At the invitation of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), the Chief Executive Officer of Sofia Investment Agency, Vladimir Danailov, commented on the data from the Agency’s third annual ‘Sofia Tourism and Air Transport Market Report’ 2019.
Listen to the interview (in Bulgarian). For English translation, read below.
On the phone, to talk about the opportunities Sofia offers as a tourist destination, we have Vladimir Danailov, he is the CEO of the Sofia Investment Agency. Hello Mr. Danailov!
How is Sofia positioned among other capitals in Southeastern Europe? What are the reasons for the increase in the tourist flow and the overnight stays in the city?
Sofia is becoming an increasingly recognisable tourist destination. If we look at the factors driving this growth, these include the increasingly better connectivity, as flights connect
Sofia with dozens of new destinations every year. In the last four years, we have 50 new destinations that connect the capital to various cities around the world. Sofia is considered one of the safest cities for tourists, we have a very rich cultural calendar, Sofia Municipality
also diversifies its initiatives every year, we have over 30 international events in Sofia that attract foreign tourists and we think that the Bulgarian
Presidency [of the European Union] also attracted a large audience , who then spoke about Sofia. These are some of the main factors that determine the growth of tourism in Sofia in recent years.
Is the second place in terms of tourist growth in Sofia realistic? What percentage is the annual increase?
It’s realistic, yes. According to one of the rankings, that of Mastercard, the growth is 15.2%, which puts us second among European cities. Sofia is opening up to tourists. Every year we increase the tourist attractions in the city. The capital is becoming more connected, economic
development is also among the factors contributing to the more intensive flow. So the place in the ranking is absolutely deserved. Cities like Lisbon and Paris are behind us. Sofia is doing very well.
From which markets are our guests and what is the average stay of a tourist? How much does a tourist spend in the town for the cost of accommodation and stay in the city?
We heard a moment ago from our German colleagues. German tourists are really one of the main audiences for the city. They are number two in terms of visits. The countries from which we have the most tourists are Italy, Germany, Israel, Greece, Great Britain. There is a very large Italian community in Sofia, which explains their first position in this ranking. Our report shows that a tourist’s stay in Sofia is 1.8 days and the national average is 3.4 days. What we as a city and all representatives of the tourism industry should strive for is that tourists stay longer, i.e.
to offer a product that will keep them for 2-3 days in Sofia, which will become a business for this industry. The average cost per night in Sofia is 87 BGN and the average revenue per tourist in Sofia is 151 BGN. This is according to data for 2018. And here I have to share that the tourists who stay in Sofia for the longest are guests from Italy, Israel, Spain and the Great Britain. They stay for 2 – 2.2 days in Sofia.
Do you expect that this increased interest in Sofia as a tourist destination will push higher the prices of the services offered?
We expect that, yes, of course. This is the principle of the supply and demand market rule. There is already a slight upward growth, this is completely normal. I would like to add that the hotel infrastructure is developing in Sofia as well. By 2021, we will have five new 5 star hotels. This will definitely pull the statistics up, you know. So we expect prices to rise. This, on the other
hand, is good for both local businesses and the local industry. The figures that we measured over the last year show that the average price in the 4-star segment is about 86 euros and the average price in the 5-star segment is about 114 euros. These are the numbers.
What type of accommodation is preferred? Can you tell what is the share of hotel accommodation and that of shared accommodation platforms?
Currently, according to our conversations also with colleagues from the Ministry of Tourism,
they are also seeing the impact of the platforms. Let me tell you a few numbers here. In 2016-2017 we had a very high tourist flow, the Presidency followed then, and we measured growth at between 10% and 13% per year. This year, if we look only at official overnight stays, this percentage is about 3%. Since this number is not realistic, we did a survey and according to the Municipal Tourism Enterprise, there are about 10% more stays from different platforms like Airbnb and Booking. So we have yet to begin to measure the impact of these platforms on tourism in Sofia.
What type of tourist product is sought after in Sofia? Isn’t it true that tourists come because it is cheap for them? Are the transport in the city good, the access to the various tourist sites, the shopping opportunities, the dining places and what about the opportunities to visit tourist sites near Sofia?
I believe that both the infrastructure and the environment are constantly improving. I would like to share some numbers here. If we look at the main stream of tourists – we have about 40% leisure tourism, about 40% business tourism and about 16% congress tourism. Sofia’s urban infrastructure is constantly being updated and Sofia as a city invests heavily in urban environment and infrastructure. You know that we are one of the few capitals where you can ride from the airport, from Terminal 2, directly to the city centre and to more remote areas. Our city is investing in making the sights themselves more accessible. You know that a new bilingual tourist orientation system has been introduced. The design conforms to world standards. All this infrastructure, together with becoming a more recognisable tourist destination, improves these odds. Of course, the price-quality ratio in Sofia is still very good unlike other European capitals, which have become too expensive for mass tourism.
However, what are the untapped opportunities, the untapped potential of Sofia as a place for tourism?
We will grow as a tourist destination. First, we will grow in popularity; we have various initiatives that drive the image of Sofia as a city internationally. You know, this is a kind of marketing
for the city. Secondly, Sofia is one of the cities with the richest cultural and historical heritage, and this is becoming more and more known. We have insufficiently realized opportunities for SPA tourism. Sofia is gradually becoming a destination for congress tourism. The new infrastructure of 5-star hotels that we will only have in two years, the ever-improving urban environment and the growing popularity of Sofia – these are the three main vectors of tourism development of the capital.
Thank you for this analysis. It was extremely interesting to learn where Sofia lies in the tourism map.