BANSKO - AT THE CROSSROADS BETWEEN AUTHENTICITY AND INVESTMENTS
Within two-three years Bansko will become the biggest winter resort in the Balkans, Blagoi Ragin, Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Hoteliers and Restauranteurs, predicted in end-2002 at the official opening of the skiing season in the little mountaneous town. Although his words might sound pretentious, people from the leisure industry branch believe his optimistic estimates.In the spring of 2002 the winter resort town got its chance and after the court arguments with ecology organizations the company Yulen AD started building the Bansko ski centre. We expect this winter season to be better than the previous one due to the new facilities we are commissioning, although Bansko should not be looked upon as a ski resort only, the town's Deputy Mayor Alexander Kravarov said in front of the BANKER weekly. We expect Greek vacationers for the Chrismas holidays, and in January the family hotels will be occupied by guests from Macedonia. We hope to attract back the Russians after the visa problem is solved, he added.According to data of the municipal administration, 100,000 vacationers visit Bansko each year, and more than 3,800 beds are available in the resort. Fourteen years ago there was not a single private hotel or restaurant in the town and it was not acknowledged a winter resort. Today, there are 113 hotels and 70 restaurants.All local citizens are convinced that leisure industry is a branch of priority importance to the town. Therefore, it was only natural for hoteliers, restauranteurs, and tour operators, to meet in end-December 2002 and establish an Alliance for Promotion and Development of Tourism in Bansko. The association's ambition is to unite all people working in the leisure industry branch and with the help of the local administration assist the town's development and promotion as a resort. The sales of the tourist product will be mainly on the British market (through the tour operator Balkan Holidays), in the Czech Republic (through the Alexandra company), and in Russia (with the assistance of the tour operators from Solvex). The first step of the Alliance immediately after its establishment was to change the town's logo and slogan, which already reads: Bansko - a resort for all seasons.All existing and newly-built facilities were commissioned in the beginning of the winter season, which was officially opened on December 20, 2002. About USD14MN has been invested so far, and within five years the investments will reach some USD25MN, Iliya Rizov, Executive Director of Yulen AD specified in front of the BANKER weekly. The company, whose shareholders are Pirin Tourist (owner of the Bansko hotel), Geotechmin Engineering (owner of Glazne), the municipality of Bansko, DZI-General Insurance (owner of the holiday facilities above Bansko), Akademika 2000 OOD, and the Association of Private Hoteliers in the town, denied to have missed the terms due to bad weather conditions and refused to specify the amount of their losses from the delay of the entire project because of the court arguments with the ecologists.Till mid-January Yulen plans to build two new 4-seat chair lifts, supplied by the Austrian company Doppelmayr. In February a 8-seat ski lift from Bansko to Shiligarnika will be commissioned. Two new chair lifts will be assembled by the beginning of the new skiing season, and all tracks will be equipped with 30-40 facilities for removing snow. We have collected several offers. About USD3MN will be invested in these facilities, Mr. Rizov explained. People in Bansko say they are not competing with Borovets and Pamporovo. But they are self-confident they are leaving behind these two winter resorts thanks to the new state-of-the-art Austrian facilities (whose capacity is 5,000 people) and the extension of the Todorka and Balkaniada tracks. However, there are also sceptics in the town, who fear that powerful companies from Sofia would settle in Bansko and will change it so much as to deprive the town of its authenticity. Therefore, the Alliance and the municipality are faced with the difficult task to find balance between investors' interests and the local colour.