The following article is aimed to analyze the different alternative tourism management challenges in Bulgaria. It contains a sector overview of Bulgarian tourism, a description of the positive and negative impacts of mass tourism observable in Bulgaria, a general review of Bulgarian alternative tourism and an outline of some successful models of alternative tourism development in Europe, implemented in countries which economies are similar to Bulgaria's in their dependence on tourism. An analysis of the current potential for alternative tourism development in Bulgaria and a review of the Bulgaria's tourism policies are also provided in order to describe the management challenges that are to be considered.
In the past two decades tourism has been growing up to be a major part of Bulgaria's economy. Tourism related services are contributing more and more to the country's GDP, in fact according to the data provided by the Bulgarian government for 2013tourism will form about 13.6 % of the national GDP, with revenues more than 3 billion euros.  In some regions it is the main and probably only major source of income for the local communities. The tourist flow in the last ten years has almost quadrupled  from 2.3 million visitors in 2002, to just below 9 million in its peak for the decade in 2012.
The growth of the sector however is mainly due to the rapid development of mass tourism. There are key factors that are catalyzing this process — mainly the natural diversity available on a relatively small territory, mountains with sufficient snowfall for winter mass tourism and sea with more than enough sunny days during the summer . This rapid growth in a fairly short period of time can highlight the general “features”, the positive and negative effects of mass tourism as opposed to the alternative one. Rapid development is the first that comes in mind. Since the early 2000's there was a noticeable construction boom, mainly on the Black sea coastline, the industry expanded very fast and thus at the expense of the country's environmental resources. More than 70 % of the tourist flow is still concentrated in those newly built resorts. Another key feature is the dependence on climatic and therefore seasonal conditions, with high peaks of tourist inflow during the summer mounts, and with another smaller peak during the winter. And while the resorts never reach their full accommodation capacity this relatively high population movement puts pressure on the infrastructure, which remains incapable of handling the high peaks of tourist flow. This flow is consisted of large tourist groups which is the basis of mass tourism — large groups, predetermined and prepaid service packages, fixed programs, directed by tour operators and travel agencies. This of course brings low spending tourists who remain relatively passive and take part mostly in the activities fixed in the package or those that the current resort can provide. In order to achieve higher revenue the service providers are force to adopt a quantitive approach to the delivery of the service. Quantity gets prioritized over quality. This is in fact is the key feature that makes the difference between mass and alternative tourism. It's the leading cause for almost all of the negative effects of mass tourism. Mass tourism focuses on growth rather than development of the service. As consequence those newly built resorts get bigger in order to get a higher accommodation capacity. This process stresses local communities, who can hardly benefit from the low spending tourist flow, which leads to a negative socio-cultural impact . The locals are forced to adapt to the tourist demands. The insufficient infrastructure, which just couldn't catch up to the expand of the resorts is one of the main reasons for the environmental damage. The resort expand itself is with fair reason considered environmentally aggressive which leads to conflicts for the land use in the intensely exploited coastal or mountain zones.
These are the main negative features of mass tourism observable in Bulgaria, which leave a fair basis for alternative forms tourism.
Alternative tourism in Bulgaria still remains rather undeveloped, compared to the mass one. Its retail value it's less than 10 % of the total retail value sales in the country. The main reason leading to the present condition is the booming expand of mass tourism, leaving less space for the alternative forms of tourism. Mass tourism still has a shorter investment return period and has been more profitable mainly because of its sheer size compared to alternative tourism. Its negative short and long term impacts are to be considered. In fact the resources both environmental and social that once made a tourist destination attractive in a mass way can get depleted, which diminishes gravely the positive economic effect of tourism in general.
