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October 2018 Newsletter


Bansko – Value for money again

The winter season is just around the corner and the ski resort of Bansko will be delighted to read that it has returned to the top of the class when it comes to the ski resorts offering the best value for money. The respected survey compiled jointly by ski operator Crystal and the UK Post Office Travel Money returned Bansko back to the number one spot which it holds together with Italian ski resort Bardonecchia. Bansko had temporarily slipped behind Slovenian ski resort Kranjska Gora in last year’s survey.

The barometer, which takes into account ski costs such as lift pass costs, ski pass and equipment hire as well as the cost of food and drink, found that costs in Bansko has in fact fallen 1% year on year, whereas the Slovenian resort costs had rocketed 13%. Indeed, the survey found that Bansko costs were less than half of the costs in a third of other main European ski resorts in France, Austria and Switzerland.

That’s the good news and good it certainly is although many who frequent Bansko might raise an eyebrow at the thought that the actual cost of skiing has decreased. The success of Bansko is down to many factors as well as cost influences such as its location i.e. its proximity to low budget source markets like Macedonia, Greece and Serbia; plus, its accessibility from a main airport which in this case is Sofia, a journey – thanks to new motorway infrastructure – of a mere 2 hours, which in ski resort terms is pretty short and is a factor which many people look at when choosing a ski holiday destination.

Also to be factored into the success story is the role the Low Cost Airlines and to be fair, other airlines have also, in providing the passenger capacity that allows skiers to come for 2 or 3 days or 5 days of skiing where, in the past, a ski holiday meant a 7-day holiday using a tour operator and charter flights. In effect this latter model of operation was choking the ski industry as quite simply, not everyone wants to, nor can everyone afford, a 7-day ski break.

On the flip side of the good news sits the ongoing and forever ongoing issue that Bansko has with the ski lift capacity. Across Europe, ski areas (not resorts) have countless numbers of lifts and gondolas from base level that access the ski areas: Bansko doesn’t. Queues are something that skiers do not tolerate twice and news can quickly spread regarding the nightmare queues that any ski resort may suffer with. The second and much-needed gondola in Bansko is a national farce which, if not resolved quickly, may end up being the rather large elephant in the corner.

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

Asset(less) value

Imagine a business with few assets but is valued at 120 billion USD! That’s Uber.

The “ride-hailing’’ company is due to go public by the end of 2019 and preparations are underway to meet this deadline.

The valuation is some 40% more than the previous Wall Street evaluation: not bad for a taxi company with no taxis.

Reality trumps theory

Remember when, with the advent of video conferencing technology came the forecasted death knell for business travel? Except that such predictions come from theorists whose idea of fun would likely be an evening spent alone in front of a PlayStation.

Interesting therefore that the demand for business travel continues unabated and according to recent UK research, a third of regular travellers say they are now travelling 50% more than they were a few short years ago. What was also interesting was the statement that such people also found themselves more productive when away from the office.

Evidence if ever it were needed that the only way to do business is face to face.


Lightning strikes twice

It’s only a few years ago that Cypriot national carrier Cyprus Airways ceased operations and now, the airline set up to fill the gap caused by the failure has itself, failed. Cobalt Air which started operations two years ago ceased its operations at the end of October after its licence was revoked by the Cypriot authorities.

The airline had been losing 30M Euro’s per year and had been unable to secure additional financing.

Electric race

London’s Heathrow Airport is offering free landing fees for a year for the first electric aircraft to go into scheduled service. The offer though is not likely to see any takers for some considerable length of time.

Both Airbus and Boeing, as well as smaller manufacturers, are competing to develop a purely electric or even hybrid plane. Slovenian plane maker Pipistrel, recently flew an all-electric plane over Oslo airport; the first flight of its kind and EasyJet is working with US manufacturer Wright Electric to develop an electric jet that the airline hopes will be in service within the next ten years and that will be able to operate flights with a 335 mile (540 kms) range.

