Residents of Romania
had plenty to celebrate on January 1, when both countries were inducted into
the European Union. For Romania
entry into the EU translates to economic and political stability. For agents,
it means that travel to two emerging destinations just got easier.
In addition to the economic and political benefits of
joining the EU (both countries hope membership will boost their per capita
wealth and eradicate any association with their Communist pasts), Romania and Bulgaria are now also free from
customs and passport checks at their borders.
"For many years, access to central and western Europe
was a problem," says Simion Alb, director of the Romania Tourist Office in
"This may be a bad memory, because aside from roads being built, more
budget airlines are serving Romania
and increasing their capacity. Access will be faster and less expensive."
In fact, both countries seem to have anticipated an increase
in visitors with their accession into the EU. Earlier this month, Bulgaria expanded its Sofia
airport with a new terminal, and in Romania,
Alb says hoteliers are now focusing on areas outside Bucharest, the country's capital. Investors
have taken notice, as evidenced by the Spanish Ferry Group, a family of
property development companies that recently invested in expanding a golf
course near the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
Plans include a sports complex with pools, tennis courts, a hotel and shopping.
Experts believe it is not only the recent developments that
will draw attention to these nations. "Bulgaria
has wonderful nature, beautiful mountains and fantastic spa treatments,"
says Ardemis Massarlian, an American Express travel specialist for Bulgaria and a
native of the country. "Visitors are going there to sightsee and also to
relax, either at the beach or in the mountains. Bulgaria also has a very rich
history—this is an opportunity to see great Christian Orthodox churches, old
Roman rotundas, underground basilicas and, at the same time, see a newly
developed, democratic European country." Alb adds that from April to
offers hundreds of heritage-based folk festivals, including one highlighting
medieval arts in Sighisoara.
"For three days at the end of July, the city is
recreating the atmosphere of old Sighisoara, with live demonstrations of craft
making, music, drama and street parades," he says.
For travel agents, the countries should be easy to sell,
since each has upscale restaurants and quality hotels juxtaposed with historic
churches and monasteries, says Anastasia Mann, also of Bulgarian descent and
CEO of the West Hollywood, CA-based Corniche
Group agency. "It's been the best-kept secret," she says of Bulgaria.
"Where Prague developed a huge market for
upscale tourism right off the bat, Bulgaria's been a bit slower to
come to the minds of travelers, but it's still an incredible value." How
long that value will last, however, is yet to be determined now that Bulgaria and Romania have joined the EU.
"They eventually must deal with currency issues, but the Bulgarian lev has
been very weak [compared] to the dollar, which is the only part of Europe where you can see that," says Mann. Alb
believes neither country will adopt the euro before 2012.
Many tour operators have established programs in Romania and Bulgaria, and both tour offices are
making big marketing pushes this year, which will only spur more interest in
the countries in the minds of both travelers and suppliers. "The positive
side of the marketing campaign is that they are improving the communication and
contracts of different vendors," says Massarlian, quickly adding,
"but even before the two entered the EU, I had travelers interested in the
destinations. These are countries located in the crossroads of Europe and they have always been of interest."