Alternative tourism was “born” out of the negative effects on the mass tourism destination area. The main goal is to achieve consistency with the natural and social resources. And while some of the negative impacts cannot be avoided, they still can be reduced. Alternative tourism can also serve as a remedy and then propel the destination area's socio-economic progress. This however is to be achieved through slow sustainable growth adopted to the local social and economic needs, where the revenues are to be invested for a long -term tourism development. That's why alternative tourism is also often referred to as “intelligent” or “sustainable”.
There can be differentiated several categories of alternative tourism based on the activities involved. Those are different combinations of individual tourist products or services, each one with its own special mean of supply, organization and human resource involved. Active tourism includes activities such as hiking, biking, rafting, caving, climbing, etc., which are based on the natural conditions and resources available and involve and active attitude of the tourist towards the product. Explore and encounter travel is another milestone category, consisted of ecotourism, wine tourism, cultural and historical tourism, which is also based on the current natural, social or historical resources available.
The vast majority of those activities are available in Bulgaria due to its natural diversity, cultural and historical heritage, however as mentioned up above they are poorly developed as a tourist product compared to the mass form of tourism. This underdevelopment provides different challenges in terms of managing the different forms of alternative tourism. The main challenge however remains to achieve a stress less transition from mass to alternative tourism in certain areas. However we have the example of the top mass destination countries in Europe such as Spain, Greece, and Croatia where such transitions occurred, but were to some extend forced in the market.
Spain was the leading destination for beach holidays and the second largest for international tourism after France in the early 2000's  in Europe. It had accumulated a great experience in the mass tourism sector, but its infrastructure just like the present Bulgarian one couldn't cope with the high peak season tourist flows, the landscape of the beach destinations had become urbanized resulting water and noise pollution and there was simply no space for alternative tourism development. New mass tourist destinations were successfully competing against the Spanish ones. The country was forced to adopt alternative and modern tourist products in order to keep its leading position, which included tourism and urban development restrictions, destination areas planning control, public infrastructure investments, waste water management and coast line recovery . According to their Plan efforts and actions of both the private and the public sector were needed in order for the Spanish tourism to provide new competitive products, from complementary activities typical for the alternative tourism to the complete holiday packages of mass tourism.  This meant taking measures such as technological and innovational development, staff quality training, International Co-operation and strong marketing support.  This pursuit of quality over quantity was to assure Spain's position as a quality holiday destination. As a result Spain became a top destination for such activities as nautical and adventure sports, historical and cultural tourism and even skiing and golf, despite its infrastructural challenges .
The Spanish example demonstrates that mass and alternative tourism are not to be considered as opposing alternatives one to another, they can coexist and even benefit from each other.
Greece on the other hand in the early 2000's got a bit different start compared to Spain in its efforts to make its tourism industry more competitive and sustainable. Tourism in Greece contributed more than 16 % to the national GDP in 2002 . The industry was based on mass-market models, with classic triple “S” (sun, sea and sand) destinations. However, given the experience of Spain and the global market trends at the time (the early 2000's), Greece was able to successfully reevaluate its current models. By that time its market suffered the same classic mass tourism general impacts — high peak seasons flows, insufficient infrastructure in order to handle the high peaks of tourist flow, mass tourism dominance and underdevelopment of the alternative sustainable tourism. One of the key differences from the Spanish model is that the sector reform was carried out by a public body. The market studies were conducted and afterwards enforced by the Hellenic Tourism Organization department at the Greek National Tourism Organization. They stated tourist opportunities for investors, both in the field of mass and alternative tourism . The plan focused on alternative tourism as a tool for sustainable development and for protection and enhancement of the environment. Its key activities included marine tourism, golf tourism, conference tourism, thermal tourism, eco-tourism and even winter tourism .
The Greek model, just like Spanish one shows that mass and alternative tourism shouldn't be considered as antipodes, rather on the contrary — they complete and even amplify one another.
