourism industry at the end of the summer season 2021.
How do you rate the 2021 summer season?
Summer season 2021 is better than that in 2020 by 50%, but is still below the levels of 2019, which is understandable, as almost 40% of hotels in Sunny Beach did not open. The situation on the North Black Sea coast was better due to the proximity to Romania, where tourism is also much easier.
The tourism ministry has signed an agreement with Romania that allows travel without PCR tests and has helped greatly in the exchange of tourists between the two countries. However, the only countries with which we had such an agreement were Romania and, for a short time, the Czech Republic.
For the upcoming winter season and for the summer season next year, in the presence of Covid-19, it is good to work on concluding more bilateral agreements with countries with which we have land transport such as Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and not to require their citizens. the presentation of a PCR test because it becomes more expensive.
The situation on the North Black Sea coast was definitely better. However, about 5% of the hotels did not open and I think they were wrong, because there were tourists. June was rainy and correspondingly weak, but then July and August were strong, and at times you could even see over-tourism, that is, the whole bed base was full.
The hotels that waited for the opening gained more because the first ones that opened were at lower prices, and those that decided to keep the highs or increase them were filled again, as there were many willing for a short period of time.
The season has shortened and it turned out so many people want to travel for a short period of time. At the moment everything is full and there are no places in the hotels. The worst thing, however, is that the season is now only three months and tourism workers cannot count on spending a whole year, as they cannot feed the other nine for three months. For this reason, the people themselves give up tourism because the workload is huge and the pay is not enough for the whole year.
In the end we managed to work as the question is at what price, for what period and the most important question at the moment is how long they will leave us to work, because every hotelier expects a relatively strong September, not to say particularly strong. Then there are weddings, events, events.
Currently, the hotel base is full, but due to the upcoming Covid-19 restrictions, it seems to me that it will be increasingly difficult for us to work in September. If we lose this month as well, we will once again have serious losses. Even if there is no complete restriction, and there is an order for only vaccinated, sick and those with an antigen test to be able to rest, this would be absurd, as only 20% are vaccinated and most of them are adults, and they are not very large. client of the tourism industry or restaurants.
Negotiations are currently underway for the next season with the tour operators. The interest is high, but again there are no funds for early bookings and thus hoteliers are not able to pay for the maintenance of hotels, their renovation, as well as to retain their employees. This would be a problem, so it is a good idea to negotiate low-interest loans to provide liquidity for the hotels themselves when they open.
The season is expected to be similar to this, although stronger, but since there will be no early bookings, respectively, hotels will not have the funds to open and renovate. Two things are clear for next year: the season will be stronger than this and we will have a shortage of staff.
2. What are the measures against Covid-19 and are they being followed? What is your impression?
Yes, the measures are observed. Everyone is well-meaning. They are respected more by the workers because they realize how important this is than by the vacationers. Most tourists do not follow measures. But there is almost no place among the workers where you can see a man without a mask. Many of the hotels financially stimulate their employees to be vaccinated and in Albena we even have stickers – the only 100% vaccinated staff in Bulgaria, which is a very responsible policy towards the staff.
The measures are being followed, but this must be done on both sides. Both from tourists and from workers.
3. How do you assess economic measures to help businesses?
There were several economic measures, the most popular being 60/40, which grew to 80/20. It is very similar to the countries around us. It is made in European ways. In many places it was appropriate and helped a lot of hotels to stabilize. There is another measure that is not so popular, but it is very important and that is the subsidization of charter seats with 35 euros for flights. This is not the standard Covid-19 measure, but it is good for boosting employment and filling aircraft. This gives an advantage to the tour operators with whom we sell.
4. What needs to be done to prepare for the next summer and upcoming winter seasons?
In preparation for the next summer season, several things need to be done:
- -Advertising Bulgaria as a safe destination;
- -Preservation of the seal “safety and healthy” that we have;
- -Easy of accessibility in absolutely all parameters. The fewer restrictions there are on tourism, the better for the industry, because of course a PCR test costs money, and these are limitations and this type of thing is not tolerated by tourists.
- -Negotiating green corridors;
- -We expect the tour operators to have a requirement next year, a large part of the employees in the sites to be vaccinated. This means that it is good to make a vaccination policy among those working in the industry.
The upcoming winter season will be under the conditions of Covid-19. It all depends on the number of patients we have, and one of the most important things is to get out of the red zones and have a low number of patients. While we have a lot of infected, tourists returning from Bulgaria will be quarantined, which is very unpleasant.
In preparation for next season, I repeat, it would be good to have some low-interest bank loans. It is good to make a system that follows the traffic light for measures, that is, when we are restricted, the other traffic light lights up – to give us incentives.
The funds, as I have already said, are very important, it is good to make a national advertising campaign to clear the image of tourism. To show that working in tourism is not bad, as our advertising campaign should be more targeted.
5. What is the biggest challenge for the tourism industry?
The biggest challenge is the staff in the sector. We have 156 thousand employees who are directly employed in tourism. But every single lev that enters tourism is multiplied between 2.5 and 4 times. This is called the multiplication factor. In reality, we represent a much larger share of GDP than is indicatively shown, and thus, without workers, we cannot maintain high quality. When there is no quality, there is no price.
In any case, we will have tourists. Around us live 600 million people 3 hours away by plane from the golden billion, but the question is at what price they will come here, how much they will stay and who will serve them. The moment the tourist sits on the plane, the question arises where he will sleep and who will serve him. And while we deal with tourists more easily, that is, we can attract them, the situation with the working people is already very tragic, as there is a serious outflow. I give an example with the fact that 16% of all students in Bulgaria study tourism and only 8% work in tourism, ie we are sufficiently saved in secondary education compared to the tourism sector, but somewhere along the way these people give up, so we lose them. This needs to be analyzed and action taken. We are currently training more chefs than IT professionals, which is also an interesting fact.
The other major problem is unpredictability. The situation is such that we cannot plan, and the business wants a clear time horizon of at least a few months. In tourism, everything is planned from the previous year, and we do not have that time.
Liquid funds are needed for hotels, to establish prices for umbrellas. It is good to make standards for work that we do not have. It is good to make a portfolio to the Ministry of Personnel.
Organizations such as the Chamber of Tourism and the Union for Private Economic Enterprise help a lot to improve the contact and communication between the workers in the sector and the state bodies and institutions. This is key to the proper functioning of the business.
We can only be happy to participate in The Union for Private Economic Enterprisen, as they have responded and been proactive in every issue we have raised and have always helped us with a firm position and expertise when needed.