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385. Happy 1 st march

Sofia Echo: 2009-03-01

Martenitsa is a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and worn from March 1st until the 22nd March (or the first time an individual sees a stork, swallow or budding tree). The name of the holiday is Baba Marta. "Baba" is the Bulgarian word for "grandmother" and Mart is the Bulgarian word for the month of March. Baba Marta is a Bulgarian tradition related to welcoming the upcoming spring. The month of March, according to Bulgarian folklore, marks the beginning of springtime. Therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off winter and welcoming spring.

The red and white woven threads are not just meaningless decoration, but symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity and soul, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that in its very origins the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and bad, of sorrow and happiness in human life. Given as an amulet in the period of spring, when nature gets reborn and starts blossoming again it was not only a reminder of that balance but also a wish for health, strength and happiness.







384. Wizz Air to fly from Sofia to Basel, Kiev and Tunisia

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-27

Wizz Air Bulgaria Airlines, the local unit of the Hungarian budget airline, was cleared to launch regular routes from Bulgaria to Switzerland, Ukraine and Tunisia.

The carrier will fly from Sofia to Kiev, Tunisia and Basel three times a week by Airbus A 320 airliners seating 180 passengers.

The Sofia - Zurich destination has so far been operated by Bulgaria Air, and Swiss Air and Flybaboo, running 14 flights a week.

No regular routes between Bulgaria and Tunisia are serviced at the moment. From Sofia, Wizz Air has been appointed to fly to Germany, Greece, Turkey, Moldova and Russia.

383. Lidl secures plot for supermarket in Pleven

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-26

German discount chain Lidl will begin construction on an outlet in the northern Bulgarian town of Pleven in spring after purchasing 4540 sq m plot in the Pleven borough of Storgozia for 1.5 million leva, Stroitelstvo Gradut weekly reported.

Adding the land to the adjacent plot, already owned by the retailer, would allow Lidl to build a large store and a parking lot spreading over one hectare.

Lidl owns another plot in the town, where it plans to build the second outlet, next to a Tehnopolis store.

Lidl Bulgaria is the local subsidiary of the Lidl discount chain, which claims to operate more than 8000 stores in 24 countries. Lidl itself is a unit of the same holding company that owns retailer Kaufland, which focuses on large hypermarkets. Kaufland is already on the Bulgarian market, where it operates 19 stores.

"We regard Pleven as a town with very high potential, as there aren't many towns quite like that in Bulgaria," Lidl reciever Kamen Koumanov during the signing ceremony with

Pleven mayor Naiden Zelenogorski.

Despite initial plans to enter Bulgaria at the same time as Kaufland, in 2006, Lidl postponed its expansion and only started work on its first outlet, in the central Bulgarian town of Pazardjik, in 2008.

Once here, though, it plans to grow quickly. "Our investment strategy will not end here. We are planning to build a large logistical centre near Sofia, as well as expand our coverage of northern Bulgaria," Kamenov said, adding that the next targets were Vidin, Rousse, and Veliko Turnovo.

382. Tourist firms mull over cutting prices for Bulgarians

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-25

Discounts of 10 to 30 per cent for Bulgarian holidaymakers and preferential offers for public employees are some of the measures to jump-start the local tourist sector approved by the industry council on February 23 2009.

The moves are aimed at luring back Bulgarians who have spent their holidays abroad in recent years.

According to National Statistical Institute data, Bulgarians make six million foreign trips, about 30 per cent of them to Greece.

A similar campaign kicked off last year but the results have not been announced.

Tourism associations forged out common government aid demands that should help the sector survive the global economic downturn. They will seek subsidies for visas issued to Russian and Ukrainian tourists, a measure estimated at 16 million leva.

Bulgaria's closest rivals, Greece and Cyprus, have already taken such a step.

The sector will call for a further 40 million leva for a national advertising campaign targeting Russia, the CIS and the Balkan countries and the domestic market.

A further demand is legislative changes to set the value-added tax for all services in the sector at seven per cent. Currently, the preferential rate is only available to hotels that welcome organised groups. The tourism investors' union said they would seek a bigger reduction to five per cent.

The industry will also call for scrapping fees on charter flights and for being awarded an export sector status to borrow resources extended to commercial banks by the Bulgarian Development Bank.

The Government should allocate about 100 million leva for the tourism industry to provide operating cash for hoteliers and tour operators, according to the organisations.

