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Crisis made Greeks more attentive

29 April 2010 / 10:04:28  GRReporter
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Victoria Mindova

Lora Markova is the owner of a private travel agency in Sofia. She is young and tough businesswoman, who knows that the only way to succeed is to work well and a lot. Exclusively for GRReporter Laura reveals the strengths and weaknesses of Balkan tourism and speaks with admiration for the many beauties of the Balkan countries. She also explains how the economic crisis in Greece has changed the attitude of Greek tour operators towards their Bulgarian colleagues. 

How did the Bulgarian tourist market change after the entry of Bulgaria into the EU in early 2007 and did this market change the crisis? 

According to my observations with the entry of Bulgaria into the EU there is a much more detailed and clear criteria and rules on how to work. After the economic crisis deepened, we could work much easier with our Greek colleagues. Now, Greek travel agents are much more careful in the way they work and the process of hotels fell. In previous years, you could notice that they were more laid back, which means that they could have not picked up the phone all day or even respond to a request. Even if it is in writing it has happened that a department of this hotel did not even respond to us. As much as I hate to say this, I believe that this is professional negligence. This was valid until last year, inclusive. 

Bulgarians in turn continue to visit Greece just as much as during previous years. For the 2010 season, I almost do not have clients for the Bulgarian seaside. Most travelers want to relax either in Greece or Turkey. 

Which is the preferred destination for vacation and what is the difference between holiday in Bulgaria and Greece? 

Place for rest depends on the season, but if we talk about the summer holidays my customers definitely prefer Greece. One of the main reasons is that today prices are lower. Also work is done much easier with Greek hotels than with Bulgarian ones. It should be noted that Greeks have become more tolerant and attentive to Bulgarian tour operators. They have clear working rules, which is still lacking in their Bulgarian colleagues. They make better discounts and are better businessmen. Recently I had a reservation request with very low prices. The initial offer was a 10% discount for early bookings, and when I had real clients who wanted to stay at this hotel, the guy took off another 10% from the already agreed price. The reason is that we found good business relations and in the future there will be a stream of tourists. It is definitely easier to work with Greeks now. I think the crisis made them more careful, more accurate, and more industrious. 

Do you see reflux of Bulgarian tourists to Greece because of the economic crisis? 

According to my observations there is no reflux of Bulgarian tourists to Greece. Bulgarians like to spend their holidays in Greece. It is a very attractive country for us – it has good food, a beautiful sea and it is a beautiful country as a whole. Greeks, as a people, are hospitable and Bulgarians will continue to spend their holidays there, despite the strikes and the economic crisis. Moreover Bulgarians are not impressed by the work strikes and protests as are western tourists. 

Greece vs. Turkey? 

They are very different countries, although they are close to us and to each other. In Turkey, people usually go to “All Inclusive” hotels with charter flights - generally it is for people who love everything to be arranged in advance. Most travelers who choose this destination are older or family with children, who want everything to be arranged, to have a group and generally to feel more secure. Turkey is a country which cannot be underestimated as a tourist destination, because it has good hotels and good service. Both countries are very different. Greece in turn embodies freedom - you can get in your car and go on a road trip. You can even choose a hotel on your way, which is not expensive, you can eat some good food. Wherever you sit in Greece, you'll always find good food, nice atmosphere and good music. The truth is that different types of tourists go on holiday in both countries, but both are good destinations for recreation and tourism services are on very good level. 

What type of Bulgarians spend their holidays abroad? 

Bulgarians finally became freer and more courageous. In this sense, I mean that today even people who do not have that much money are ready to get in their car and go somewhere in Europe. They are not afraid that they do not enough money in their pocket or credit card and they travel and see the world. They are no longer so compelling, nor closed. They do not just look for some of our seaside “All Inclusive” hotels, so they can spend their annual vacation. People here are now much freer and they do not have to be rich in order to go to Greece or Turkey. The volume of Bulgarian tourists has increased in recent years, but not because people are getting rich, but because they have become more curious and free. Bulgarians deserve to be richer, but unfortunately they are not. Furthermore, I do not think that it is more expensive to go on holiday abroad than in Bulgaria, anymore. Our prices increased a lot. 