Slovenia's tourism strategy can make an example worth mentioning. This country had never developed mass tourism to such a scale as Spain or Greece. Nevertheless the tourism industry was contributing almost 10 % of the national GDP . Just like Greece, in the first half of the 2000's Slovenia adopted a development strategy for the industry in order to cope with the current market trends at the time, conducted and enforced by its Ministry of Economy . It came with a strategy plan which addressed the main advantages and weaknesses of Slovenian tourism industry. The natural environment with its attractiveness and undamaged nature alongside small town centers gave an almost perfect opportunities for the industry to fully be in touch with the current tourism trends provided with the fact that there was no huge mass tourism “players” to hold back the reforms. Those advantages were however caused by the sheer small scale of the Slovenian tourism industry itself. There were however a considerable low points — lack of attractiveness of the tourism products and services, lack of attractions, insufficient infrastructure and low quality of services. The challenge in front of the industry was quite remarkable given the surrounding competitors — Italy, Croatia and Austria. Every one of those countries has an upper hand in almost every type of tourist activity, compared to what Slovenia could provide. During the winter Austria and Italy were the top winter sports destinations, and during the summer Croatia could offer a way better and diverse coast line. However the Slovenian government managed to deal with this huge disadvantage and in fact promote successfully its destinations trough quick access to original and qualified tourist products and services, the adoption of sound environmental policies and better organization. Health and business tourism were the first forms of alternative tourism to benefit from the reform, alongside with ecological, ethnological and country tourism. Different combinations of the above mentioned activities were able to extend the tourist season, covering individual tourist needs. This massive differentiation of the tourist activities gave a remarkable result — tourism is now considered the most important economic sector of the Slovenian economy, based on its sustainable development principles, quality of service.
The Slovenian model shows that there's no clear watermark between mass and alternative tourism in terms of the activities involved. It demonstrates that alternative tourism projects can achieve with the proper planning the revenues of mass tourism at some point, whiteout the negative impacts on the social or natural environment, however on a relatively small scale.
Croatia on the other hand took a quite different and unique approach to the development of its tourism strategy. Its industry went literally on the other pole putting a remarkable effort in order to replace the mass tourism with alternative one . Croatia had never been a mass tourism destination on the scale of Greece or Spain despite its natural resources — more than a thousand miles of coast line with more than thousand islands. During the “mass” period of the industry Croatia was considered a low-cost destination for low spending tourists. It's during this period that Croatian tourism begun to promote cultural activities as a tourism product, based on the country's vast cultural resources. In fact Croatia pioneered the development of a sustainable tourism strategy alongside with Spain, adopting such strategy as early as 1993 . Many of the mass tourism programs by that time were to include historical and cultural activities, but only to promote the destination as a better mass tourism one on the international markets. Therefore those activities were supplementary to the overall service package. However this allowed the industry to shift from mass to alternative tourism in a more stress less and even gentle way. The cultural component of mass tourism exposed Croatia's culture, historical heritage, nature and society to the world market in a unique way. The destination cities had been using those components long before the transition from mass to alternative happened. In fact it's hard to distinguish such a transition in the Croatian tourism model, as is the case in Greece or Spain. The Croatian Tourism Industry had been encouraging non-coastal inland cities to develop their own cultural programs in order to attract a the flow from the coasts. The main goal was to distribute the tourist flow and of course to prolong the tourist season. In the same time the Croatian Ministry of Tourism promoted a quality tourism product by encouraging local families to open small hotels that are more easily maintained in an environmental, social and economic way. The primary focus on cultural activities attracted consequently high spending tourists. Later on additional activities like hiking, mountaineering, nautical and health tourism, golf tourism were promoted on a larger scale. Because of the sustainable model adopted, Croatia's infrastructure had the chance to get adopted in time in order to meet the new flow demands . In fact the Croatian model is the closest one to get to the general idea of alternative tourism. It incorporated almost every aspect of Croatian culture — wine, food, history, cultural distinctiveness, landscape, even language into a quality tourist product. This diversification gave whole new market segments, targeting high spending tourists.