Once refined, the proposals will be submitted to Deputy Prime Minister Ivailo Kalfin, who is responsible for the sector. On the recommendation of the tourism agency, the demands will come with a special control mechanism to ensure that state subsidies would lower the cost of tourist services.

The industry hopes the measures will be in place by the start of the summer season.

As holidaymakers tighten their belts and currency exchange rates jump up and down, Bulgaria's tourist companies face smaller winter season revenues and lop up to 50 per cent off summer pre-booking prices.

381. Tourism to seek 250M euro in state aid over two years

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-24

Bulgarias tourist companies will urge for cheaper third-country visas and tax breaks as part of a set of measures to shore up the sector trapped by the global economic and financial downturn.

The sector needed 250 million euro in Government aid in 2009-2010 to generate revenues of over 1.2 billion euro, the Bulgarian Tourist Chamber and the Bulgarian Association of Travel Agents estimated.

The companies are calling for around 16 million leva in state subsidies for visas for tourists coming from Russia and other non-European Union countries, following the example of Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, which all compete with Bulgaria for the same markets.

The industry also proposed that the visas should be issued upon arrival at the border checkpoint, a practice adopted in other countries, such as Egypt, for example.

In addition, the Union of Investors in Tourism will call on the Government to waive value-added tax on tourism services for 2009.

Another proposed measure is a lower fuel excise for chartered flights and setting a bottom concession fee for beaches with a view to cutting the prices paid by tourists to rent lounge chairs and umbrellas.

The chamber and the association will also seek subsidies to encourage foreigners to make long vacations in the low season, offering five euro for foreign tourists who have spent more than ten days in Bulgaria.

A further measure is the creation of a special fund with a capital of 100 million leva to give incentives to Bulgarian holidaymakers to choose local resorts. The state should contribute half of the fund, with the rest coming equally from resort and tourist fees, and businesses.

380. Property market 2009: the year of the buyer

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-23

After years of bustling construction activity, solid price growth and quick profits, the Bulgarian real estate market will see buyers become the trend-setters, analysts said at the BalreAct conference dedicated to the impact of the crisis.

As investors fight for their lives, homebuyers with cash at hand can cut 15-20 per cent off the price of the property, said Tsvetelina Tasseva, director of real estate agency Address.

However, the housing market has skidded to a halt, with deal volumes falling and buyers taking five or six months to make up their minds, not five weeks as they did earlier, Taseva added.

Moreover, hundreds of flats were being offered at prices that were well above what buyers were willing to pay, with the difference between the price asked and the amount paid reaching 12 000 euro in Sofia.

Property buyers have become more choosy and were now looking out for good location, infrastructure and other benefits, according to Tatyana Emilova, housing space manager of Colliers International.

In the past years, the pace was set by investors on the hunt for quick profits splashing cash on buildings offered at exorbitant prices that did not match quality.

Many entrepreneurs took out short-term bank loans at various phases of the projects, hoping to pay back from instant sales. Now, the stagnating property market is bringing them to their knees before banks, analysts said.

Natural selection will help the market get back to business as usual, Bozhidar Neichev of PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

His view was echoed by Mauricio Mesa Gomez, Hercesa country manager for Bulgaria and Romania, who said that the crisis will turn out to be a healthy period as it would cleanse the market.

Construction entrepreneurs and investors should get together to hammer out common price levels because no one would survive this crisis on their own, Sofia chief architect Petar Dikov said.

Creative marketing ciykd no longer sell properties as both investors and consumers now needed to know all the details, said Lindner Immobilien manager, Rossen Plevneliev, who labeled 2009 "a year of truth" for the sector.

379. Hotel owners not cutting prices, despite low demand

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-22

The low number of early bookings will not move seaside hotel owners to cut prices, it emerged at a meeting of the industry and State Tourism Agency (STA) chairperson, Anelia Kroushkova.

As they struggle with soaring energy and food bills and rising loan interest rates, most hotel owners find it hard to make ends meet, said industry representative Dimitar Vulchev.

The only way to lower prices was an emergency state cash injection of 200-300 million euro into infrastructure improvements and reduction in visa prices for Russian tourists, he said.

Bulgarias tourist services are on average 200-300 euro more expensive than in rival destinations, including Turkey and Greece, and lower prices and outstanding service is what could lure more holidaymakers, according to Kroushkova.

Even countries in less favourable economic situation are taking steps to boost tourism, although it accounts for a much smaller portion of their gross domestic product (GDP), said Ventseslav Tanchev, Altours representative for Bulgaria and manager of Suntours.

