In the last period the destinations with overtourism issues are getting a lot of attention. On the other side other cities are emerging as new frontiers for tourism, demonstrating that it is possible to define a vision and strategy of destinations’ development preserving the sustainability. Sofia, Bulgaria, is one of those cities.
With so many other destinations dealing with tourists running rampant and altering cultural identities, Sofia has a completely unique opportunity to declare to the world what it wants to be as a city and as a destination for others to come enjoy, experience, and better understand.
Skift investigated the tourism vision of the Bulgarian destination, generating a research based on firsthand reporting and data about the changing travel industry.
In an interesting study, Sofia University’s Vasil Marinov, Elka Dogramadjieva, and others interviewed 173 accommodations establishments and 35 travel agencies to assess the success of current tourism infrastructure in Sofia. Many respondents found there to be a considerable delta between the development potential of a certain area of tourism versus its current status, particularly for ski tourism, “green” tourism, heritage tourism, and wellness tourism. In the chart below, the higher the number, the greater the delta between the development potential versus the current state assessment for a given category of tourism.
In recognition of the potential opportunity for tourism in the city, the government has already been implementing some much-needed infrastructure.
The municipality has the incredible opportunity today to define a vision for how tourism can sustainably develop, where the economy, locals, and visitors all benefit. “We have a long way to go, and it depends on the government,” Grahliova of Arena di Serdica noted.
Instead of demolishing buildings, such as the mausoleum mentioned earlier, turn them into museums. Instead of keeping areas reminiscent of the past closed to the public, open them up for better understanding. Instead of putting up walls, break them down.
An ultimate strategy should encompass necessary infrastructure, better service, and appropriate promotion of what the destination has to offer.
When it comes to tourism infrastructure, interviewees of the same Sofia University study also highlighted an ongoing need for restoration of heritage sites and other areas of leisure and entertainment as well as more easily accessible information. “We have three tourist information centers,” Zhelyazkov of Central Hotel Sofia explained. “Two of them are underground in the metro stations. Only one is in a garden in the city center.”
In addition, appropriate promotion of Sofia and all that it has to offer appears to be very much needed. “We need to promote more,” Dolapchiev of Hotel Rila Sofia emphasized. “Because right now, … people outside Europe don’t know Bulgaria, but people in Europe know pretty bad stuff about Bulgaria, because we have a lot of economical problems.”
The Sofia University study indicated a need for better maintenance of tourism websites, more active e-marketing, and more easily accessible information for tourists.
Surely the change of course will begin in a definitely way when the government, businesses, and locals alike reach a communal understanding that they have a beautiful city that’s worth the attention that other destinations are currently receiving too much of.