Uncle's comment: Here is an article that I wrote last year for an english language newspaper in Bulgaria.I am re-publishing it because I think the points made in it are still relevant today.
IT MIGHT BE BABEL BUT IT AINT ENGLISH
Apologies to faithful readers for the absence of my column in recent issues but I was saving up for a ‘magnum opus’ !.
This one concerns the enormous power of the big tour operators and the effect they can have on a local economy.
As most people will know, this year the big UK tour operators; Thomsons, First Choice and Thomas Cook, have virtually given up on the Varna region. The reason for this is allegedly the 36% increase in charges at the city’s airport.
As a consequence of this, the lions share of flights are now going to Burgas, which means that the majority of UK tourists are being accommodated in the ghastly mega resort of ‘Sunny Beach’. Those tourists who have booked into Albena, Golden Sands etc face an uncomfortable two and a half hour bus transfer after already enduring a four hour plane ride. Faced with this, who in their right mind is going to book Bulgaria for their hols next year ?.
Since UK tourism has plummeted there is a noticeable sea change in the North Black Sea resorts. I was at the beach in Albena the other day, and could hear a myriad of languages being spoken….with the exception of English. The resort is now dominated by Eastern European and Scandinavian visitors ( big point here, if airport taxes at Varna are too high for UK operators why are they ok for Sven from Sweden and Olga from the Volga ?).
There is naturally no point in complaining that people aren’t speaking English, that is downright silly. However the economic effects are quite serious. British people are probably the biggest spenders amongst the visiting nationalities; beer, food, trinkets, you name it and the Brits are opening their wallets and purses. Other nations don’t have our pub culture and would rather eat and drink in their hotel room. Consequently the bars and restaurants don’t make much money. Faced with soaring rents and declining customers what do the always inept and greedy resort businessmen do ?.....they put the prices up……leading to less customers…leading to….I don’t need to prolong the point.
This year people in the resorts are paying 4 leva for a beer and 26 leva for an alleged ‘steak’. This is more expensive than the 5 star Hotel Radisson in central Sofia (I know I have been there).
After having left the beach, I girded my loins and approached an Albena taxi rank, ready for the usual argument over prices. After a while I managed to get an offer of 15 leva for the 6km back to my place (way to much, but never mind). The amiable young taxi driver told me that the four taxis on the rank had been there all day (it was now 4pm) and I was the first customer. I almost..almost.. felt sorry for them, but then I slapped myself and thought of the phrase ‘those who live by the sword shall die by it’.
But when you think about the several thousand Romanians in the resort don’t need taxis because they bring their own cars. The Russians aren’t interested in seeing Slavonic culture because they have a big fat one of their own and the Scandinavians just sit on the beach all day.
Then of course there is the effect on the real estate industry. The mainstay of which as been the Brit. Faced with the UK credit crunch and a world recession that could be reminiscent of the 1970’s, the Bulgarian real estate industry in the North region now has to contend with limited and very expensive air flights. Because the number of charter flights is slashed, the carriers left are charging ridiculous prices despite the fact that the planes are in many instances one third empty.
And all because of a few ‘men in suits’ in the Travel companies in London.