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February 2015 Newsletter

Editorial

“The Russians are coming” is an old classic cold war film quote, for many countries in 2015; this very statement is made more in hope than anything else. We are not referring to some Russian speaking enclave stuck into apart of another European country, but rather echoing the thoughts of tourism bosses and those dependent on tourism the world over. To be more precise, many European destinations such as Greece, Bulgaria and even Turkey have become heavily dependent on the Russian market that even a nominal decrease in Russian tourists can be disastrous. To have massive amounts of Russians not traveling can be catastrophic and that’s putting it mildly.

Forget official statistics and numbers, most are concocted by some state organ that has rather spurious data collection methods and seem to produce the results to tailor the requirement. For example, a recent Euromonitor report showed Sofia to be the 35th most popular city in the world based on tourism numbers. The source was the National Statistics office who provided a number of 4,448,000 (4 .5m) as to the number of visitors to Sofia in 2013. These figures apparently, exclude domestic tourists and day trippers. So far so good except that Sofia Airport handles about 2.5 m passengers per year including Sofia or Bulgaria based travellers who are by far the majority, so how did the other 2-3m or so tourists arrive? They didn’t is the obvious answer and there wasn’t 4.48 m overseas visitors to Sofia. There probably wasn’t that many if you include visitors from the regions around Bulgaria.

Anyhow back to the Russians, the point of all this is that tourism in Bulgaria and other countries are going to be decimated this summer by the lack of Russian visitors. Reliable Tour Operators are already saying their numbers are down 70% on last year and it’s likely to get far worse despite local officials denying the fact. The problem for hotels, resorts and even regions that have spent time and money in investing in the lucrative Russian market is that at this stage, you can’t redirect your focus into other markets, it’s far too late. Now is when planning takes place for next winter not this winter and already this winter our own ski resorts have felt the effects of the disappearing Russians; despite claims to the contrary by government.

The recent Sofia Travel Expo was noticeable for the huge attention given to it by the resorts and operators from Turkey, plus to a lesser extent, Greece. The Russian market yields 10% of all visitors to Turkey: over 3m visitors per year. At the present rate they will lose at least 2m visitors. They know full well that without replacement revenue coming from somewhere to replace the lost Russian revenue, the Turkish hospitality industry will not just catch a cold, it will catch pneumonia.

 

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

 

 

Ryanair dicing with death?

Ryanair took a rather large risk with its website description of Palermo. Despite describing the city as a ‘”hidden treasure’’, it also mentioned that it was ‘”dominated for many years by the mafia and poverty”. That certainly isn’t the way to ensure longevity in life for Ryanair bosses when visiting Italy.

The website description has however now been changed and Palermo is described as ‘’intoxicating, lively and energetic”.

 

 

Scotland re-branded

China, as a source for potential tourists, should not be under estimated, indeed, its sheer size makes it to the top of every tourist destinations focus list. Britain is no exception and the Chinese themselves have been busy renaming famous sites, particularly Scottish ones. 23 sites have been given a Mandarin make over: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park becomes Shan Hu Huai Bao Zui Meng Xiang, meaning mountain lakes get you drunk on dreams. Glencoe becomes Qi Yan Gu which means splendid and beautiful valley. Best of all however is the Mandarin translation of the Highland games which is referred to as Qun Ying Hui or strong man skirt party.

Not sure how the last one will go down in the bars of Glasgow.

 

 

United in Arrogance

Human error is a fact of life, yet typing in the wrong date or misspelling something on an online booking site, particularly when trying to work directly with airlines, invariably leads to punishment in the form of extra admin fees charged by the online facility or airline. It may well be that for example a flight ticket has to be ‘”wrote off’” and another one bought. Humans are not allowed to make mistakes.

However United Airlines apparently are allowed to make mistakes and they won’t honour the fact they did so. A computer glitch allowed people to book first class seats for around 60 Euro if they booked and paid in Danish Krone but the airline has simply said ‘”tough’ and cancelled the bookings!  US bodies are threatening United with court action but the airline is standing fast on their arrogance.

In December Singapore Airlines made a similar error and after initially refusing to honour business class bookings made at economy rates, they did later back track when they saw the PR working against them.

United probably have such a bad reputation anyway amongst many that a few more complaints wont harm their reputation any further.

 

Captain Brave heart sent to Gaol

The Captain of the Costa Concordia, the cruise liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy in 2012 killing 32 people, has been sentenced to 16 years in gaol.

The court heard that every passenger and crew member could have survived if the Captain had ordered an immediate evacuation after the ship ran aground rather than delaying the order for one hour.

He also denied escaping from the boat by deliberately ‘falling’ into a lifeboat.

 

Life’s a beach

The top 10 beaches in Europe have just been named. The island of Lampedusa has become more famous recently for its refugees but one of its beaches has pride of place at the top of the tree. What may also be surprising is that two beaches from the UK make it into the top 10 which is the same number as our Southerly friends in Greece have; still the Greeks can always blame the Germans for the lack of success of its own beaches.

