BANSKO BIDS FAREWELL TO ITS HISTORICAL IMAGE
QUALIFIED PERSONNEL IS WHAT THE MODERN SKI CENTRE STILL LACKS Until two years ago, the name of Bansko was mainly associated with the history of the town, the names of famous Bulgarians such as Neofit Rilski, Paisiy Hilendarski, and Nikola Vaptsarov, the stubborn temper of its citizens, the strange accent, the nice songs, and the famous specialties. Since 2001 when the building of the ski centre was finally initiated, Bansko began to differentiate from the cliche ethnographical and cultural centre. Currently, it is considered the most modern ski resort in the Balkans. A great merit is due to the Yulen joint-stock company established in September 1999. On September 2, 2001, Yulen won the competition for a 30-year concession on the future ski resort equipment. The company's capital is distributed among Pirin Tourist OOD (34%), Geotechmin Engineering OOD (34%), Academica Executive Agency (18%), the municipality of Bansko (12%), and DZI General Insurance AD (2%). All of the shareholders are also hotel owners (they own Pirin, Glazne, Bansko, and Strazhite hotels), so their investments in the ski centre also provide permanent customers for these hotels' beds.Meantime, Yulen AD which initially promised to invest EUR25MN until the ski zone is completed, attracted some other investors. According to the Bansko Mayor Alexander Kravarov, some EUR50MN has been invested in the town over the past two years. Until the opening of the winter season last Saturday the concessioner Yulen alone had invested EUR30MN in ski lifts, tracks, and other infrastructural facilities in the ski centre. 280 new jobs were opened, Yulen's Executive Director Boyan Mariyanov said. The company will have its investments returned in seven to ten years, he predicts. The remaining EUR20MN was invested by other entrepreneurs, mainly from Sofia, who acquired ground for construction of villas, hotels, and houses.Tour operators already forecast that Bankso will be the hottest winter resort this season. More than 300,000 skiers are expected, mainly from Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Greece and Macedonia. All hotels have already been booked, says Iliya Choutourkov, Marketing and Advertising Manager of Balkan Holidays OOD, which runs the 4-star hotels Pirin, Bansko and Strazhite. The tourist product is also sold by the company Alxandra (in the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Solvex (in Russia). The fourteen ski-tracks are equipped with a total of 59 fixed and portable facilities for artificial snow, which will guarantee good conditions for skiers till the end of April, Iliya Rizov from Yulen points out. A new 8-seat gondola lift of the Austrian Doppelmeiser will take the skiers from Bansko to Banderishka Polyana. The facility is 6,300 m long and has a capacity of 2,400 people per hour. From Banderishka Polyana to Shiligarnika the vacationers will use a 6-seat lift, and a 4-seat lift is available from Shiligarnika to the Todorka peak. A state-of-the-art system of electronic chip card of the Austrian company Ski Data has been introduced in Bulgaria for the first time. The card will cost BGN24 per day and will allow access to all facilities in the resort. The Yulen Ski school opened doors last Saturday. It has 13 new machines for stamping the tracks and 1,200 pairs of entirely new skies, shoes and sticks, and 300 snow-boards. Experts are unanimous that by its dynamic development Bansko can only be compared to Sevlievo. However, the town faces a serious problem. It lacks qualified personnel for the tourist industry. It's difficult for me to find staff with the necessary experience and qualification, Nikola Vaptsarov, owner of Chateau Vaptsarov admitted to the BANKER weekly. But I found a way out. I work with hoteliers from Varna. In winter they send me their personnel, and in summer the employees of Chateau Vaptsarov work for them.