Following the announcement of Israel’s decision to include Bulgaria in its updated list of ‘banned countries,’ we spoke with Bulgarian Minister of Tourism, Stela Baltova, who gladly recounted how her country successfully managed to do what many worldwide were hesitant of doing and opened its gates to international tourism since May 2020, all the while presenting low morbidity rates from COVID-19 and keeping Bulgaria green to this day.
Baltova expresses her bewilderment that Bulgaria has now been added to Israel’s ‘banned countries’ list, as the country has already received 2.6 million tourists in the summer months alone. According to the Minister: “Bulgaria is in the green zone with a level of 60 out of 100,000 positive cases. Our country is a safe ‘island,’ and I hope to stay as such for as long as possible. We are putting every effort to keep it that way, in this advantageous although challenging situation.”
What is the epidemic situation in Bulgaria these days?
“Bulgaria is a green zone, and we are taking every measure possible to keep it under control. But, of course, the situation is very dynamic, and a close eye is kept on it. These days approximately 2.5% are tested positive from all the tests done, which is a relatively low figure. In comparison, I must say that the level of the infected and deceased in the neighboring tourist destinations and the whole of Europe is reported to be much, much higher.”
Bulgaria was open for international tourists since May 2020. How did you manage to be one of the only countries in the world to do this so well?
“Indeed, Bulgaria has stayed open with a working tourist sector, especially the hotels, despite the financial loss suffered. And that is definitely a good thing.
Our main goal was and still is to present Bulgaria as a safe and hospitable destination. We’ve been actively working to restore the tourist sector. Being in the green zone all the summer, our goal was to keep it there as long as possible.
In parallel with that, we are trying to stimulate the vaccination process amongst the frontline personnel at our touristic sites. To facilitate this, our health authorities are conducting an active campaign in this direction. There are some mobile points for vaccination along our seaside where every tourist can get a vaccine during their vacation. We also created the label ‘100% vaccinated,’ which was given to one of our biggest resorts – Albena.”
Are there any entry restrictions for vaccinated tourists? What about families with unvaccinated children? What are the official information and base data in Europe to make this kind of decision?
“At present, there is a system implemented in Bulgaria, according to the color of every country considering the official European and WHO data. If one comes from the so-called ‘red zone,’ it is forbidden to enter our borders, excluding visitors from European countries. But still, all incoming tourists should have a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID-19 test.
Generally speaking, vaccinated families with children under 12 years can freely pass our borders without a PCR test or a QR certificate needed for their children, which was great facilitation for tourists.”
As of next week, Israel’s Ministry of Health banned Israelis from visiting Bulgaria!
“Tourists from Israel traditionally visit Bulgaria all year round, and they are more than welcome. However, such a recommendation could be considered a little bit premature because Bulgaria is in the green zone with a level of 60 out of 100,000 positive cases. Our country is a safe ‘island,’ and I hope to stay as such for as long as possible. We are putting every effort to keep it that way, in this advantageous although challenging situation.”
Our Ministry of Health has also decided that vaccinated Israelis will require a mandatory quarantine of 7 days upon returning from most world countries. What do you think about this decision?
“I cannot comment on the decisions of your health authorities. But I could say this – I believe that protecting our tourists’ health is our highest priority to keep them happy, full of positive emotions, and ready to return to Bulgaria. Furthermore, the policy of the EU allows for vaccinated people to travel freely across the countries, and Bulgaria was among the first 7 EU countries that in the very beginning of June had introduced the Digital EU vaccination certificate.”
What are the restrictions on locals and foreign visitors staying in Bulgaria?
“As the situation is very dynamic, we have developed a COVID-19 section on our national travel portal www.bulgariatravel.org which we update daily, to keep our guests and potential tourists well informed and updated. You also can find information about the health protocol with procedures in case of suspected infection or COVID-19 positive results for tourists at their accommodations. Furthermore, you can always check recommendations for anti-epidemic measures at tourist sites and activities for the summer season of 2021, published on the website.”
Israelis like the vacation resorts, Burgas and Varna, very much. What can they expect for their summer vacation?
“The situation in Burgas and Varna is quite calm, undisturbed, and secure in terms of the pandemic. We are having a normal season, the beaches are lively, the hotels are booked and quite full. I can assure you that all the safety measures are taken seriously, and the authorities control their implementation.
Even now, despite the situation, according to our statistics Varna, Nessebar, and our famous spa destination Velingrad are the most preferred destinations in Bulgaria. However, even in this quite unusual situation, I must say that more than 2.6 million tourists – both foreign and local – have visited our country this summer until now.”
Do you have any special recommendations for Israeli tourists?
“I would say: come to Bulgaria – your escape from the pandemic! It’s a unique combination of beautiful nature, mild climate, sandy beaches, and lovely mountains, opportunities to practice balneology and spa tourism, taste quality food and wine, visit ancient historical and cultural sites, relax and cheer up with festivals or music events, or have a city break. There are so many things to do.”