Dear Valued Stara Planina Properties Clients,
This month we continue with the second part of the series of articles about people's experience of starting a business in Bulgaria. The present issue is dedicated to running a youth hostel.
We at Stara Planina Properties would like to wish you Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year 2009!
Bulgarian Experiences: Running a Backpacker Hostel
By Graham Bright
As most young people I did the usual thing of taking a gap year to travel the world and explore far flung places, staying in backpacker hostels, meeting people and discovering different cultures. On returning to England and embarking on a career I never really felt settled: I would always make the most of my 22 days holiday allowance per year but never felt it was enough. One day I thought back to places I had been, and one thing that struck me was the lack of memorable hostels; very few stood out as being anything above ordinary. With this in mind my future was set; I was to open a hostel that was a cut above the rest and provide backpackers with what they want; a decent place to stay at a fair price.
One summer I had used my precious 22 days on a swift jaunt through Eastern Europe, taking in the Baltic's, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Of all the countries Bulgaria was the least equipped for foreign backpackers; having only one hostel in Sofia. With this, my mind was made, and choosing a location within Bulgaria was easy; Veliko Tarnovo stood out head and shoulders above any other destination owing not only to its beauty, but also its location; at a crossroads on the main Istanbul-Bucharest, and Sofia-Varna train lines it lays in a strategic position for maximum footfall.
So I returned to Veliko Tarnovo, not knowing the language, the laws or the requirements for a hostel etc. There were times when things were difficult and I thought how easy life was back in England. But I persevered, finding a suitable property, and more importantly understanding the municipality requirements for opening and running such a business. Then the lengthy process of renovating the place began. The property I had bought required a new roof which would also allow the attic to be utilized as further living space, aside from this the rest of the place only required the standard re-wiring, re-plumbing, re-plastering and decorating throughout. I chose a local contractor to undertake the work after inspecting previous examples of his work. His initial time frame for completing the entire works was 8-10 weeks, which seemed reasonable and after 3 weeks all seemed to be on track; the old roof removed and new one in place. But then things slowed down considerably and instead of 4 workers coming each day it was only 1 or 2 and then every other day. It was extremely frustrating because the quality of the work was good and also the price, but when you are trying to open a business time is money. After several talks progress did speed up, but it was still 19 weeks in total for the works to be completed which resulted in me missing the majority of the peak summer season.
The overall finish was how I had envisaged it, original wood doors and floors remained giving character, bespoke bunks with built in lockers and individual reading lamps offer the budget traveller comfort, but the real wow factor was in the attic space which had been transformed into the communal lounge and kitchen and works so well providing the decent social space that so many hostels lack.
Following all the municipality checks I obtained a license and was up and running, the instant turnover was phenomenal which was largely down to good relations with the local Tourist Information Centre, this was key to getting the place known. I also sent fliers to hostels in other cities, developed a website as well as a listing on all major hostel booking sites. All this paid dividends as numbers were continually increasing and a researcher for the Lonely Planet Travel Guide stopped by. The following year the hostel was the first listed in the new guide book; which backpackers rarely leave home without! This saw occupancy figures rise further and really had the place on the map.
The day to day running of the hostel has been improved over time which comes with experience; to begin with it was largely trial and error to see what worked and what didn't. With all the hiccups ironed out the operation runs smoothly, although it can be a bit of a mad house over the peak season, especially on rainy days when the majority of the guests don't venture out. The large lounge with a generous selection of board games, books, magazines and Wi-Fi internet access usually provides enough entertainment though.
Feedback from travellers has been great; many say it's the best hostel of their trip, I feel proud of my achievement and that I have fulfilled my original goals. As a true backpacker myself though I now feel it is yet again time to move on, and so I am offering the hostel for sale and hope someone else can have as much fun from it as I have.
New address and phone for Varna office
We are pleased to inform our clients that our Varna office have moved premises to the Evxinograd Business Centre, office No. 313. The centre offers a number of facilities which we believe will be useful for the visitors. The phone number of the office was also changed to 00 359 52 361 350 or 052 361 350 local dialling.
Bulgaria's Kuneva Selected Commissioner of the Year
Bulgarian European Commissioner for Consumer Protection Meglena Kuneva has been selected as European Commissioner of the Year by the "European Agenda" magazine. The nominations in different categories have been submitted by the magazine's readers. They are further discussed by a jury including representatives of European associations, non- governmental organizations, individuals working in the area of the European integration, leading businesses, and the media.
On 18 December in confirmation of Kouneva's efforts towards introducing more efficient safety and health requirements for products and services toy retailers and importers and Meglena Kouneva signed an agreement aiming to improve toy safety. Guidelines defining systems and procedures will be developed to ensure that all products comply with standards.
Under EU law, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and importers hold main responsibility for the safety of products that find their way to the market. A massive stock checking initiative carried out by the EC at the end of 2007 showed that along with businesses that make efforts to offer only safe products, there are many retailers that continue to sell dangerous goods, including toys.
Bulgaria Applies to Host Formula One Grand Prix
On 15 December 2008 Bulgarian Motorcycling Federation submitted application to FIA for hosting a Formula One round. If awarded this would become the third F1 competition in the region after those in Hungary and Turkey.
The president of the Bulgarian Motorcycling Federation Bogdan Nikolov also said that Federation was awarded the prestigious award of Track Number 1 of the International Motorcycling Federation for a second consecutive year. The award was granted for the Dolna Mitropolia track near the town of Pleven which will host a round of the World Rally Championship in 2010 and has applied to host a round of MotoGP in 2011. The same track will be suggested for Bulgaria's Formula One circuit however Mr Nikolov expected this to be a very difficult but achievable goal.
Bansko will Host Men's World Cup Events in 2011
According to the preliminary calender of the International Skiing Federation Bansko will host events of the men's world cup skiing in the year 2011, said Sofiaecho.com. The men's world cup in skiing is scheduled to take place in Bansko on 25-26 February 2011. The world top skiers will be racing in the Super G and the slalom events. Exactly a year later, Bansko will host the women's Super G. Bulgaria will host a FIS world cup on 28 February and 1 March next year for the first time in twenty-five years. The fastest skiing women in the world will be racing in the Super G event.
Monthly Travel Guide
Below is a link to the Jamadvice HRG Bulgaria Monthly Travel Guide. It provides useful information as well as some interesting facts from the travel industry.