The slow recovery of tourism in Bulgaria is due to the lack of a clear strategy
This is another year in which the summer season passes with almost no advertising campaign in the source markets
The tourist season at the airports in Varna and Burgas is seriously hampered by the lack of national advertising of Bulgaria, said Dr. Frank Quante, CEO of Fraport Bulgaria, in an interview with Bloomberg TV Bulgaria producer Silvia Grozeva:
We notice that the recovery in Bulgaria is much weaker in international tourism.
We developed really well in Varna during the winter. We used the existing potential quite well and achieved the highest traffic in history.
This is not the case in Burgas for a number of reasons, and in this regard we are working with the municipality there. But the situation is different at both airports. We have to admit it.
The problem is in the summer. The problem is the tourist part of the traffic during the three months of summer. The reason, I repeat it constantly since I have been here, is the lack of a clear strategy for tourism in Bulgaria. The second reason is advertising.
This is another year in which the summer season of 2023 passes with almost no advertising campaign in the markets from which our tourists come. This puts us down compared to other countries. And they are very active.
Turkey has a very strong advertising campaign, as does Greece.
This is a serious issue that we discuss frequently with the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Transport. Because that has to change. We're not yet seeing the volumes we need from the big countries, which are Germany, the UK and Poland, reaching levels that would make summer like a time.
And the numbers too. There are budgets and they should be spent effectively in the respective countries so that people understand that Bulgaria is a wonderful place to spend a vacation.
Let's talk about domestic flights. Softconnect announced 13% fewer flights in July compared to pre-pandemic levels. Why so? What can be done? For example, Ryanair flies domestic flights together with the national carrier Bulgaria Air, which has flights from Sofia to Varna and Burgas every day and still has a decline. What is the reason? Is there an opportunity for more domestic flights and competition for both airports, even with smaller turboprop aircraft or in the future with electric aircraft?
I hope. I often fly to Sofia and see that the planes are full. I think that there, things are already optimized to a level where we have demand from people. You know that Gulliver was flying to Burgas with ATR, but they had to stop because they couldn't keep the planes and for political reasons related to the war in Ukraine.
So we are very interested in keeping these point-to-point flights. I can say that we in Burgas and Varna offer the most attractive prices for domestic flights. Because it is very important to have good connectivity from Sofia to Burgas and Varna. We are doing everything we can to make these routes attractive to airlines.
We are in a year of capacity issues. This applies to many flights. The same with Turkish Airlines. When we talk to their Bulgarian representative, they are very interested in increasing the flights. We have a great load factor on flights from Varna to Istanbul.
It's really about a lack of capacity. But it has potential. Airlines will take advantage of any business opportunity. They are very fast, especially low cost carriers and all business opportunities will be monetized. This will also be useful for passengers.
How is the investment program going at the seaside airports?
We have made some improvements including an Eco taxiway. I am very proud of this project. This is the third largest project we have done since we took over the concession after the runway and the terminal. This is a big project, for 7 million euros. I am very pleased that there was no negative impact on airport operations.
And that's an increasing challenge for airports because security and safety regulations are getting tighter and it's making it difficult for construction companies to get their people in. This shortens their working time.
We did it successfully in Burgas with the rehabilitation of the platform, where we also invested over 2 million euros, and here in Varna with the Eco taxiway.
Our other plans are to build an outdoor area at both airports. Including gates, which is a future-oriented project because it is sustainable.
We are building photovoltaics at both airports. In Burgas we are currently signing the contract, and in Varna we are still waiting for the approval of the authorities. But we are moving forward.
Is there anything you will need to do regarding our future Schengen entry?
Definitely, we are preparing for it. We must be ready. This is part of the concession agreement. It is also part of the design of the terminals in Burgas and Varna. We have to be ready for Schengen and that is why we are in constant contact with the authorities.
How much will it cost you?
We haven't finalized the budgets yet, but the amount will be seven figures.
And for how long will you have to invest these funds?
It depends on the decision making process. You know that there is an opportunity to enter Schengen as early as October. And on the other hand, there is always a certain transition period. So we always look from a passenger composition perspective. Because we have to separate the passenger flows from Schengen countries and from other countries. This must be done in coordination with the Border Police, whose officers must have a place to deploy.
I can tell you that the concept is different for Varna and Burgas. And because of the different composition of passengers and traffic. But also because the terminals have different capabilities.
In Burgas, for example, we plan to use Terminal 1 and we are ready to do so.
So we are ready and investing, so the Bulgarian state can definitely count on all our support in this direction.
So, if we enter Schengen, for example in October, the airports in Varna and Burgas will be ready?
We should be ready, yes.
Will you need to hire additional people for this?
This is a complex issue because it is strongly related to the Border Police and where their officers will be stationed. We have no plans for non-consequential changes in personnel.
Our aim is to deal with the situation as efficiently as possible and to create flexibility. For example, we use the so-called revolving doors that we can use for both Schengen and non-Schengen passengers, depending on the traffic. We have no intention of increasing our staff for this reason.