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February 2021 Newsletter


The New Passport

As the month of February closes, it signals more or less twelve months since the Coronavirus Pandemic started to wreak havoc on our lives.  All and sundry have been affected but there is probably no industry sectors impacted more than the travel and hospitality industries. Twelve months on and the question begs whether there is light yet at the end of the tunnel?

Twelve months “’on’” and very little seems to be different this month than the previous dozen prior: 90% of women and 10% of men still drive the wrong way around the local supermarket car park, planes are still grounded and hotels are closed. Meetings and Events are still frowned upon and citing facts can get you into a whole load of trouble if they are of the wrong persuasion. Restrictions on our liberty may never be eased but for everyone sake let’s hope they are and for many, this means a return to travel.

A part of the script that has been in place since day one of the pandemic has been the notion that people will need a “Vaccine Passport”’ to be able to travel. Initially denied and ridiculed, the item never left that script and it is now inevitable, fuelled no doubt by the authorities realisation that people simply want that holiday, that visit to loved ones and the ability to “’live” again. Business needs its road warriors in the air winning new contracts and the aviation and hotel industries needs people paying them money in order to keep their operations afloat. If all that is needed is a damn piece of paper that says you have been inoculated for something or other then so be it. The big players of the airline world such as Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa and BA have already signalled their intentions to introduce vaccine passports of one sort or another to get people travelling again; the only problem being here that there seems to be no one size fits all for such a document where perhaps there should be an industry driven one as opposed to individual ones. That will surely come though.

There is however one small issue that people often either overlook or are duped by what they read. Inoculations do not generally prevent the spread of the virus; they reduce the chances of becoming seriously ill from it. Thus, it’s hard to see the correlation between being inoculated and being able to travel to another country. The only obvious benefit in the bigger picture is that if anyone gets ill whilst away from home, they don’t burden the host country with medical needs. Of course, the cynics would argue that the whole vaccination passport scenario facilitates the ability of countries to “quality control”’ who arrives on their shores. As laughable as this may sound, it’s hard to pick fault with the argument.

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

Jamadvice Travel  |  BCD Bulgaria

It’s all about the cash

Continuing on the monthly doom and gloom news that surrounds the release of the financial results of those connected with the travel industry, the latest contributors are Air France – KLM who made an operating loss of 4.5 billion Euro in 2020. The airline said it had reduced its staffing levels by 10% during the year (only!) and planned to get rid of another 6000 staff in the coming years. The only caveat to that statement would be “if the unions allow it”. The good news is that the group have 9.8 billion Euro of liquidity available; just where that came from is another question.

Meanwhile aircraft manufacturer Airbus lost 4.3 billion Euro in 2020. 385 million of this was connected with the losses related to the soon to be defunct A380 programme. The company delivered 566 planes during the year, down from 863 the previous year. What is perhaps more worrying for Airbus is that the only received orders for 268 planes during the year whereas the previous year it was 768 orders. Airbus do have cash of 4.3 billion in the bank though at the same time in 2019 the balance was 12.5 billion. Getting nervy one suspects.

What’s in a name

The ill-fated Boeing 737 Max has just returned to the air in Europe, though as yet in a limited capacity. Airlines definitely seem to want to be last in the queue to announce its return let alone try and put passengers on it. Ryanair have always been one of those to buck the trend of renouncing the plane and have even placed more orders for it.  What you won’t see however is Ryanair planes labelled as a 737 Max but rather a 737 – 8200.

Its not what’s on the outside of the box that counts though is it!

Return of the Blue Train

Train lovers may soon be able to take an overnight train between Paris and Nice; when the Coronavirus pandemic ends (needs to be added). The journey time will be a (relatively) leisurely 11.5 hours, but then again when you are asleep does it matter!

Local hotels suffer

Bulgarian hotels had a meagre 9.9% occupancy in December 2020 with a total drop in visitors of some 72% year on year.

The upper scale 4 and 5 star hotels fared the best with a 10.4% occupancy – if one can consider that as being the best – whilst 3 star hotels had a 10.1% occupancy. One and two star properties were 9.4% occupied.

A green win

The French Government has binned ideas for constructing a new terminal 4 at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. The original plan was for the new terminal to have a capacity of 35 – 40 million passengers per year.

The official stance of the government was that the proposal was “obsolete and that construction was not compatible with France’s climate resilience laws”. Adding also that “we have another version for air travel; a reasoned use of this means of transport and a rapid reduction of its ecological impact”.

Or put another way, no concrete monstrosities.

