Draft legislation to replace the current Law on Tourism has been adopted at first reading in Parliament.

If enacted, the legislation would:

  • ensure the conditions for the sustainable development of tourism and for a competitive tourist industry
  • create the conditions for developing niche areas of tourism, such as cultural, health/wellness, countryside, ecological, young people, adventure, sport and hunting
  • establish criteria for the performance of tourism activities and for the provision of tourism services
  • protect consumers of tourism services

The draft introduces a five-year validity period for star rating certificates awarded to accommodation, dining and entertainment and tourist lodges. Hotels, hostels and restaurants will be required to maintain the standard appropriate for their star rating and, within three months before the end of the five-year period, declare their willingness to have their rating re-confirmed or adjusted.

The draft extends the range of property that will be eligible for star rating. A procedure for downgrading star ratings is included in the legislation itself rather than (as is normal) in a regulation.

As well as maintaining the State’s decisive role in formulating and implementing national policy for developing tourism (through functions and powers given to the relevant minister, regional governors and mayors), there is a new approach to broad participation by private organisations interested in policy-making in tourism.

For the first time, there is provision for tourist zoning of the country and for the management of tourist areas with a view to developing regional tourism propositions and implementing regional marketing and advertising.

The draft includes a significant expansion (compared to current provisions) in the requirement for tour operators to have compulsory liability insurance. This includes a clear and detailed description of the rights and obligations of tour operators and insurers.

Two regulatory regimes would be removed altogether under the draft law: one for beaches, as it largely overlaps with the content of concession contracts and is therefore unnecessary; and for ski slopes, because the mix of natural and economic criteria in the current legislation makes it difficult to determine which areas fall within the category.

The draft will allow electronic filing of applications to register by tour and/or travel agencies and for star rating by tourist venues. It will also be possible for tour companies to operate exclusively online. It would also permit parties to sign travel contracts using electronic signatures where exchange takes place online or by email.

To comply with EU law, those registered under the relevant laws of another EU member state would be permitted to act as a tour operator or travel agent or to offer hotel and restaurant services in Bulgaria.

Finally, the draft also introduces significant increases in fines and pecuniary penalties compared to the current Law on Tourism.