First came the crusades, then the Ottomans, then the World Wars. Now Bulgaria faces a new foray: organised tourism
Bulgaria has a lot to thank tourists for. They bring money, popularity and business to the country. Although Germans and Russians have been holidaying in this picturesque country for years, the real boom began in the early 2000s, when millions of Balkan and Western tourists flocked to the country to sample wines, laze on beaches, hit the slopes or cruise the cities. The influx steadily rose as EU accession neared, and positively exploded thereafter, with revenues totalling 1.84 billion euros for the first eight months of last year, according to the State Agency for Tourism, a government organisation designed to propagate Bulgaria abroad. Tourism revenues will hit 6 billion euros by 2013, jumping from the current level of around 2.4 billion euros, with an annual growth rate of 25 percent.
However, with every up, there's a down. Whereas many tourists are indulging in sophisticated leisure activities, getting fit or pampered, or scoping for business opportunities, there are a handful who are proving themselves to be sheer nuisances. Some of this holiday horseplay comes hand in hand with common Briticisms. We do like a drink – or according to statistics, a binge – and we don't tend to pace ourselves like our East European counterparts. Being a budget holiday destination, the place is prime for stag party revellers or rowdy young people with limited funds to come, let their hair down and indulge in cut-price drinks. This is all fun and games for the most part, but it can encourage some people to drop their inhibitions – and their trousers.
One young tourist's holiday blog recalls how – excited and intoxicated – he and his three mates “mooned” from their horse and trap ride at some local security at Sunny Beach.
Given that this typically Western jape isn't practised in Bulgaria, the security informed the police – who too didn't see the funny side of their backsides – and quickly gave chase after the rambunctious revellers, caught them, and introduced them to their truncheons.
Not all tipsy tourists resort to baring their bums as entertainment. Others would simply prefer a comfy bed to retire to after a night on the tiles. Unfortunately for an Irish holidaymaker, hotel beds were not always easy to locate after a skinful. So, instead of traipsing around a Bansko ski resort all night to seek out his elusive hotel, he broke into a furniture shop and tucked himself in to one of the showroom beds. A police spokesperson said: “He was quite furious when the officers woke him in the morning. It took him quite a while to realise where he actually was.” The Irishman now faces a fine of around £2,000, which probably quadrupled his initial holiday budget.
Troublesome travellers don't always get up to mischief because of alcohol. Two Germans were presumably sober when they pilfered a vintage tank owned by the Bulgarian Defence Ministry. The visitors were in cahoots with Maj. Aleksey Petrov from the Yambol Military Unit when they dug up the Maybach tank and attempted to smuggle it across the border.
The pair were arrested, then bailed, whereby they fled the country. Now, after further investigation, they face detainment from a European Arrest Order issued at the request of the Military Prosecutor's Office in Sliven. Martin's defence is that he works for a German museum who were interested in officially buying the relic, but he couldn't figure out how to do so. Ah, well that's alright then…
Southern Black Sea resorts were awash with incidents involving tourists in 2007 – most notoriously the murder of a 24 year old Swede in Nesebar. The young man was at a club with his friends when an altercation brewed up between them and three Bulgarian bouncers.
The Swede apparently threatened the bouncers with a knife. They reacted by literally bouncing on his head, which fatally crushed his skull. In the news just days after, a separate incident was reported. A 19 year old female Swede holidaying in Sunny Beach helped herself to the contents of a 21 year old Bulgarian's handbag. The girl was caught, arrested and fined.
Now, back to the Brits. Top UK tourism site, lastminute.com, predicts that the number of British tourists visiting Bulgaria in the summer of 2008 will be up by 151 percent. The reason? Britons don't fancy visiting countries who have qualified for the Euro 2008 football championship. This would be rubbing salt in the wounds of a proud nation who, like Bulgaria, didn't qualify this year. One football fan who won't be returning any time soon, however, is 22 year old Michael Shields. It was only in November 2006 that Shields was allowed to return to the UK to serve the rest of his sentence after he was convicted of nearly killing Golden Sands chip shop owner Martin Georgiev. He and around 10 other drunk and disorderly Liverpool fans went rampaging through the town before being disturbed by Georgiev, who ended up with his head caved in courtesy of a 4.5 kg, or 9 lb paving slab. Shields' guilt has been constantly disputed, after Graham Sankey – surprise surprise – another football hooligan, issued a confession.
However, Sankey was not prepared to travel to Bulgaria to officially issue his confession, so the court duly forgot about it and continued to trial Shields. In April 2008, the Bulgarian authorities allowed the UK to pardon Shields. Yet, whether he or Sanky lobbed the slab, it's fair to say there's no smoke without a fire when it comes to those infamous football tourists.
So, if you plan to holiday in Bulgaria this summer, don't fall into those typical tourist traps. Watch out for ripoff merchants, street beggars, dodgy taxis, and don't upset the notorious mutri. But, most of all do watch out for those “tourists.”