Ukraine and Russia are priority markets for Bulgarian tourism. According to the National Statistical Institute, last year Bulgaria was visited by nearly half a million Ukrainians and more than 135,000 Russians. Now, however, the situation is unpredictable, analysts say.
A few days ago, Ilin Dimitrov, chairman of the National Assembly's Tourism Committee, told Bulgaria On Air TV that “a military conflict would ruin our plans and make our region unattractive. It will stop the inflow of tourists from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Gas and electricity prices will rise. Shortage of workers from Ukraine will certainly reflect on the industry, too."
Martin Petkov, manager of a tour operator company in Sofia, working with Russian and Ukrainian tourists, says that military actions will have a negative impact on the upcoming summer season. “There has been a serious decline in reservations made by Russian tourists since the beginning of the Covid crisis two years ago, when charter flights from Russia to Bulgaria were suspended," Martin Petkov says.
"Ukraine is generally a newer market for us. There was a good rise in the number of bookings, but now things are slowing down. But no one can say what will happen. If things calmed down there, business could go up again. In other case, we can forget about these two markets in the coming months. Russia may not be represented at all this summer, keeping in mind the current situation."
The situation is further complicated by the fact that for years Bulgarian Black Sea resorts have been relying on staff from Ukraine to compensate for the serious shortage of labor in the sector: "We hope that the situation in Ukraine will not escalate, as there is certainly not enough labor force in our big resorts. The labour force from Ukraine is of great importance to the entire hotel business by the sea," Martin Petkov says. According to him, the sharp rise in electricity and gas prices, which are becoming unaffordable for many Bulgarian citizens, will certainly affect the sector. "Hoteliers have no choice and they will start adjusting prices upwards, so that they do not work at a loss and the service will become less affordable. Some people will simply be deprived of a vacation by the sea," Martin Petkov says and adds:
"Nothing can be predicted now. In 2014, when the situation in Crimea was unfolding, the tourist season was not bad for Ukrainian guests. As soon as things calmed down, more people came on vacation in our country, so it didn't have much of an impact. But it is impossible to predict how things will turn out now.