Tourism is a priority sector in Bulgaria and in 2018 directly contributed 3.1% to GDP, generated 2.9% of employment, and directly supported approximately 93 000 jobs.

The total number of international arrivals was 12.4 million in 2018, an increase of 6.7%, compared to the previous year. International leisure visitors grew by 5.5% reaching 5.8 million while international business visits numbered 1.7 million, an increase of 10.6% over 2017. EU markets continued to be the most important for inbound tourism with a share of 61.4% and a total of 5.7 million arrivals. The top three inbound markets in Bulgaria were Romania (1.4 million arrivals), Greece (1.1 million) and Germany (850 000).

Domestic tourism in accommodation facilities with a bed capacity of 10 or more rose by 2.2% to 3.9 million in 2018, accounting for 9.1 million nights, up 1.6% from 2017.

The tourism policy in Bulgaria is founded on partnerships between government and local authorities, NGOs, business and civil society, promoting opportunities for investment, new skills, jobs and stimulating competitiveness within the tourism industry. The Council of Ministers is the national body responsible for formulating national tourism policy in Bulgaria. The Ministry of Tourism implements policy and coordinates the activities of other ministries and institutions. The Ministry of Tourism is also specifically responsible for regulation, product development, marketing, research and information, external project funding and supporting regional organisations.

The National Tourism Council is the consultative body, which operates under the authority of the Ministry of Tourism. Its members include representatives of tourism-related ministries as well as national, regional and local tourism associations, transport operators and consumer bodies.

Recent legislative changes have led to the establishment of nine Regional Tourism Management Organisations. The members of these include tourism associations, regional and municipal administrations, institutes, museums, scientific bodies and tourism schools. The Regional Tourism Management Organisations are responsible for regional tourism product development and marketing of the nine identified tourist regions in Bulgaria.

The Ministry of Tourism works closely with the private sector and other stakeholders as well as collaborates with regional and local tourism bodies listed in the National Tourism Register. At the regional level, authorities develop and implement tourism strategies and programmes in line with national tourism and regional development strategies.

The Tourism Act regulates the co-ordination associated with the interaction of the State and municipalities in the implementation of activities related to tourism, as well as the participation of not-for-profit legal entities. The Tourism Act makes provisions for local authorities to adopt tourism development programmes according to local resources and need, and establishes an Advisory Council on Tourism and a Municipal Commission to oversee the development of tourism related facilities.

The budget of the Ministry of Tourism for 2019 was BGN 19.35 million, of which BGN 14.57 million was allocated to marketing activities. The Ministry is responsible for administering funds from both the national government and the European Union.

In 2018, the Council of Ministers approved the updated National Strategy for Sustainable Development of Tourism in the Republic of Bulgaria to 2030 and the related Action Plan for the period 2017-2020. The implementation of the Strategy is the responsibility of the Minister of Tourism. The most important challenges addressed by the Strategy are overcoming the seasonal and geographic concentration of Bulgarian tourism, encouraging the industry to be more sustainable, improving the qualifications and skills of the workforce, and upgrading and investing in new accommodation and other facilities.

In 2018, 56% of all arrivals registered by accommodation establishments with 10 or more beds were in the period from June to September, and the remaining 44% dispersed throughout the rest of the year. Travel is concentrated in Varna, Burgas, and Dobrich - with the other 25 districts receiving slightly over half the arrivals. To encourage tourism to other regions, the government developed tourist routes highlighting cultural tourism, congress tourism, spa and wellness tourism, eco-tourism and rural tourism.

The Ministry is aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals and has a clear implementation framework and funds for investment in technology, infrastructure and human resources.

The Strategy’s long-term objectives are to:

  • Establish a favourable business environment to develop sustainable tourism by updating the regulatory framework and reducing burdens on business.

  • Develop a competitive tourism sector by stimulating improvement in all types of tourism businesses to ensure high quality products.

  • Position and promote Bulgaria in international markets.

  • Develop regional tourist areas by stimulating the growth of tourism SMEs and establishing destination management organisations in nine tourist regions across the country to ensure balanced growth.

The Strategy is delivered through an agreed annual Action Plan which includes:

  • Ensuring effective coordination between institutions and integrating tourism into related sectoral policies.

  • The creation of special visa application centres to facilitate travel in co-operation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria.

  • Active co-operation between the Ministry and domestic and international travel trade companies to create joint tourism products and packages.

  • New product development to diversify the tourism offer, make it more distinctive and tailored to different types of tourists. For instance, the recently elaborated cultural and historic destinations, SPA, wellness destinations and wine and culinary destinations within the country.

  • Positioning and promotion of Bulgaria as a year-round tourist destination and building a positive image among key international target markets via marketing activity.

  • Revisions to regulations in order to facilitate the establishment of regional DMOs and other local organisations.

  • Providing business support and finance for SMEs, capacity building and support to access national and international markets

  • Developing a unified system for tourist information at a national level, which acts as a networking platform for tourism business (see box).

Additional amendments to tourism legislation in 2019 aim to facilitate the involvement of industry stakeholders and to attract more investment in sustainable development. The amendments will facilitate tourism business also through eased regulations relating to the establishment of tour operators, the certification of spa and wellness centres, and the operation of restaurants, hotels and other accommodation.

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