If we have to compare a 10 day vacation in Bulgaria and in Greece, what would be the advantages and disadvantages of both? 

A ten-day vacation in both places would cost the same money to a Bulgarian, especially when it comes to resorts in northern Greece. If we consider the area around Thessaloniki and Khalkidhiki, the road by car is the same as the one to the Bulgarian seaside. People have already learned the way to there and it has become a popular destination for Bulgarians. The only thing more expensive in Greece is food. Restaurants and taverns are much more expensive than the ones in Bulgaria. If food is pre-organized and paid for, prices are generally the same. In Turkey is just the opposite, the food is much cheaper even than the average offer in our resorts, but for Turkey we said it is for peaceful holidays. If you want to party the destinations are Bulgaria and Greece. All this does not mean that we are underrating Bulgaria as a tourist destination. Here we have very nice and large luxury hotel complexes. In fact, I can safely say that we have many more luxury hotels than in Greece. The construction sector has helped about it, we are even slightly overpopulated. Consider, for example, Sunny Beach. It is a great resort, but if I go there with my son on vacation, I will definitely not feel good. The reason is that my child won’t be able to sleep until four in the morning because of the music in nightclubs, which are everywhere. On the other hand, it is fun place and it attracts many young people who want to have fun and relax - distinctive features are clubs, music, luxury, plus the sea and beach. Actually speaking, it does not differ very much from Spain, which also has overcrowded resorts, but it is fun. 

But overall the level of services today in Bulgaria is much higher compared with few years ago, and for the first time the country makes serious steps towards improving domestic tourism. For the first time we are beginning to pay attention to incoming tourists, i.e. foreigners who want to relax in our resorts. The quality of services has improved and we are contributing to the positive impressions that our beautiful country can leave in the guests mind. Bulgaria has something to show as a tourist destination - we have sea, we have beautiful mountains, like the Rhodope Mountains, Pirin, Rila, unique nature everywhere. If we are better organized, more fair and more tolerant, tourism would be even stronger in the country. 

Greek-tourists in Bulgaria? 

Greek tourists love Bulgaria and visit our country mainly in winter. They go to Borovets, Bansko, and recently to tourist flow to Pamporovo has increased, after the opening of the new border point… The new road shortened travel time, and Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains and Pamporovo are wonderful and have very good conditions for winter sports. 

What would you recommend to Bulgarian hoteliers? 

Maybe they still have to work on the issue of being more hospitable and certainly they need to reduce prices. I cannot disregard the fact that many luxury hotels were built in Bulgaria, without understanding why it is necessary to have so much luxury. Maybe in Dubai it makes sense, but there they can afford it (laughs). Most likely, these hotels have many operational costs, which is one reason not to cut prices. Throughout the whole world we can see nice, pleasant places where you can feel comfortable. They are attractive, friendly and have good food and all this can be found in one place without having to be surrounded by great luxury. While in Bulgaria we emphasize on luxury and the rest of the services, in many cases, are lacking. Another problem is the lack of good communication with tour operators and the lack of good marketing. This is a big mistake. The conclusion is that Bulgarian hoteliers must learn to work more and be better as a whole, everything else we have in abundance. 

How is rural tourism developing in Bulgaria and what is the interest of foreign tourists? 

We have unique resorts in this regard. In the Rhodope Mountains for example we have Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Nagoren and others, which are constantly full. These are old Rhodope villages that have been renovated and upgraded and operate as hotel complexes. The authentic Rhodope style has been kept, while all amenities of modern life are offered. There is a traditional pub with good food and people are hospitable. 

How do you think the crisis  will affect this business in Bulgaria and Europe? 

My business is not large. Certainly there were some months where I was on the edge. Now things are better, but not like last year. This time last season I had more reservations than I have now. They say that now is the bottom of the crisis in Bulgaria and I can definitely feel it. However, this crisis was essential, because when a person works well and a lot, as we should all work, one passes this difficulty. Now we have a sieve, which is very necessary and the best will remain. In tourism one cannot be incorrect and we cannot afford to do things without precision. Customers now have a higher standard and they value their money. They do not easily trust people, that will be served well.

Tags: Greece Bulgaria Turkey tourism hotela discounts
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