Fly and run

Pakistan Airlines not only has a problem with pilots obtaining dodgy licences, they also have a problem with disappearing cabin crew. For the fourth time in four years a cabin crew member has used his/her employment to seek a better life overseas and disappeared whist on duty. Canada seems to be the preferred option to jump ship (plane) with three disappearances, whilst one did a bunk in France.

Economics rule

When the world stopped travelling last year, some airlines tried to tempt passengers back onto their planes by any gimmick possible: not selling the middle seat (of three) was one of the first (re) actions the airline executives conjured up. The idea being that by not selling that middle seat people would feel less claustrophobic and in effect “safer”. The actual merits of this are suspect at best and at the end of the day, no airline would not sell the middle seat if they could.

Southwest Airlines in the USA are perhaps a typical case study of this middle seat concept where between Sept – Nov last year they didn’t sell the middle seat. Then in December they earned an extra 80m USD by selling that same middle seat. There’s no turning back from that.

Economics and economic survival are the name of the game at the moment; not passenger wellbeing as many would like to portray. Noting of course that just about all and sundry accept that not selling the middle seat on board a plane actually achieves nothing in protecting passengers health.

Istanbul opportunity

The recent opening of the huge new Istanbul Airport in October 2018 may not have come at a worse time – or is it a case of the opposite?

Whilst it was true that the airport opening was a bit patchy, though in fairness this is true of airport openings of this size anywhere, the slowing down of air travel may have helped those who operate Istanbul Airport iron out those annoying little glitches quicker than may normally be possible. The last year and the current state of play surrounding air travel may however have dealt Istanbul Airport with a kind set of playing cards.
Istanbul rivals the other airport hubs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai; Turkey has one other thing that the latter do in the UAE don’t possess: a domestic market. Countries such as China and Russia were able to maintain much of their domestic activity after a brief respite and Turkey, with its sizable domestic routings served from Istanbul also followed a similar path. All “hub’ airports need to connect the left and right of the fulcrum i.e. they need passengers coming in one side to connect through to the other side. In the case of the UAE, if its markets to the left and right (East and West) are largely closed, its difficult for its hub and spoke business model to work. For Turkey and Istanbul Airport, there remains one side of this fulcrum partially intact i.e. the domestic connectivity that can supply passengers to the long haul flights it operates and also provide onward connections to domestic destinations for international arrivals.

Just how this theory shapes up in the coming months is a totally different question but certainly it gives Istanbul a favourable position in the short term.

eatstaylovebulgariaNew package options!

For some time now the airline industry has led the way in opaqueness when selling airline seats. Actually, they are not just selling a seat they are selling or trying to sell you 101 things along with the seat. Food, drink, getting on the plane first, seat location et al are all now packaged by airlines who seek to maximise every possible Euro/dollar/stotinki of income. Has another element just arrived?

Now that the PCR test has become as common a requirement to travel as a passport, why don’t airlines package together a hotel, a car parking space and a PCR test. Oh yes, plus a seat on one of their planes.

Surely, they won’t miss this opportunity, will they?


Reality and optimism

The ongoing mini-soap opera surrounding the concession for Plovdiv Airport seems to ideally showcase the lack of reality and expose the oft held belief that a rock is a diamond. The concession for Plovdiv Airport has been pushed back for a fourth time until the end of March, it was originally due to be concluded in April 2020.

Back then the Chinese Group HNA were involved in the concession but that was before their finances (or lack of) was exposed on a much wider level. What goes beyond eye watering and into the sphere of comedy is the asking price of 51,000 Euro per year: which is reasonable, but rather the 100 million Leva of investment the government demands. No-one is so stupid (are they) to go for that despite the theoretical geographical potential the airport holds (even if it doesn’t have a proper road leading to it).

No doubt the facility will finds it way into the hands of Georgi and Gosho (sic) for an undisclosed price when everyone else is frightened away by the unrealistic financials.


Provide the mask

Lufthansa, we believe, are the first travel supplier to specify which actual type of face masks its passengers must (not choose) to wear on all of its flights. From February 1st, only a surgical mask, FFP2 or KN/95/N95 will be required whilst boarding, during the flight and when leaving the plane.

What remains unclear is what happens if someone turns up with a different model! If an airline is specifying the type of mask that is obligatory to be worn, then one would also think that they should also provide it. This though gives licence to yet another potential revenue making scheme, aka additional tax on the ticket for a “face mask”, the price of which varies depending on how you booked the ticket (sic).

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