DREAMS AND REALITY OF ATHENS 2004
Unlike the two previous editions, the Third International Conference on Tourism - Bulgaria Dream Area - made a clear definition of its goals. The conference was held in the Sofia Sheraton Hotel Balkan on 8 and 9 January. There is no doubt that the forthcoming Olympic Games in Athens are a big event that may bring profit to the Bulgarian tourism. All representatives of the branch came to an agreement - Bulgaria must part with its image of a cheap tourist destination. Even though that message will not be heard by potential tourists from Europe and the USA, because there were no foreign media, tour operators, or agents, at the forum again. Nevertheless, the few foreign lecturers and official guests, including Rok Klanchik - Chief of Press and Communications at the World Tourism Organisation, Jaime Ruiz - Executive Director of the European Travel Commission, Nikolaos Dimadis - President of the Greek National Tourism Organisation, and James Knight - Business Development Director at Senior King Communications Group, admitted that Bulgaria was becoming the most modern tourist destination. The reason, they say, is that very few of the other Eastern European countries can boast of the exclusive geographical combination of mountain areas and beaches available in Bulgaria. According to these experts, the places that attract most tourists right now are Greece, the Bahamas, Botswana and ... Bulgaria. Taking these words into account, the statement of Bulgaria's Vice Premier Lidiya Shouleva that Bulgaria isn't just a land of dreams, but a land where dreams become true does not sound exaggerated.The third conference was entirely focused on the Athens Olympics and the advantages to Bulgarian tourism due to the country's neighbour position. The branch already showed that it knows how to make a modern tourist product at a good price. Greece's hosting of the Games gives us a chance to demonstrate the best of ourselves. I'm convinced that Bulgarian companies will cope with the challenge and will offer quality services as well as interesting experience to the guests of the Olympics, Lidiya Shouleva who is also Minister of Economy said. She added that the draft amendments to the Tourism Act stipulate concessions to the leisure industry - improvement of the administrative services, replacing the tour operators' licencing regime with a registration one, grading of the beaches and ski tracks, resulting in higher quality. Since the Municipal Taxes and Duties Act was amended in the end of last year, revenues from tourist services now go to municipal accounts so that the tourist infrastructure and the quality of services can be improved. We cannot just boast and ignore the obvious problems. The infrastructure is not in a good condition, the territorial administration of the big resorts is not adequate, Tsvetan Tonchev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Chamber of Tourism, said. Eighty per cent of the concessioners on the seaside beaches do not pay their duties, including big resorts such as Dyuni and Elenite. Mr. Tonchev was also critical towards the small supply of alternative forms of tourism. Country, mountain, and ecological tourism account for just 1 or 2% of the total revenues which amount to USD1.5BN in 2003. Considering the potential of Bulgaria, USD2.2MN worth revenues from international hunting tourism are not satisfactory, the expert pointed out. He predicted that Bulgaria is able to provide sports and hotel bases for acclimatization and preliminary preparation of at least three thousand contestants. The qualification process is not over yet and the rankings are not ready, so no applications have been made yet. The hotel in Pravets is the only one booked for two months now. Tour operators in turn are disturbed that tickets for the Games are not yet available in Bulgaria. That's why they are not able to respond to the curiosity of European tourists who want to combine their holidays in Bulgaria with a visit to the Olympics. It turned out that even the Bulgarian Olympic Committee (BOC) has no idea about how the problem could be solved. Moreover, the BOC representative on the conference, Kosta Angelov, has suspicions that Greece will probably introduce a temporary visa regime. All these problems, as well as concrete actions for joint advertising and sale of a joint (Greek and Bulgarian) tourist product will be discussed in February, when the ministers of the Balkan countries will have a meeting, Nikolaos Dimadis, President of the Greek National Tourist Organisation, announced. That will be the third or fourth meeting that may turn out fruitless. A memorandum of collaboration particularly for the purposes of the Olympics was signed last May, but still the Balkan region as a whole is not offered as a tourist destination anywhere in the world.