Bulgaria makes plans for dental and health tourism

 

Bulgaria plans to launch a national policy for inbound dental tourism. Ventsislav Stoev of the Bulgarian Association for Health Tourism says that Bulgaria has suffered, as with no national policy for health and dental tourism, each clinic worked on its own without any coordination with others: “After some discussions with authorities in our parliament, we have a national policy to organize dental tourism all over the country, and to include more highly qualified dentists in it.”

Bulgaria has a large number of dentists and low labour costs. 7,800 dentists in Bulgaria own clinics with good equipment and laboratories. Foreign patients go to Eastern Europe where the quality of the dental treatment is similar to that in developed countries but at significantly lower prices. To begin with, people made their own arrangements, but now dentists and tour operators offer to combine dental treatment and tourism, particularly for visitors from Germany and Italy. Bulgaria has two advantages to develop its dental tourism: highly qualified dentists who speak foreign languages, and high level clinics located in tourist areas.

Twenty years ago, visitors from Scandinavia, Russia and the Middle East were regular guests in Bulgaria's spas that specialised in treating medical conditions varying from gout to sterility. But this almost vanished as Bulgaria concentrated on becoming a cheap holiday destination. In recent years, new investment has once again begun to make Bulgaria a spa destination.

Spa tourism has attracted some $5.4 billion in investment in the past five years, according to the Bulgarian Union for Balneology and Spa Tourism. Companies from Israel, Russia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman have already invested or shown interest.

The industry wants 10% annual growth. It is advertising at travel trade and consumer shows in Germany, the Balkans, Israel and Russia. But to compete with the Czech Republic and Hungary, Bulgaria's biggest spa competitors in Eastern Europe, the government must start spending more on marketing and improving the run-down roads, railway and bus transport.

Sigrun Lang of the European Spas Association says Bulgaria's rich natural resources, long-term traditions in balneotherapy and well-qualified specialists in the sector may come to nothing if the country does not market itself, " Marketing is most important because if nobody knows that you have great locations, people cannot come."

The government has allocated a tiny budget to tourism advertising, and seems unwilling to promote dental and health tourism, as it is still locked into the Soviet-era thinking that if you have good cheap offerings, customers will find you without advertising or marketing.

The spa industry has managed to change the misconception that spa resorts are beneficial only to the elderly and ill. Bulgarians account for four out of five visitors in the high-end wellness hotels.

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