MOUNTAIN RESORTS COMPETE WITH SUMMER HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS
Although they lack the posh glamour of Saint Moritz, Crans-Montana and Kitzbuhel, the Bulgarian winter resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo gain popularity in Europe. With regard to investments in new hotels they compete with the summer holiday complexes, accounting for some 85-90% of leisure industry proceeds. Encouraged by the meetings and bookings during the World Travel Market, held at the ExCel exhibition centre in London, November 8 - 11, branch insiders pre-estimated a 5-7% growth for the 2004/2005 winter season, beginning as of December 20 when entire Europe goes on X-mas holidays.The students' day, traditionally celebrated on December 8, will be something of a dress rehearsal. Bansko is the unbeatable hitthis winter again, Balkan Holidays officials claim. The travel company presented the opportunities of the mountain resort at the bourse in London. The tour operator expects a steep increase in the number of British tourists, in addition to the regular guests from Macedonia, Greece and Russia. According to Deputy Mayor Ivailo Ruhov, the number of vacationers will exceeds 350,000 this season, up from 250,000 last winter. The season will be officially opened on December 18. Until then ten new hotels of all the 70 new facilities (in which a total of EUR150MN has been invested) will open doors. They are located mainly around the first station of the gondola lift. The first and only 5-star hotel in the resort - Kempinski - will be ready in the beginning of March. Up to EUR80MN will be invested in it. The concessionaire Yulen AD has invested about EUR40MN in Bansko's ski-zone over the last four years. We should recall that its shareholders are: Pirin Tourist, Geotechmin Engineering, the Bansko Municipality, Emil Kyulev's financial group DZI, Academica 2000 OOD, and the association of private hoteliers in the town. Two new ski lifts will be opened this winter: one of them 1,100 m long between Bunderishka Polyana and Shiligharnika, and the other one 2,600 m long, from Bunderishka Polyana to Platoto. Two new ski-tracks have been built near them. Thus, the number of ski-tracks has become 16, with a total length of 65 km. A new rope tow will be put in operation this season at Bunderishka Polyana, where is the end stop of the gondola lift. A total of EUR12MN has been invested in these facilities. Private investments prevail. Yulen AD, in which the municipality holds a 12% stake, is the major investor, Deputy Mayor Ruhov underlined. In his words, the interest towards investing in Bansko is so big that funds have to be redirected to neighbouring settlements, mostly to Dobrinishte. Some time ago Bansko's Mayor Alexander Kravarov generously promised municipal land to those businessmen who build themselves infrastructure around their establishments. He specified that at least BGN50MN was necessary for expanding the sewage and street network and for building a ring road. These investments are beyond the powers of the municipal administration, so the facilities should be financed by the State budget or by private investors. The town develops rapidly, which hides serious risks, related mainly to the overpopulation and environmental pollution. The Super Borovets megalomaniac project whose total investment value is estimated at about EUR300,000-400,000 demonstrates the intention to compete with big summer resorts regarding the size of investments, the number of hotels and visitors. When it is ready, Borovets will become the top ski centre in the Balkans - a title for which Bansko was pretending until recently. The investor in the future mega-complex will be a joint-stock company in which well-known businessmen will participate. Although the company has not been registed yet, it is already known that 51% of its capital will be owned by banker Emil Kyulev's Contract 99 OOD, 25% of the assets will be held by the Samokov Municipality against a contribution in kind - 800 dca of land, 16% - by Glavbolgarstroy, and 8% - by Energocomplect. The grandiose project envisions a 3-fold increase of the available beds, construction of new ski-tracks and other ski facilities, and of high-mountain 5-star hotels. In the words of the Deputy Minister of Economy Dimiter Hadjinikolov, who headed the interdepartmental panel of experts, each ministry has already presented its stance, feasibility studies are towards completion, and the mandatory in this case evaluation of the effect on the environment is to be prepared. The report will be probably rejected by ecological organisations, as four years ago that happened in the region of the Pirin mountain. Pamporovo does not share the ambitionsof Bansko or Borovets so far. The Perelik hotel is being entirely reconstructed and expanded as of the summer of 2004. After the renovation it will have 300 more beds and will apply for a 5-star grade. The hotel is included in the assets of Pamporovo AD, together with the Arfa villa, the bus station, and the resort's entire infrastructure. The owner EIBANK has invested BGN18MN in the construction of the new 11-storey wing where the company's administrative building was formerly located, and in the expanding and fortification of existing ski-tracks. According to the Chairman of the Pamporovo 21 Century association of hoteliers Milko Milkov, who is also owner of the Snezhanka hotel, a considerable part of the accommodation facilities (which presently have 1,500 beds) needs repair and the resort as a whole needs serious investments. Otherwise it risks to lose its reputation of a ski resort. For two years now the organisation has been trying to find the necessary EUR11MN investment for the implementation of the Mechi Chal project of the Chepelare Municipality.Mountain resorts were so far accounting for just 10-15% of leisure industry proceeds. According to insiders, however, the winter season could be extended to April by installing artificial snow equipment. This ambition is justified, especially regarding Bulgaria's bid for hosting the 2014 Winter Games.