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March 2016 Newsletter


So it goes

There seems hardly any point in harping on about the latest terrorist incident in Brussels other than to say that this week’s sad event was hardly surprising. Brussels is seen as the head of an enemy regime by certain religious groups and indeed is hardly seen positively amongst a growing number of EU citizens. Perversely enough it was also a safe haven for such religious fanatics and far enough away from the more capable policing of neighbouring countries. That Belgium and indeed Brussels appeared to be totally incapable of finding even known threats that lived on its doorstep hardly sends out positive signals for the rest of Europe.

Such events have – if one thinks back – been far from infrequent in Europe over the decades; from the Red Brigade or Baadar Meinhof to ETA to the IRA, much of Europe has long experienced such atrocities. The difference this time is that no matter how much social welfare, jobs, housing, democracy et al one gives the current perpetrators, this time is different; it’s a religious war and unfortunately it will likely continue in a guerilla format for many years to come so we had better get used to it.

There is some good news; if it can indeed be referred to as ‘good’ and that is that the world is now taking such events in its stride whilst still paying its respect. In New York after the 9/11 attack, the city’s tourism took some 34 months to get back to normal levels, after the Madrid bombings in 2004 the figure took 12 months to return to normality, after the London 2005 attacks it was down to 9 months. Terrorism should not be allowed to change our hearts and minds; but has it already?

The more conservative governments of Central and South East Europe were initially chastised by many in the west for their stance regarding refugees, a stance that now even Western governments have been forced to follow and in so doing tacitly accepted that they may have ‘got it wrong’ first time around. There is however another even larger chink in our Europe; for every terrorist attack that takes place, more and more people from the UK want to turn their back away from deeper European integration which is invariably perceived as a failed system, the majority probably already would vote to leave anyway even without such events, thus every bomb and every death in Europe simply cements that sentiment, the truth or otherwise will be discovered in three months when the UK holds its ‘ín or out’ of Europe referendum.

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

Summer woes

The statements during the past month from many of Europe’s major tour operators that they intend to shift their short terms focus away from both Egypt and Tunisia is as important for what it doesn’t say as much as what it does say. If a Tour Operator is reducing the numbers of holidays it sells in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, it means it will try increase the offering in other destination. The fact of the matter is however that there aren’t a huge number of alternatives around that either a) have the tourist infrastructure that can satisfy the European Tourist as well as satisfy Europe’s s tourism industry legal requirements and b) any tourist product of any ilk will have already been contracted by someone else.

One might raise the point that a destination such as Albania with its excellent and as yet unspoilt beaches, might seize the opportunity to launch itself onto the tourism scene in a similar way to say Turkey did a couple of decades ago. However the perception of Albania in this example is however likely to mean that it will continue to remain ‘”un-spoilt” for a long time yet.

So if there are no new holiday destinations appearing on our laps what does that mean? The answer is that it is likely to mean that the classic economic term of ‘supply and demand’ will kick in; translated into meaning that demand for places that are seen as ‘safe’ such as the old favourites of Mainland Span, the Canaries and the Balearics, might exceed the supply of holidays available in them and when this occurs, prices head north. Or putting it another way, don’t expect any last minute bargains.

That’s not all. Turkey for many or even for all of the major European Tour Operators is now a base line must have product for the summer; without it in any portfolio of offerings is like having a fish and chip dinner without the fish. If Turkey becomes a ‘no go’ area for tourists both in reality and in perception (figures show a 40% reduction in bookings for 2016); then one really wonders how the overall view of the options available for Europe’s tourists will look?  This is without also mentioning the point that Greece has a less than positive image at the minute not because of the fact they have been mis-managing themselves and EU funds, but because many of its Eastern Aegean islands are viewed as refugee camps and whilst this may not (or indeed it ‘may’) affect popular destinations like Corfu, Crete and Kefalonia, well known and popular islands such as Kos, Lesvos and Rhodes might be given a wide berth for the time being.

The bottom line once again therefore is that Bulgaria has a golden opportunity to boost its tourist image but this will also mean a different way of thinking along the Black Sea; such as not starting the season at the end of June and finishing in early September. The opportunity exists to satisfy the European tourist from May until the end of October (weather permitting).

It will be an interesting time, indeed challenge this forthcoming season for both traveller and travel provider in the leisure arena; but don’t expect any cheapos!



Eight years on

Whilst taking the environmentally friendly route and re-cycling some old paper recently I came across a backdated copy of the local Dnevnik news. To say it makes amusing reading would be the understatement of the year…and its only March.

The date is 3rd December 2008 and the article suggests that many of the 4.8 billion Leva worth of projects look like they may be put on hold due to the Global economic recession. About 2 billion Leva was due to be spent on about two dozen (that’s 24 by the way…!)  golf courses around Sofia and on the Black Sea. The article amuses further with news that Rila Sport had still not frozen its ski resort plans in Panichishte – Ezerata-Kabul which would be ready in 2016 and would deliver 27 ski runs covering 80 kms whilst the construction of the ski zone by a local tycoon in Martinovi Baraki, Boricho and Iskrovete might be slowed down but not stopped as a result if the crises. Finally the Super Borovets project due for completion is 2012 might also be put on hold.

Many readers new to Bulgaria may not see the funny side of all these projects and certainly at the time, people were indeed gullible to actually believe such projects would ever start; indeed they didn’t. Not that this prevented many people to part with their money in search of fools gold.