Another pet nutter

Stories about “a sandwich short of a lunchbox” passengers in the USA and their “emotional support pets” seems to vary from the almost unbelievable, such as being sat next to a peacock, to being simply plain stupid. This month’s contribution belongs to a woman who was booted off a Frontier Airline flight for trying to pass off her pet squirrel as an “emotional support animal”.

The airlines own rules clearly state only dogs and cats qualify to be regarded as such animals and therefore when the woman refused to deplane, the police were called forcibly remove her, which itself resulted in a loud round of applause from the watching inconvenienced passengers who by now had seen the farce unfold for two hours.

The “motto” is

Another month another new hotel brand; this time it’s Hilton and the launch of  “motto” by Hilton.

The best part of such launches are often the creative (read bull…..) that PR people companies use to make the announcement seem revolutionary. As for motto (small m) it apparently took its inspiration from “the lifestyle hostel model to create an affordable lifestyle brand” (quote).

It must be hard to be creative when the room size will be 14 Sq M so don’t bring your cat as there won’t be room to swing it around.

Hacked off yet?

Whilst on the theme of ‘another month another….” This time it’s another month another hack of personal data. This time Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific has admitted that 9.4 million of its passengers have had their information stolen from its systems. Information stolen include passport numbers, email addresses, id card numbers, expired credit card details and travel history. No passwords were accessed.

Not to be outdone, at almost the same time, British Airways admitted that on top of the previously announced hack of details of 380,000 of its customer’s data, it had missed the fact that another 185,000 of its customers had also been exposed to security breaches but that one had ”slipped through the ever increasingly wider and holey net!”

The leak comes after much-publicised leaks involving numerous hotels groups as well as Air Canada and Delta.

New longest flight touches down

October saw the inauguration of the world’s longest flight. The 9,534 mile (15,344 km) journey from Singapore to New York took 17 hours and 52 minutes, and was operated by a Singapore Airlines A350 ultra long range aircraft carrying 150 passengers and 17 crew. The actual capacity of the plane is just 161 passengers in total comprising of 94 premium economy seats and 67 flatbed business class seats.



InterContinental doors officially opened

The InterContinental Sofia officially opened its doors on the  23rdOctober with a grand opening evening with around 700 guests in attendance. The impressive opening, following an extensive refurbishment, was matched equally by a lavish food offering that was befitting of any international 5-star hotel. The building is the former Radisson Blu hotel and its objective is to become the top premium hotel in the country; something it is probably already close to.

The refurbishment has seen the addition of extra rooms and re-creation of the dining and bar areas and future plans include the creation of extensive in-house spa facilities.

Bags of rule changes

Low-Cost Airline Wizz Air, who are the largest airline carrier in Bulgaria, has announced a new baggage policy which comes into effect from November 1st. From this date, passengers with only small hand luggage i.e. 40x30x20cm (rucksack size) will be guaranteed free carry-ons with them on board the plane. To ensure larger (normal) size hand luggage (55x40x23cm) travels in the cabin with you from this date will require an extra payment starting from 5 Euro which upgrades the booking to “priority”. As an alternative, a new checked bag category is created for bags weighing up to 10kgs (hand luggage!) that will cost from 7 Euro.

Whilst it seems illogical that people would pay the higher fare for the above, the explanation is that only a limited number of people will be able to book priority and then when these are finished the default booking will have to be the more expensive option if you want to take a larger hand luggage sized bag with you.

One suspects there will be fun at Sofia Airport on the 1stNovember!

Selfies – the extreme sport!

There can be nothing as irritating as seeing tourists seemingly obsessed with taking “selfies” almost at every opportunity, regardless of either how stupid they look or how disinterested their Facebook friends are about their latest whereabouts. Selfies can also be dangerous, so much so that experts are calling for tourist attractions to create “no selfie zones” which they hope might stem the rise in accidental deaths at various attractions.

According to these experts, between October 2011 and November 2017, some 259 deaths have resulted from trying to take selfies. Perhaps not so strange was that the average age of the people who died attempting selfies was just 23.

However just to gain some perspective on the matter, some 24 billion selfies were posted on Google in 2015 and about 1 million selfies are clicked each day by people aged 18 – 24.

Like smoking, it will hopefully one day lose credibility!

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