According to Bulgaria's Ministry of Tourism, the country expects a 5% rise in tourist numbers for the summer season of 2018, compared to 2017. The number of tourists visiting Bulgaria increased by 11% in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2017.
The country's Ministry for Tourism launched a digital advertising campaign this year, aiming in particular at tourists from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Poland and the US, the main markets the Ministry expects tourists to come from.
Last year, more than 5.3 million international visitors came to Bulgaria. Domestic tourism is also expected to grow. For 2018, the Ministry believes that 1.9 million Bulgarians will be travelling to other parts of the country. Last year, that figure was 1.6 million. Bulgaria is very much seen as a major emerging tourist destination in Europe. The recent win of Plovdiv, which has been named as one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2019, will certainly help to put Bulgaria firmly on the map for tour operators. Matera in Italy was named as the other Capital of Culture for next year.
Plovdiv may be one of the oldest continually inhabited towns in Europe, but it has a cosmopolitan flair and modern tourist amenities that could put many more established tourist towns to shame. Dating back to at least the 6th century BC, Plovdiv is a lively, modern city with an ancient heart, located in the south-central part of Bulgaria and easily reached by train and road. The town expects around two million visitors for next year, having already predicted around one million visitors to arrive this summer on the strength of greater "visibility" on the international tourism market.
The town's historic centre has been on the "potentials" list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites committee for several years now. Deputy Mayor Stefan Stoyanov said that the town had great ambitions and much to offer in terms of tourist attractions, such as a modern music festival and opera festival, a beautiful old town, lovely restaurants and boutiques. With only half a million residents, Plovdiv is easy to get around on foot, another point in its favour, and it is not too crowded, even in summer.
The other tourist destination hoping to cash in on greater awareness of Bulgaria as a European tourist destination is the seaside town of Varna. Founded as a trading colony in 570 BC, Varna is Bulgaria's tourism power house. With around 330,000 residents, Varna is Bulgaria's third-larest city and located at the northern end of the Black Sea coast. Last year, the town saw a 9.3% increase in tourism revenue. Some 8.9 million international tourists visited Varna in 2017.
According to Varna's tourist information centre, tourism accounts for ca. 18% to 20% of the country's GDP. However, the Black Sea coast at present contributes more than its fair share, offering around 70% of the available tourist accommodation in the whole of Bulgaria, both in terms of hotels and rooms let by private landlords. This is set to change, as the Ministry of Tourism is determined to offer greater variety, not just seaside holidays, to tour operators. Hence the promotion of land-locked Plovdiv, which offers cultural tourists a veritable feast.