Of the 24 Golf Courses in Sofia and the Black Sea there are 5 (excellent ones) and the ski resorts were pure scams: even Super Borovets. One wonders if today’s worldlier wise journalists would be quite as stupid as they were some 10 years ago or whether the hunt for a news story, no matter how true it was, was all that was required to fill the news sheets? Unless of course the cynical side in us suggests that such reports in reputable media outlets were rewarded handsomely.


Fall out continues

The upsurge in terrorist related activities in Turkey is having and will continue to have a massive effect on Turkey’s tourism industry. According to local media, Bulgarian Tour Operators are likely to send 40% less tourists to Turkey during the forthcoming Easter, a figure one suspects that is likely to increase significantly as time ticks on. This figure of 40% is also roughly what the main European Tour Operators are claiming is the current reduction in numbers they are booking for the summer ahead.

It looks like its going to be a difficult year for Turkey though one might also assume there will be some good last minute offers for anyone wishing to take the brave option for themselves this summer.


From low cost carriers to low cost railways

Belgian rail operator Thalys is taking a leaf out of the Low Cost Airlines book and from April will start a Low Cost rail service between Paris and Brussels.

The Low Cost element will mean that the service, named ‘’Izy” (think….Easy), will take 2hrs 30 mins to do the journey whilst its high speed sister service takes just 1hr 22mins.

The rail operator believes that not everyone wants to pay a premium for a 300kmph sprint on a train and they will be able to offer significantly reduced fares on their new offering which will initially operate twice per day. Fares are being quoted from 10 Euro one way if booked in advance. Late bookings will cost 59 Euro on ‘Izy’ whilst they are 99 Euro on the faster version.


French aim for top spot again

The French seem eager to regain their long cherished top spot mantle of having the most strikes after a long and sustained effort by Germany to relieve them of their title. For a couple of years now, Lufthansa, Frankfurt Airport and anyone connected with them seemed focused on taking away the French combination of Air France’s and the French Air Traffic Control’s long gained reputation as the airline/organization/trade union grouping most likely to disrupt your travel plans. However, the French are biting back with several early in the year strikes; which brings forward the question as to whether those calling the strike action should be made accountable for financial damages incurred by those affected by strike action.

The right to strike is long engrained in French society but is it now time for the EU, despite its deep seated socialist leaning, to finally stand up to the trade unions and make them pay out if their strikes affects either individuals or companies?

No doubt the French would go on strike to argue their point against such a move if this was ever brought to the table.


Bags of surprises

In terms of smuggling this may take the tab as the most audacious; a French passport holder (origin unspecified), tried to smuggle a small child into France hidden in her hand luggage. The child was said to be between 2 and 4 years old and the couple had arrived on a flight from Istanbul.

Cabin crew had become suspicious during the flight and asked for police to meet them on arrival in Paris.


Sticky solution

Tattoo’s have become immensely popular of late and despite many cynically saying that the owners of such ‘works of art’ are also likely to wear a football shirt on holiday, the rise and continued rise in popularity of such body art continues relentlessly. However, not all cultures welcome tattoos; Japan being one of them. The Japanese Tourism agency has been forced to ask the country’s hot springs and spa operators to relax their rules banning customers with tattoos.

The possible compromise to the issue might be to issue seals or sticky type plasters to cover tattoos and/or to have separate visiting times for tattoo owners. Judging by the size of many tattoos it may look like an army of Michelin men has descended on such resort facilities if the sticky plaster route is taken

BA Economy change

The days when black was black and white was white have long since disappeared and the days of when airline fares were structured in a uniform and logical manner have also disappeared. British Airways have announced that they are tweaking (changing…. to save you looking in Wikipedia) their short haul economy fare structure although to be fair to them, the change is (for once) in the travellers favour.

The new changes will give more benefits to passengers who pay to check in luggage. The new structure will see the fare options menu listed as:-

Hand Baggage only:-

  • Standard hand luggage, no checked baggage
  • Seating allocated at check in or can be paid for in advance
  • Flight changes can be made for a fee

With Checked bag:-

  • Hand baggage allowed plus 1 piece 23kgs checked baggage
  • Free seat selection 48 hours prior departure
  • Free flight changes on day of departure
  • No change fee if flight is changed before day of departure

Fully Flex:-

  • Fully refundable
  • Hand baggage allowed plus 1 piece 23kgs checked baggage
  • Free seat selection at time of booking
  • Free flight changes on day of departure
  • No change fee if flight is changed before day of departure


Only in America

Contentious taxi/transport provider Uber has faced many lawsuits recently but the latest one takes the biscuit; a former Uber driver charged with going on a murder spree and killing six people is blaming Uber for the error of his ways and has filed a lawsuit for 10m USD in damages.

According to police reports he claims he became ‘”possessed” by the Uber app on his phone!

Not surprisingly he is undergoing medical evaluation to see if his marbles are all in place.


Squeeze them in

The strive by airlines to make more and more profit is an ongoing practice and any regular long haul traveller may soon start to really feel the latest wheeze by the airlines in the amount of space they get in economy class on long haul flights. Both United Airlines in America and closer to home, Swiss are starting to fit 10 seats across on the economy section on their Boeing 777 aircraft; a plane that was initially designed for maximum 9 across! This is despite the undeniable fact that the human body is getting larger and larger and thus in theory needs more space and not less space in which to position itself for several hours during a long haul flight.

The whole situation sounds like a perfect scenario for the ‘health and safety”’ directorate within the EU to step into the fray. That might help the European traveller who is getting larger by the generation but it wouldn’t help the American traveller who is already several generations of size growth ahead of his/her European counterpart.



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