The acceleration of the date when Bulgaria will take over the seat of the EU presidency from the second half of 2018 to 1st January 2018 will no doubt have sent the local state employees, brought up on a culture of ‘” if we really have to do something then let’s do it at the last minute” into an absolute frenzy. Work that could have been done a year or even two years ago is hastily being put together in an attempt to make the city and indeed the country look dynamic and spick and spam. If Bulgaria wants to show the EU exactly where and how (within reason) it has spent the EU coffers, then now is the time to do it; hopefully this will encourage more funds to follow suit.
In the midst of all this and hearing at first hand to some comments from current EU government officials, the good news is that all seem impressed with the smart new (ish) airport, the speed by which one can get to the city center compared with most European capitals and the breathtaking backdrop Vitosha Mountain provides. From a tourism perspective, this will also be a marvelous opportunity to showcase the tourism product and what the city and the country has to offer. However, niggles remain in the back of the mind.
Bulgaria is currently enjoying a boom in tourism, both during the winter and summer seasons. Allied to this, its rise in popularity as an ideal short weekend break destination has been nothing short of meteoric. Great climate, decent inexpensive food and drink in a café society and good value modern hotels. So if Sofia is going to be flooded out with thousands – as we are led to believe – of EU bureaucrats and their hangers on, where do they stay? The answer will of course be in the city’s key business hotels such as the Hilton, the (soon to be) Intercontinental and the Grand Hotel; that being the case, what happens to the room rates? Will the hotel owners apply sound supply and demand logic and realize that demand for their higher standard properties exceeds supply and thus they can hike up their rates? By doing so will this frighten off “normal’’ visitors and indeed give the perception that Sofia is an expensive city. Indeed, the question also begs, will certain high profile restaurants also hike up their prices to milk the daily diems of the EU’s unaccountable masses?
Plenty of Confusion
Back to the hotels: Sofia has only a small number of higher end business hotels, the majority are mid and even lower level hotels, which despite being cheap, usually are new and offer excellent value for money. In theory, there should be enough of these to go round and to satisfy the traditional sources of demand on them from ‘normal’” people and in so doing leave the high end hotels to battle it out amongst themselves and to make hay whilst the sun is shining; at least midweek! The Euro masses tend to work short weeks at the best of time and therefore these same hotels should be empty Friday to Monday!
What About Us?
One hopes that the first six months of next year will indeed be seized upon by the city, the country and the people portray a positive image of the lands in which we reside. That hopefully will also mean the authorities ensure that first impressions count and that may well include getting rid of the dodgy taxis from the airport!
Mark Thomas, Managing Director of HRG Bulgaria