Over the past few years, a rise in the number of visitors to Plovdiv made the second largest Bulgarian city an investment hotspot. Two factors led to the heightened activity: the industrial expansion in the region led to an increase in business travel on the one side, and on the other - Plovdiv's title as European Capital of Culture in 2019 stirred up cultural tours. Then the pandemic broke out, freezing some projects but the post-covid tourism season this year will be marked by the debut of international hotel brands in the city.
US giant Hilton has almost finished building its site in Plovdiv, and another US market leader - Radisson, has taken over one of the big local hotels. Significant players in the market like IHG and Whyndam already have operations in the city, and the biggest European hotel group Accor is also expected to enter the city. All in all, Plovdiv is set to turn into the second city in Bulgaria after Sofia with a strong core of hotels operating as part of the world's biggest chains.
Hilton's debut in Plovdiv
US giant Hilton's site in Plovdiv is at an advanced stage of construction. The 4-star hotel will operate under Hilton's DoubleTree brand and will have 165 rooms with some 350 beds. The site will have two restaurants, a lobby bar, spa, gym, and 4 conference halls, and is located close to the freshly restored Bishop's Basilica of ancient Philippopolis and the city's Old Town. Vitus, a company owned by Vasil Karailanski, is the investor. Construction began in 2018 on land that Vitus had owned for years. Around 15 million levs (7.5 million euro) will be invested in the hotel.
"We expect construction to be completed in September," Karailanski told Capital Weekly, adding that the opening of the new hotel will depend on the post-pandemic revival of tourism business.
According to the investor's son, Ivan Karailanski, the hotel's main focus will be on business travel on weekdays, and people visiting Plovdiv for cultural tourism on weekends. "The hotel has a long-term management contract with Hilton," Karailanski said, adding that his company had negotiated with other chains but eventually settled on the American giant.
Currently, the only other hotel in Bulgaria that is part of the Hilton group is located in the capital, close to the National Palace of Culture.
Radisson returning to Bulgaria
Another large American hotel group, Radisson, is focusing on Plovdiv. Until about three years ago, the group managed a hotel under the Radisson Blu brand overlooking the National Assembly building in Sofia. Today, that hotel building is the InterContinental of rival IHG. In the middle of April of this year, Radisson announced that it had signed a contract with Plovdiv-based four-star Imperial which will become the first hotel in Southeast Europe under the Radisson Individuals brand.
The contract spans 10 years. "We sought cooperation with the Radisson hotel group because we believe that the Radisson brand - a high-class hotel, located in business destinations, and focused on corporate clients, would best correspond to the profile of the Imperial as a contemporary business hotel with almost 200 rooms, restaurants, a wellness center, and a large conference block," said Ivaylo Rashev, the COO of the hotel "Imperial Plovdiv, a member of Radisson Individuals".
Since the start of the year the hotel has been undergoing a major overhaul. A brand new restaurant and lobby bar are in the works, as well as a renovation of premium accommodation and the conference block.
The Radisson Individuals chain was launched in 2020. It stands out with the fact that it is suitable for co-branding of hotels with an already established brand, and that it offers, for the most part, independence in management and operations. There are 1,500 hotels around the world operating under the Radisson brand.
Accor sets eyes on Plovdiv
Before the tourism crisis, Plovdiv was one of the few Bulgarian cities with a consistent increase in investments in the hotel industry. Within 5 years, the bed capacity in the city increased by 11% and topped 12,000 beds by 2020, according to national statistics. However, the presence of large international hotel chains was insignificant. This is now changing.
In addition to Hilton and Radisson, Accor - the largest European hotel group, is also planning an expansion to Plovdiv through its boutique brand MGallery by Sofitel - a five-star hotel with 60 rooms and suites, situated in the building of a former shopping center. The Plovdiv-based MGallery will be the first of its kind in Bulgaria and the fifth in the Balkans. Currently, two hotels in Istanbul and one in Athens and Sarajevo each operate under the MGallery brand. Last spring, Accor announced that Sofia's Maison Hotel will also be taken under the MGallery by Sofitel brand in 2021.