The four presented models cover the main ways of development of alternative tourism. They show that due to the short term revenues of the mass tourism service in a free market environment, this development cannot occur just on its own. In fact the market needs from just a little push (Croatia), to a fully centralized and enforced by the government model (Spain, Greece). All the measures require the full potential of the country's executive and legislative power to be engaged in the process. All four models show that the term “alternative tourism” can be considered with a fair amount of reason a euphemism, a rather misleading term . Alternative tourism is far from being the opposite of mass tourism, it’s simply a more sustainable model with higher investment return periods, which however can be broth to be as profitable as the mass tourism one (Croatia, Slovenia).
The above mentioned models are to be considered for the successful development and management of alternative tourism in Bulgaria.
Alternative tourism in Bulgaria has a great potential. The country possesses a staggering natural diversity and an astonishing historical and cultural heritage on a fairly small area. This gives and enormous potential of development of alternative tourism and a wide range of tourism activities on one's disposal. The different aspects of alternative tourism include ski mountaineering, off-boarding, mountain biking, speleology, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, archaeology, rural and wine tourism and more . Bulgaria's location close to the Central and East European markets makes it easily accessible which can be a perfect basis for developing sustainable tourism.
Then again alternative tourism shares less than 10 % of the overall annual tourism revenue in Bulgaria and it's far from being developed as it is in Greece, Slovenia, Spain or Croatia. There are however good reasons for that. Roughly speaking, Bulgarian tourism is where the Spanish or Greek was just when they enforced their respective tourism models some ten to twenty years ago. Tourism is contributing just above 13 % to the national GDP , and that's mostly mass tourism with its low spending tourists. The industry suffers the classic mass tourism negative features, high peak seasons flows, insufficient infrastructure incapable of handling the high peaks of tourist flow, noise and water pollution as consequence, and conflictual use of the coastal land for mass tourism purposes. There's simply almost no space left for alternative sustainable tourism without a strong government back up with its appropriate legislative and executive measures.
The governmental body bearing the executive power and implementing the strategic policies in the sector of tourism is the Ministry of Economy and Energy. The legislative base of the industry is the Tourism act. It's chapter six “Financial assistance of tourist development” describes the strategic policies that are to be executed by the Ministry. Art. 59. (1) of the Tourism act provides a bit of a word play, stating that the state shall assist the sustainable development of tourism, rather than the development of sustainable of tourism . In other words the government policies are to support any form of tourism, both mass and alternative one. This is a milestone in the management and successful development of the different alternative forms of Bulgarian tourism. In free market conditions such as those available in Bulgaria the development of sustainable tourism it's to suffer from the still more competitive mass tourism. It will still benefit from the governmental support, but so will the mass tourism which gravely diminishes the scale of alternative tourism development in Bulgaria.
Regardless of this relative disadvantage compared to models in Spain, Greece to Croatia, alternative tourism in Bulgaria is slowly gaining ground despite the controversial policies.
An active body, a legal entity that facilitates the development of alternative tourism is the Bulgarian Association of Alternative Tourism. It's main goal is to support and encourage sustainable tourism on a regional and local level. This support is mainly done as a service package offered to its members. That includes consultations on the successful start of a sustainable tourism project, business plan development, marketing and certifications of tourist merchants, customer service, tourism advertisement. It's activities also include the coordination of interests of the authorities and the tourist service providers related to alternative type of tourism. Effective financing, sales, development and advertising are crucial to be ensured for small projects. The organization also can provide legal and technical support to its members, including the representation of its members in their relations with public authorities. It can carry out surveys and analysis and can develop strategies and projects in order to benefit from national and international financing.
Alternative tourism in Bulgaria has a long way to go in order to be a considerable supplementary or leading component of the tourism sector. It faces challenges such as a lack of strong governmental policy that can assure its financial sustainability, and ability to grow. However it also possesses strong advantages a great variety of activities waiting to be shaped as a quality tourism product.
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