Evangelos Georgiou: “Bulgaria Has What it Takes”

The tiny country's tourism numbers are exploding

TUI Group is the largest travel and tourism company in the world. Merging with former competitors is one of the strategies TUI pursued, in order to become the giant it is today. More than 67,000 employees work for TUI Group. The company owns 1800 travel agencies, six airlines with a total of 130 aircraft, and more than 300 hotels.

Offers for holidaymakers in TUI’s catalogues include vacations in a small country located in south-eastern Europe, called Bulgaria. Imanuel Marcus spoke to Evangelos Georgiou, TUI Group’s Manager Media Relations International Markets / Southern Europe, about the role Bulgaria plays for his company.

Magazine79: Bulgaria broke a record last year, regarding the number of foreign tourists it registered. TUI was definitely part of that. What is the significance Bulgaria has, from your perspective?

Evangelos Georgiou: To TUI Group, the country is a growth market. This year, Bulgaria is among the winner destinations. The latter was already the case last year. In 2017, Bulgaria is recording a two-digit growth. In our key business, we concentrate on the Black Sea coast. In summer, we fly to Burgas and Varna.

Magazine79: For 2017, Bulgaria intends to break another tourism record, and yet another one in 2018. What will TUI Group be able to contribute?

Evangelos Georgiou: We believe Bulgaria does have what it takes for further growth. The country provides a wide range of possibilities, including beach vacations at the Black Sea, hiking in three national parks and sightseeing at ten UNESCO World Heritage sites. In addition, I want to stress that Bulgaria does have newly developed skiing areas. Regarding winter tourism in Bulgaria, TUI cooperates with its British affiliate Crystal Ski and offers vacations at three skiing destinations, which are Pamporovo, Bansko und Borovets. We support growth in Bulgaria’s tourism and we intend to invest mainly into sustainable projects. Generally speaking, regions located away from the beaches are moving into the spotlight of tourism development in Bulgaria as well.

Magazine79: You prefer offering vacations at hotels you own. Why is that? How many hotels do you own in Bulgaria?

Evangelos Georgiou: TUI does not consider itself a conventional tour operator, which would offer its customers a flight and an accommodation only. TUI is a lot more. We are developers, investors, we run hotels and even cruise ships. At this stage, we own more than 300 hotels around the world, with 200,000 beds, a majority of which are part of the 4-star and 5-star segment. Our four hotel brands, TUI Blue, RIU, Robinson, and TUI Magic Life, as well as our three hotel concepts TUI Sensimar, TUI Sensatori and TUI Family Life, are being marketed under the main brand TUI. By doing so, we are increasing our customer’s brand experience along with the occupancy rates. This is what our success builds on. Bulgaria, where TUI Group runs five four-star hotels in cooperation with the holding RIU, is definitely part of our global strategy. Also, we do want to grow further in Bulgaria as well. At this stage, two additional hotels are in the works.

Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

Magazine79: Last year, the tourism sector in Turkey and northern Africa collapsed, due to the danger of terror attacks. Now the tide seems to be turning. When more vacationers hit the beaches of Antalya, will less tourist visit the Bulgarian Black sea coast?

Evangelos Georgiou: The entire travel market is growing, in spite of geopolitical challenges in some holiday regions. Therefore, Bulgaria does benefit from demand deferrals, but those are short-term occurrences. Turkey has an excellent tourism product with a paramount cost-benefit ratio. But, by investing into service quality and infrastructure, Bulgaria can benefit from the growth trend in the holiday market in the long run too.

Magazine79: Which aspects make Bulgaria an attractive destination for summer vacations? Is this mainly about low prices?

Evangelos Georgiou: For a long time, tourism in Bulgaria was designed to satisfy price-wary vacationers. But the Bulgarian tourism policy increasingly bets on investments in the premium hotel segment, as well as a diversification in the development of its tourism. From the perspective of TUI Group, that strategy is the right one. A vacation’s price will always be an important aspect, but the right cost-benefit ratio even more. Customers are ready to pay more for a vacation, as long as they see added value. Quality, differentiation and an authentic travel experience are the aspects which are important here.

Magazine79: In Bulgaria, which is the poorest country in the European Union, tourism obviously has an enormous significance. At the same time, there are issues. This year, there was a lack of qualified staff in hotels and restaurants at the Black Sea. Also the service quality left much to be desired at some facilities. How does TUI Group compensate those problems in Bulgaria?

Evangelos Georgiou: Service quality is an extremely important aspect to us. Tourism creates jobs, and holiday countries can increase the quality of their tourism products by investing into professional training and advanced education. One way is to link the theoretical and the practical training. Dual training programmes can increase the service quality at hotels and gastronomy facilities, by including the right professionals. Everyone benefits from that kind of approach, including trainees, the companies and the customers. In all holiday countries, including Bulgaria, TUI runs divisions called TUI Destination Services, which are responsible for all destination services. Our professionals on site are also being trained domestically, since we believe a well-trained and motivated staff is a very important factor for success.

Magazine79: Personally, what do you like about Bulgaria?

Evangelos Georgiou: Bulgaria is an attractive holiday country, which offers something for everyone. There are long beaches and high mountains. The capital Sofia and Oldtown Plovdiv are definitely worth a visit. Bulgaria’s cultural heritage is very interesting too, including the antique Thracian graves, old castles, churches and monasteries, especially Rila Monastery. Midland Bulgaria offers interesting insights into local traditions, customs, music and cuisine. All of this, along with the hospitality of the people, makes Bulgaria an interesting travel destination.

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