It will be down to the Bulgarians themselves to salvage the winter tourist season, just as it happened in the summer, operators have warned.
Already, charter flights from Russia to Bulgaria for Christmas and New Year have been canceled because of problems with issuing Bulgarian visas to Russian citizens, Donka Sokolova, chairwoman of the Bulgarian Association of Tourist Agencies (BATA), announced on Monday.
There is a serious risk of a collapse of the winter holiday season if this problem is not overcome, she commented.
The basic cost of a visa for a Russian citizen is EUR 35, but the total is increased by EUR 12 to EUR 47, once the handling charges of the visa centers of the Indian company VFS Global, are added.
The outsourcing company, with which the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow signed an agreement in November 2008, operates only a courier service – they only deliver the visa documents to consulates. This does not facilitate the entire process of issuing visas, but merely adds to the cost, commented Sokolova.
She said that BATA is going to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), to discuss yet again the issue of whether to continue the Bulgarian contract with VFS Global.
“Due to these problems with visas, we can expect a fall in the number of tourists from Russia, and that is one of our main tourist markets,” Sokolova concluded.
She further predicted a 10% drop in the numbers of British visitors.
“Our hopes were that this fall in the British market would be offset by Russian visitors, but evidently this will not now happen’” she stated.
The BATA chair added that at least there were not yet any British flight cancellations
The sector is also worried by the effects of the swine flu epidemic on bookings for winter vacations, but, Soklova commented that “it was a good sign that at the World Travel Market (WTM) tourist expo in London, held last week, there wasn’t a single person wearing a mask.”
Last summer, the number of Bulgarian tourists had risen by 50%, meaning that they had, in effect, “saved” the season, said Sokolova.
“There is a huge possibility that this will happen again this season,” she commented. “In this way, thanks to Bulgarian tourists, the sector will maintain its revenues at the level of last year’s, even though as a whole there is a drop in tourist visitors.”