The government has already announced the conditions for foreign tourists to enter Bulgaria – a vaccination certificate, antibody test or PCR test, said the Deputy Prime Minister
– Minister Nikolova, what measures is the Ministry of Tourism taking to ensure the holding of a successful summer season in Bulgaria the conditions of an ongoing pandemic?
– Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to announce the start of the summer season of 2021 earlier – from May 1, to encourage the travel of Bulgarians and foreign tourists. Thus, businesses will have the opportunity for appropriate training and prevention, regardless of the announced new restrictive measures. I think this is a reasonable and workable option, especially since entrepreneurs have asked for a longer horizon for the start of the active season. We stood behind the motto “Choose Bulgaria for your safe vacation”.
I believe that for the last year in the new crisis working conditions the touristic sector has successfully adapted, become more flexible and innovative. We continue with the policy of reasonable restrictions, which are subject to discipline, distance and disinfection. It is proven that the Bulgarian tourist business is responsible. Their behavior is truly professional and a response to the overall policy of the Prime Minister Borissov’s government‘s policy to protect the greatest value – the health, life and security of the people – of both users of tourist services and the service teams themselves. The measures for the summer are an upgrade of the previous ones, which have shown that they are effective. The fact is in the last summer in Bulgaria we did not allow any tourists with COVID-19 in our resort areas and sites, and we did not have such a case this winter.
Our rules and guidelines for the activities of the industry and for the behavior of tourists do not aim to add additional restrictions, but to uniform practices and a basis for anti-epidemic control to ensure the health and safety of tourists and staff. Only in this way will Bulgaria protect the Seal for Safety and Hygiene of the World Travel and Tourism Council, with which it was awarded as a destination. Compliance inspections will be greatly strengthened and, if necessary, measures will be changed or supplemented according to the epidemic situation. Special recommendations for tourists areas include accommodation, restaurants, spa and wellness centers, swimming pools and beaches, as well as facilities in winter resorts, which are open in summer.
According to information from tour operators, the interest in traveling in Bulgaria is gradually increasing – mainly from Bulgaria and the Balkan countries from places you can start your journey to Bulgaria by car. The first Israeli tourists are expected at Burgas Airport at the end of this month. We hope for visitors from Romania for the upcoming Easter and other May holidays in our sea resorts. Central European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia are rediscovering Bulgaria as a destination and that is why our tourist office in Warsaw has reopened. We hope that the summer of 2021 will be better than last year, during which there were also positive facts – high occupancy in guest houses and spas, double-digit growth in small sites on the Southern Black Sea coast and in smaller municipalities. I believe that the coming months will develop this data as a positive trend.
We expect summer 2021 to be more successful. The upgraded anti-epidemic measures and the introduced uniform rules for the season will allow us to guarantee a safe and peaceful vacation for tourists, regardless of the chosen place for rest – mountains, sea, urban environment.
– Are options for green transit corridors, for easing border crossing regimes and for signing bilateral agreements for vaccinated tourists being discussed?
– Just a week ago, the European Commission proposed to create a digital green certificate. It must facilitate safe free movement within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its purpose is to serve as a guarantee that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, tested negative for a coronavirus or has had COVID-19. It is envisaged that the document will be free of charge, bilingual, interoperable between countries, secure, non-discriminatory and accessible in digital and physical format via a QR code to ensure the security and authenticity of the certificate. Its aim will be to facilitate safe and free movement within the EU during a pandemic. Consensus among member states on the certificate has been growing since the start of the vaccination campaign, but the irregular rate of vaccination raises questions.
Everyone must assess the risk of whether and where to travel. As well as whether or not to get vaccinated.
Bulgaria is ready to issue a green certificate and to provide green corridors for tourists in the new season. We have a constant dialogue with the health authorities and good cooperation in this direction as well. It is no coincidence that together with the Minister of Health Prof. Angelov and Prime Minister Borissov we announced the conditions for entering Bulgaria in the new season, the beginning of the season and our motto for summer 2021.
I have always called for open but also safe borders. We are ready to issue a green certificate, as well as to open green corridors for tourists in the new season. We maintain an active dialogue with our health authorities and other authorized bodies. We are doing everything possible to relax the restrictions without compromising the security of human life and health.
At this stage, however, the competent medical institutions have the floor and we, as a department, insist that the relevant orders become a reality as soon as possible to enable businesses to speed up negotiations for the summer and to work at pre-crisis levels.