He argued that one factor impairing proper state action to tackle the issue was the distorted statistics, with vast discrepancies in figures reported by the tourism agency and the industry.

For example, STA estimated the number of British tourists that visited Bulgaria last year rose by 2.5 per cent from 2007, while in fact the segment is plagued by a major outflow. In an indication that British holidaygoers are turning their back on Bulgaria, UK tour operators Thompson and First Choice have dumped the countrys northern Black Sea coast, citing flagging interest.

Tanchev sounded the alarm that with bookings falling by nearly half, bankruptcies will be inevitable. Many hotel owners were still waiting for last years money from tour operators, and in the meantime cut down on renovation, salaries, food and other expenses, he said.

Romanian and Russian tourists were unlikely to come in big enough numbers to reverse the overall decline in tourist numbers, Tanchev said.

378. Parliament rejects amendment against quick mortgage foreclosures

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-20

Parliament rejected on February 19 at the second reading a bill that sought to amend Bulgaria's Credit Institutions Act that would allow lenders to begin foreclosure proceedings on mortgaged properties only after six interest payments were overdue.

Currently, banks can foreclose on a mortgage if a single payment is late, although such cases remain very rare.

The authors of the amendment bill, independent MPs Mincho Hristov and Stela Bankova, argued that because of the economic slowdown and the credit crunch, "many Bulgarian households could find it difficult to make their monthly payments on time and lose their residence."

The bill failed to secure the support of Parliament's budget and finance committee, which said that the amendment was opposed both the Bulgarian National Bank and the Association of Banks in Bulgaria because it put debtors' rights above creditors' rights.

"The attempts to put debtor rights ahead of creditor rights are unacceptable," Iskrov told a forum dedicated to Bulgarias economic prospects during the current crisis on February 18.

"There are proposals being made by non-governmental organisations and members of Parliament in that sense, but if that is allowed to happen, it would cause a serious negative impact and Parliament should reject them."

377. Breeze Park complex to be completed by June

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-19

The modern Breeze Park Complex is in the southern most edge of Varna's Breeze borough and will be completed by the end of June. The complex is near the foreign language secondary schools and the Television Centre Varna, Stroitelstvo Gradut reprots.

The complex constitutes a total area of 1652 sq m in area and has complete transport infrastructure around it, linking it with Varna's centre as well as resort areas around the coastline. Moreover, it is only five minutes walking distance away from the Varna Sea Garden and Piccadilly Park.

The main investor in the project is Gestald Bulgaria OOD, founded in 1969, and it was made possible in collaboration with ABC Design chief architect Velentin Koichev.

The complex consists of two separate buildings within a planned unit development (PUD). Both buildings are four storeys high complete with large terraces and underground parking lots. The first building is designed only for two and three bedroom apartments whereas the second one has apartments, studios and offices.

Boasting a total of 15 flats in both buildings, they vary in size from 63 sq m up to 205 sq m. Every ground floor flat comes with its own separate garden. The flats are currently on offer from 1300 to 1500 euro per sq m.

376. Bulgaria will participate in European property forum MIPIM

Sofia Echo: 2009-02-18

Six Bulgarian companies will participate this year in the 20th edition of MIPIM, the largest market for international property trade and a prominent event in the world of real estate. It takes place in Cannes, France, every March.

The Bulgarian firms will be in one large kiosk in what will be the first Bulgaria representation ever in this forum, considered by experts to be the most respected in Europe. Last year, it was visited by more than 29 000 people, including government and financial leaders, bankers, scientists, businesses, consultants, industrialists and others.

Bulgarian representatives at the event are Alpha Developments, Prime Property BG, ADCITS, Benchmark Fond Imoti, A&T Electronics, and Yazov OOD. They will share their projects in a 70 sq m kiosk.

MIPIM is designed for senior-level decisionmakers within the real estate market who want to develop business within their domestic and international markets. It is a global marketplace that gives people the opportunity to connect with key players in the industry, from investors to end users through to local government and international corporations.

Inevitably, however, this year's MIPIM will be overshadowed by the the spectre of economic crisis and financial crunch which has shaken the real estate sector globally, in some areas, dramatically. Bulgaria, in turn, has been affected now that it is considered a "peripheral market", attracting a significantly lower share of money and investments from western pensioners, insurance companies, investment funds and banks.

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