Bulgarian ski and spa resorts are closing the winter season with an estimated decline in bookings in the range of 30 to a devastating 70 percent compared to last year.
In the first half of the season 4 in 10 hotels did not have a single booking. The lack of visitors prompted by the coronavirus pandemic marked the hardest ever winter season for the hospitality sector, with a staggering fall for ski resorts reaching up to 70% in the famous destination of Bansko. The spa sector performed slightly better, with the leading destination of Velingrad losing only 30% of visitors this winter. Although data is inconclusive as of yet, numbers confirm the initial expectations of business owners, who were forecasting a winter season as bad as the summer of 2020.
At the moment, even though hotels remain open in line with health authorities' regulations, restaurants and spa centers are closed, pools and conference rooms aren't operating either, deeming the tourist season over.
A year of severe turbulence for the ski sector
Winter hoteliers felt the initial hit of the pandemic only slightly in March 2020, when ski resorts were shut down ahead of schedule and Bulgaria went into full lockdown.
This year though proved to be more dramatic for the sector. Data from the System for Tourist Information provided by the Ministry of Tourism shows that in the period between the beginning of December and March 2021 hotels suffered a 50% fall in profits in comparison to the same period a year earlier. Ski resorts saw the biggest drop in the number of tourists.
Unlike seaside hoteliers who decided not to open a number of sites last summer, their winter resort colleagues tried to work, which nonetheless proved futile in the first half of the season. Data shows that in December, when Bulgaria went into a lockdown before the Christmas holidays, only 33% of the hotels in Bansko accommodated visitors at all, 41% had bookings in Borovets, and 45% in Pamporovo. For more than 50% of the hotels, the month of December passed without a single booking.
The Ministry of Tourism data outlines another trend - spa resorts will come out as the absolute champion this year, having suffered the smallest decline. Compared to last year, the fall in the number of visitors is less than 30%.
What the summer has to offer
Last summer, the state waived concession fees in return for the offer of free-of-charge beach umbrellas to tourists. The measure affected 132 beaches. Hoteliers have agreed they won't charge tourists for the use of umbrellas and sunbeds if the state waives fees again this summer.
This comes with increasing concern about foreign travelers, who hoteliers doubt will return to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Expectations that strict regulations on travel abroad for British citizens will remain in the summer are growing after British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace hinted at such a possibility, reports the Guardian. This would be very bad news for summer holiday destinations for the British, including the Bulgarian coast.
Insofar as regulations are concerned, the Ministry of Tourism has introduced a package of requirements for the hospitality sector for the upcoming season. Hotels must provide a distance between tourists, protective equipment and have a room ready for isolation of guests with suspected coronavirus infection. All sites must have a contract with a medical professional or center in case of emergencies.
On the beach, the distance between umbrellas must ensure a safe area around it of at least 20 square meters, all services including water sports must offer payment by card. Umbrellas will only be used by a maximum of two people or members of one family. Beach owners will have to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters between beachgoers.
A mask is to be worn indoors and a distance of 2 meters must be observed between visitors. Hoteliers are not to mix the inflow and outflow of guests and observe the wearing of masks. Hotels are obliged to "strictly follow the instructions of the doctor at the site or the medical institution it has a contract with".
The methods of transportation of tourists will be determined by the carriers "in compliance with the anti-epidemic measures". Companies will transfer tourists "when possible with open windows to ventilate the air". The current rules for distancing of passengers will apply to lifts in mountain resorts and in spa centers, where they must "strictly follow the instructions from the information boards on the site", state the rules provided by the ministry.
In recent weeks a number of European states have begun preparing rules for the operation of tourist destinations this summer, which is expected to be very challenging for the hospitality business for the second year in a row. Worldwide, the tourism sector has lost 1.1 trillion dollars in 2020. According to the UN World Tourism Organization a restart in the sector will begin this year, but it will likely take between 2.5 and 4 years to reach pre-pandemic levels.