Thermal and gastro tourism in Bulgaria

General situation of therma and gastro tourism in Bulgaria

The Covid-19 pandemic had a disastrous effect on the touristic sector worldwide. The drastic fall in the tourism GDP was the reason for the lack of stability in the sector during the pandemic. This had led to a huge number of businesses around the world arriving to their end, accommodations closing down and a significant drop in the employment rates. 

According to the Ministry of Tourism in Bulgaria’s report, there were 71,1% fewer tourists in the period January – December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Tourism GDP fell by 64%. During the second trimester of 2020, early in the beginning of the pandemic in Bulgaria, 35% of the employees in the touristic sector had lost their job. 

According to the documents and presentations in the Hotel and Tourism Investment Forum in 2021, the inland tourism in Bulgaria has increased significantly. The means of travel have shifted from flights to car rides.  Another significant change that will guide post-pandemic tourism is the fact that 85% of tourists share that they prefer a product or an activity that is tailored for their particular personal preferences. Thus, they are less likely to compromise on their experience. 

Employment opportunities

According to Eurostat, the inland tourism in 2020 had dropped by 22% compared to 2019. The lesser drop in inland tourism had been a milestone for the sector’s survival. 

The Bulgarian tourists were mainly looking for spa and gastro touristic possibilities, and were willing to follow the health measures. 

The rural tourism experienced a possibility for new open job positions. They could not compensate for the lower employment levels in the touristic sector overall, but proved to be a breath of fresh air in the sector. 

Bulgaria’s inland tourists are attracted by a number of touristic sub sectors – historical tourism, gastro and spa tourism, health and wellness tourism, cultural tourism. All of the aforementioned branches are in need of actualisation and workforce. Job openings in the rural tourism sector had been on the rise in the post-pandemic background. The businesses in the sector need to implement new digital technologies and to work towards improving the services. Those changes will improve the demand in the business and will bring more clients in the long run. 

The businesses in the sector, as well as the state, need to invest in personnel education and development, in order to improve and stabilise the services. 

Challenges in the industry 

  1. Work towards more effective advertisement

The tourism sector has traditionally relied on tourtistc agencies, word of mouth and user search. COVID-19 pandemic disrupted or accelerated a trend for the business to lose clients coming mainly from agencies and user search. A more proactive approach in advertising is needed, however most small and family owned businesses have little or no expertise in the field.

Spa and gastro tourism are traditionally small or family owned businesses with no makreting teams and sometimes even no marketing expert on the team. This means businesses rely on agency or learn how to do promotion within the team. 

What are some major challenges that we see in advertisements in the field? 

  1. Lack of in-house team 
  2. Lack of efforts towards a compelling visual identity 
  3. Lack of workable marketing strategy 
  4. Challenges with allocating marketing budget 
  1. Bring the cultural characteristics and spa benefits to light.

Many spa and gastro places are not just local businesses, but businesses in places with cultural heritage. This could attract an audience interested in cultural tourism. Thus the business could work to highlight the culture of the region, tell a story and also promote the benefits of the thermal water for the health.

We know some audiences don’t like reading, so a video is always a good idea. Yet the tourism sector needs to differentiate its messages – while gens Y and X might not be readers, millennials and baby boomers might be the target audience for some thermal and gastro places – for them an engaging article is a good way to highlight the cultural characteristics of the place and the benefits of the water. 

  1. Found staff, promote personnel upskilling and career development.

In the tourism good times, prior to Covid-19 pandemic and the recession the world is facing, tourism has faced less challenges in staffing as well as advertisement. With better revenue and more clients, the sector has experienced better staffing. Additionally, clients were not so “picky”. After the pandemic and in a world where clients are more consertive to spend their money, better and more optimised service is needed. Sometimes businesses have to cut staff and rely on fewer people who are not always having less work. 

Employees who had to be laid off or sent on unpaid leave during the pandemic might qualify. Young people see the sector as unstable and insecure. 

This present three major challenges to the sector:

  1. Find employees
  2. Retain employees 
  3. Maintain a good level of service 
  1. Digitalize the business

As you can see in this interview, the pandemic accelerated the need for digitalization in the industry. Eliza Stoilova, CEO of Umni speaks about the need for more flexibility, adaptability and cost-effective solutions which all come with digitalization. 

  1. Upgrade the services so as they respond to the customers’ demands and expectations
  1. Invest or look for investors that will help to improve the overall background of the region

Good practices for finding employees and promoting the business

  1. Businesses need to open to digitalization, use the social media as a mean to bring better understanding and engage clients

Social media is proven to be the most useful and direct way to reach new customers. Whether it is a whole social marketing campaign or simply social media presence that aims to inform more people for a certain service or business, social media is good for bringing your rural or international business in the touristic sector to light. 

  1. Creation of both digital and printed materials that aim to popularise the region and its touristic possibilities.

Spreading newsletters or printed materials (short book, fliers or magazines) helps to improve the awareness that the potential clients and tourists have for the services the touristic region offers. This is a way to spark interest and bring about new clients and even employees. 

  1. Working on brand image and PR.

In tourism, brand image is important. It makes the region, service, hotel, restaurant or accommodation recognizable and reliable. It is an important addition to the bigger picture of the PR, and attracts new customers. 

  1. Invest in employees’ upskilling and development.

Providing training and courses to the employees help to improve the level of the service that is being offered and to significantly improve the level of satisfaction among the tourists. Well qualified staff is necessary for the functioning of every business. This is even more true when it comes to the wellness and spa sector, where particular skills are required. 

  1. Strive to provide more attractive working  conditions and attract qualified employees. 

Better working conditions, including working hours and salary, as well as social benefits, help to attract employees that are more qualified. Good staff is the thing that makes every business prosperous, and is important for the toursitic walk of life, where customers’ feedback can make or break the business’ brand image.

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