Editorial Here we are at the year end once again, a cycle that seems to…
The Extended Winter
As the winter ski season nears its end and before we get to read the official statistics that show that ‘”2018 was a record year with x% more visitors than last year’”, a fact which will probably come to fruition despite the perhaps cynical thought that such news nowadays sounds like a blast from the past; rather like the old communist party manifesto reporting year or year growth with regular monotony despite the fact that in reality there was no growth. However, we digress because those who have invested in the ski product should be pretty proud with the current product; a product that can stand shoulder to shoulder with many European rivals and a product that provides a huge financial boost to the country’s GDP. It is interesting though to look at where the Bulgarian ski industry is missing out as the world of travel evolves from the once obligatory seven-night package.
The weekend of March that sits when the clocks go forward and welcome in spring is, unofficially at least, the end of many peoples ski season. Except that is, if you are a skier! Taking Bansko as an example, during this season changing March weekend, the bars and restaurants on the Saturday are all open; on the Sunday many are not: they have finished their season. Snow may be in abundance, the pistes are perfect but many entrepreneurs have decided that this is when the close, so close their business they do. Not very long ago the ski industry was dependent on Tour Operators charter flights to bring in the masses and they operated Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday; it was 7 night take it or leave it. The ‘” clock changing weekend:” was when they operated their last return flights and the final tourists said goodbye for the season. The world recently has changed though it seems this message has not got across to many. So called Low Cost airlines now connect Bulgaria with what seems like every corner of Europe, flights to traditional source ski markets like the UK and Germany operate countless times per day; skiers can now come for a weekend or a few days, they can come at short notice if they see ski conditions are good and they skiers are more affluent than times gone by. Whilst skiing during the ‘”clock change weekend” it was noticeable that the pistes were full of British, Greek and a fair share of Israeli’s and other nationalities. Almost certainly non were a part of a typical package holiday. People were talking of ‘” a quick visit’’ from the UK to take in a few days skiing whilst the conditions were perfect and indeed perfect they were. Indeed, conditions for skiing are often better at the end of Mach and into April than they are around the Christmas/New Year period. People are nowadays flexible in when and how they take their holidays, that flexibility needs to also be shown by the people within the ski resort otherwise the scenario prevails where “” people don’t come skiing because there is nothing working’” allied with ‘” there is nothing working because there are no people!”” Funnily enough the same adage can be applied to the Black Sea which seems to want to close as early in September as is possible despite the potential for warm weather and despite the potential of expanding the summer season by several weeks.
Mother nature’s gift to Bulgaria may have been its climate with the clear seasons, it would therefore be silly that if, whilst other European ski resorts can and do happily open until well into April and continue to attract tourists at this time, Bulgaria loses a month or 25% of its season because it can’t get its tourism act together.
A new EU visa on the horizon?
Just as the population of Bulgaria seems to know no boundaries to the amount of travel they can nowadays undertake, a little blip may be around the corner as the EU considers forcing citizens of non – Schengen countries to buy travel permits for travel to other European (Schengen) countries. The fee being talked about is 14 Euro but would be valid for all travel in the region and be valid for between three and five years. Applicants will have to answer a series of questions designed to identify illegal immigrants as well as those who pose a security threat. Travellers will have to provide proof of ID, their address and employment details or name of their college and also explain reasons for travel to any war zones or areas of conflict.
Colour by numbers
The recent much hyped change of the Lufthansa aircraft livery seems to be back firing. Apparently senior management have become concerned that the intensity of the blue colour appears almost black in poor lighting or in winter months! The airline has quietly asked for a ‘” new blue’” colour to be created that looks blue in all conditions.
Luckily for the airline only two planes have so far been painted with the ‘” old blue’. When the PR blurb was initially released it was stated that the project with the new livery was costing the airline 200 million Euro, one wonders if any refunds are permissible from the designers or if it was a (sic) non-refundable option.
New brand Italy
Brand Italy was never particularly prominent in the airline sector, Air Italy was in fact not a brand owned by Alitalia; itself a symbol of trade union power and state subsidies, but rather it was used by a subsidiary of small Italian airline, Meridiana. However, along came mega rich Qatar Airways who took a 49% share in Meridiana and the ‘” Air Italy’” brand has been given a new lease of life.
Planning for the end of Alitalia has prompted Qatar to lend Meridiana 50 aircraft which will allow it to expand rapidly and in effect become the new national airline.
Aiming to reduce bag loss
From 1 June 2018, airlines will be obligated to adopt strict rules regarding the procedures for tracking passenger’s luggage. The aim is to reduce the number of bags lost each year, a figures that currently stands at 22 million!