The top 10:-

  1. Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa
  2. Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Spain
  3. Elafonissi Beach, Greece
  4. Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon, UK
  5. Iztuzu Beach, Dalyan, Turkey
  6. Fig Tree Bay, Protaras, Cyprus
  7. Cala Rossa, Favignana, Italy
  8. Weymouth Beach, Weymouth, Dorset, UK
  9. Eggremni Beach, Lefkada, Greece
  10. Playa de Bolonia, Tarifa, Spain

 

 

Left holding the nuts – in gaol

The case of the rich girl left holding the nuts was massive news headlines in December; for anyone missing the plot, the spoiled rich daughter of the owner of the Chairman of Korean Air who also happened to be a VP of the airline and head of cabin service, threw a paddy when served with nuts that were in a bag and not in a dish as her the plane was taxiing down the runway in the USA. Upon seeing this hideous crime being committed she forced the pilot to return to the terminal and threw off chief attendant. So far so good for her ego: except that is in today’s global media world, she became the target of hate not just in Korea but globally. A criminal law case was opened against her, she was arrested on December 30th and the past week saw her sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for breaking civil aviation law. Korean law does indeed work quickly (Bulgaria take note).

Whilst the overly protected spoilt lady in question wont gain too much sympathy from too many sources, there is a mute point here and that is shouldn’t anyone spending 15,000 USD for a First Class seat reasonably expect a first class service. This includes having nuts served, as per the airlines own service manuals, in a dish and not in a plastic bag.

Would you want a 500 Euro bottle of Champagne served in a plastic cup?

Probably not.

 

 

Quality of pilots questioned

The recent TransAsia plane crash in Taiwan has raised yet more fears that pilots across many parts of Asia are simply ‘’not up to it’’. It’s almost as if the rapid rise in demand for air travel has been at the cost of engaging less experienced pilots.

Whilst the official results of the investigation into the crash have yet to be released, it has been stated that whilst one engine was ‘’out of power’ shortly after take off, it appears that it was then that the ‘good’ engine was shut down and attempted to be re-started.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan airline has been busy re-training some of its pilots and perhaps shockingly, several were withdrawn from service after having been found to be ‘”not up to the task’”.

 

Generic Flying – The Future?

Have you noticed the ever increasing number of code share flights i.e. the flight between two points that has several flight numbers? To the in-experienced who booked his British Airways or Lufthansa flights to some far flung destination, he might have a shock when he or she realises that not all of the flights are actually with British or Lufthansa but rather are operated by some “partner” airline. In otherwords the airline service has been “contracted out”, invariably to an inferior service partner though that is unlikely to be admitted in public.

Might it be that airlines are edging towards a hotel type of operation where hotels are owned by one person but operated by a separate management company e.g…? Hilton, Radisson etc. Are we reaching the point where a no-name airline will be established and it will simply rent itself out to numerous other airlines to act as a service ‘fulfillment provider’?

The notion isn’t perhaps as stupid as it may sound. After all the planes themselves are often not owned by the airlines but leased from third parties; often coming complete with the crew.

 

 

Turkish on the cheap

Turkish Airlines is considering “borrowing’ two A 380 Superjumbo’s from Malaysian Airlines. To date Turkish have not extended themselves to using the A380’s, instead they have focused on flying higher frequencies i.e. the same routes more often, rather than take on high capacity flights. Malaysian has found that demand for their flights has slowed after two fatal accidents last year. By offloading two out of their six A380’s, it will help Malaysian reduce its costs and Turkish will benefit from using the plane as a ‘test’ rather than having to buy a plane outright.

Just for the record, Airbus, manufacturer of the A380, won’t consider this as a lost sale opportunity as they have not found any new takers for the plane since 2013. Its only sale in 2014 was to an aircraft leasing company who itself has failed to find a taker for any of the 20 planes it ordered!

 

 

Forthcoming holidays

If you are looking for somewhere close and inexpensive to travel to during some of the forthcoming holidays in Bulgaria, then two excellent offers stand out. Easter sees an excellent value package to Cappadocia with prices from 283 Euro which includes charter flight, four star hotel on half – board basis for 3 nights and airport transfers.

The early May holiday sees a 5 night package to Tivat in Montenegro with prices from 317 Euro which includes flight, transfers and bed and breakfast accommodation.

Contact HRG Bulgaria for more details.

 

Bottom end profit

The Hilton Hotel group is considering plugging a gap in its brand portfolio and establishing a budget or economy brand hotel.  The midscale or economy sector of the hotel industry accounts for some 40% of total hotel demand, so not having a presence in this sector can not only reduce the chances of holding onto the loyalty of your clients, it can also be a lost profit opportunity. Profits in many cases are easier to earn in this sector than in the high end deluxe sector.