– Will the prices of umbrellas and sunbeds by the sea be reduced this summer as well?
– This is what we and the business insist on at a working meeting, which I convened in the ministry about 10 days ago. This will continue our practice from last year, when we wanted to urgently support the owners of the beaches in the crisis, but also their visitors. The Ministry of Tourism has already prepared a bill with the changes on these issues, we have coordinated it with the industry and received its approval. A public discussion is forthcoming, and then it will be submitted to the National Assembly. We asked the concessionaires and tenants to determine for themselves how much the reduction in the prices of umbrellas and sunbeds will be for this summer. By June 1, 2021 or within 10 days of the entry into force of their contract, they must notify me of the reduction, then a decision of the Council of Ministers and the adoption of the relevant methodology by the government is required.
We want to continue another incentive measure in the new season – providing the owners of the strips of additional retail space with a maximum size of 4 percent of the beach area to better respect the physical distance in the ongoing pandemic. In addition, we offered the business a new deadline for payment of their concession fee or rental price, different from those provided for in the contracts – until October 31, 2021. The goal is to further alleviate them financially.
I will remind you that in our uniform rules for compliance with anti-epidemic measures in tourist sites in the summer a special place is paid to the order of guarded sea beaches – a distance of at least 1.5 meters, every 20 square meters accommodating 2 people or a family, the same applies to the use of each umbrella at a distance of 4.5 meters
– How does the department support the tour operators who are about to return funds for canceled vacations?
– On February 8, 2021, the state aid scheme for providing direct grants to tour operators and travel agents to compensate for the losses from COVID-19 was launched. The budget of the scheme is BGN 51 million. The Ministry of Tourism has so far paid grants in total BGN 24,002,293.77 to 396 enterprises. The funds are allocated from the state budget to compensate for the mentioned losses during the period from March 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The aid must be used priority to reimburse passengers whose packages have been canceled due to COVID-19 for the same period of time.
The amount of one-time grants is 4 percent of turnover (excluding VAT) in 2019. The deadline for applying for the measure expired on March 22. The submission of applications was done electronically by filling in a web-based form and supporting documents through the National Investment Management System.
The currently implemented measure for tour operators and travel agents will be applied until April 5, 2021. After that, a new state aid scheme enters into force, which was published in the State Gazette on March 19, 2021 and is to be notified to the European Commission. The measure envisages the state to provide grants to tour operators in the amount of up to 15 percent of their turnover (excluding VAT) in 2019, but not more than the amount due for tourist packages for unrealized trips. Funding for the new measure is provided by the already allocated but not used funds from the national budget. According to the indicative values, the unspent funds are about BGN 16.8 million. The amounts under the new state aid are received, regardless of the receipt of funds under the current scheme, and in compliance with the state aid rules.
Under the scheme for 51 million, according to non-final data, 670 applications have been submitted, with over 60% of them processed so far. The indicative number expected to be assisted is 621 applicants with a total estimated aid value of BGN 34.1 million. The value that should reach the end customers – tourists, is about 15.7 million, and the value that will be used for operating costs is about 18.4 million.
I cannot but add that in 2020, with funds from the Operational Program “Innovation and Competitiveness” 2014-2020, a pilot scheme of the Ministry of Tourism was successfully conducted to help tour operators and travel agents registered under the Tourism Act and victims from the crisis, worth BGN 10 million. 720 companies benefited from it.
Within the project of the Ministry of Tourism, also funded by the Operational Program “Innovation and Competitiveness”, a public procurement worth BGN 2,500,000 was announced. It will support guides and mountain guides, initiating employment through their professional organizations and in support of policy. to promote tourist areas.
The government has also granted a state subsidy of 35 euros for each airplane seat to companies licensed to operate tourist charters to Bulgaria. The assistance is in accordance with the Law on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency. For this purpose, BGN 55 million were allocated from the state budget, and the scheme as a first stage covers the flights operated from May 14 to December 31, 2020. Over BGN 3.5 million from the national budget were paid to such tour operators.
Let’s not forget the social measures for preserving jobs – especially important for seasonal activities such as tourism, but also taking into account the fact that the sector is among the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. According to the data, the Hotel and Restaurant Sector is supported by about BGN 126.4 million for 54 thousand jobs.