From this date, airlines will be required to track baggage at four key points: when handed over to the airline, loaded onto the aircraft, delivered to the transfer area and returned to the passenger, the regulation requires airlines to maintain an accurate inventory of baggage by monitoring the handling process. It will also require airports to have the correct systems in place to ensure compliance with the new system.
The current cost to airlines of the 22 million lost bags is around 2.1 billion USD!
Ryanair has Eastern Europe in its sights
Ryanair is expanding its wings by entering into a partnership with Austrian based Laudamotion; the new name for the now defunct Niki.
Under the agreement Ryanair will acquire an initial 24.9% stake in the Austrian company which will rise to 75% once Eu approval is gained. The plan is for the new entity to operate a fleet of around 30 aircraft.
Not long ago BA thought they had acquired the assets of “Niki”’ but a procedural error by BA saw the Austrian courts dissolve the agreement agreed with the airlines creditors in a German court.
It is pure speculation what the intent is of the new LaudaMotion but with Vienna being a major hub for Eastern European business travellers, expect the new operation to try claim a piece of the pie that Lufthansa and sister airline Austrian has carved out for itself.
Taking a pet – forget United
Still reeling from the PR disaster of violently dragging a passenger off a plane (and then wrongly claiming he had been abusive), United Airlines just seem not to know when to give up with PR disasters. This time a flight attendant was responsible for the death of a pet dog after its owner was wrongly forced to store the dog in an overhead baggage compartment. The dog was being transported in a legal carry on which should have been placed under a seat but this did not deter the flight attendant from dishing out fatal instructions.
In what also must have been a tongue in cheek response (surely) United offered to pay for the dog’s autopsy! United Airline by the way have the highest death or injury rate of animals being transported in the USA.
Tight belts in Business Class
Travellers using the new Boeing 787 – 9 Dreamliner’s with Thai Airways might wish they hadn’t eaten so many pies when they fly business class; the airline is checking passenger’s waistlines! This has come about due to the airlines decision to install airbags in the seatbelts which in turn have to be a fixed length to comply with US federal Aviation Administration rules. Thus anyone with a waistline above 142 cm is in trouble!
Incidentally this will also means that passengers cannot therefore carry infants on their laps which is another way of getting rid of potential noise issues in the business class section!
Ever wondered which is the busiest airline route in the world in terms of capacity? Probably not but if you are one of those that did, then you may be surprised to hear that the answer is the domestic South Korean between Seoul and the resort island of Jeju. 64,991 flights are operated annually or around 178 flights daily.
Hong Kong to Taipei is the busiest international route flown 29,494 times annually closely followed by Kuala Lumpur to Singapore which is flown 29,383 times.
Indeed, most of the top ten high density flight connections are found in Asia.
Tour Operating giant Thomas Cook certainly believes all publicity is good publicity with its launch of a ‘” book your sun bed’” scheme at a selection of its hotels. Costing 25 Euro, customers will be able to book a sun lounger for the length of their stay and thus negating the ritual battle to get down to the hotel pool area early enough to beat the Germans to the best beds. Apologies to our German friends.
Around 30 hotels in three of the Canary Islands will pilot the scheme and around 20% of the hotels sunbeds will be bookable.
One wonders if that will catch on in Sunny Beach?
The long awaited opening/re-opening of the Intercontinental Hotel in Sofia is underway. Under the radar and away from the lights the hotel is in fact functioning and ramping its operations up step by step ahead of the official launch in Mid-April.
The hotel was, until relatively recently, a Radisson Blu Hotel and prior to that, a Radisson SAS. Even longer ago but still in the memory of some it was the old Grand Hotel Sofia although by this time it wasn’t so Grand. This is in fact no relation to the current operating Grand Hotel.
It will be interesting to see how the hotel performs in today’s climate but with the brand of Intercontinental and the location of the hotel there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a success. Whether the sample rates generally advertised which range between 136 – 283 Euro for the same standard room during a midweek night over the next four months can be maintained is a totally different question. Hotel rates in Sofia are often optimistically priced at opening time and settle down to local levels soon after.
New this summer
The summer aviation season kicked off on the fourth Sunday in March and coincides with the clocks moving forward to summer time. New offerings locally include a new regular scheduled flight to Ljubljana with Adria, direct flights with Wizz to Athens to compete with Aegean and Ryanair who already operate that route, also Wizz will start flying to the new destination of Nice in France. Additionally, Wizz will also start flights to Lisbon as well as Malaga. Ryanair expand their offering by adding Paphos in Cyprus to their destinations.
Perhaps as important however is the move by Ryanair to make Bourgas its 87th European base with the commencement of flights to 11 new destinations including Warsaw, Milan Bergamo, Riga, Dusseldorf and Munich to name but just some. This may be a significant move in the evolution of the Bulgarian aviation market.