Gavrail Gavrailov: Where is the human face of Bulgarian tourism?

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Gavrail Gavrailov (photo: Gavrail Gavrailov)

Interview with the coauthor of the book, full of ideas for travelling in Danubian Bulgaria, „From the Balkan to the Danube” – about the tendency of tourism becoming a smart experience, about its potential to connect Romanians and Bulgarians and about the tourist initiatives, which modernize Bulgaria

Vladimir Mitev

Gavrail Gavrailov is born in 1979 in Plovdiv. He has BA in Political Science (2002) and MA in “Applied Psychology” (2004) from the University of Plovdiv. Starting from March 2016, he is a PHD student in the department of “Applied and Institutional Sociology” of the University of Plovdiv. His focus of research is “The Social Entrepreneurship in the Rhodopes in the 21st century (2000-2018)”.

He is interested in sociology of local communities, regional development, ecology, rural tourism and development of alternative green communities. He is the author of the books “North-East Bulgaria – a guide for travellers” (2013), “The Rhodopes – searching for the roots” (2014), “The villages in Bulgaria – directions for tourism and culture” (2015). He has worked in advertisement, media, tourism and politics.

Gavrail Gavrailov is the author of the book with ideas on travelling in Danubian Bulgaria “From the Balkan to the Danube”, along with Vessela Nickolaeva – editor-in-chief of the site for tourist travellings in North-West Bulgaria “Severozapazenabg.com” and the tourist guide from Rousse Mihail Mihov. The book overviews interesting facts from the history, about ethnic communities, about the present realities and the innovative tourist initiatives in Danubian Bulgaria. The Barricade talked with Gavrail Gavrailov, trying to understand to what extent tourism could be a source for social change in Bulgaria.

This article was published on 3 January 2019 on the site ”The Barricade”. 

Mr. Gavrailov, Your book describes a number of local tourist initiatives in Northern Bulgaria and tries to win the curious and intelligent Bulgarian as a potential visitor. To what extent the contemporary Bulgarian tourism overcomes the notion of tourist business as “rooms for accommodation and restaurants for eating and drinking”?

The state administration in Bulgaria is still a slave to myths from the past, which causes overall grief. Few people know that the system “all inclusive” has been invented in the Nazi’s Germany. The Ministry of Tourism in Bulgaria applies a quite authoritarian approach towards the development of our potential in this sphere. The contemporary tendencies on global scale are connected with more sustainable forms – more adventures, more communication with local communities, more authenticity. As independent authors we believe that Bulgarians are intelligent people and we see how more and more of them are looking for unknown things, which are connected with discoveries and adventures. There are a lot of things to rediscover in Danubian Bulgaria. Of course, if somebody is looking for places to sleep and food, we will have to disappoint him. There is more information for the people of the free spirit, who are looking forward and discover the interesting topics through their own curiosity in our book “From the Balkan to the Danube”. There are plenty of local entrepreneurs in Danubian Bulgaria, who really fit into our vision for tourism. This book reveals about their ideas – from the panoramic flights with balloon and the opera festivals in Vidin and Belogradchik, to the bicycle routes and Danubian rafts in Rousse and Tutrakan.

One can get the idea about tourism as a meeting point in the book – with traditions, relatively unknown ethnic groups, with experiences and beautiful emotions. To what extent there is a contradiction and conflict between the tourism, which is promoted by you and “the massive tourist genres” such as the alcoholic tourism or the tourism, related to consumption and primal pleasures?

Each consumer has the right to choose his/her own forms of distraction in his/her free time. We try to step on authentic things, which have been characteristic for Bulgarians in the near past. We believe that this is the right way for development of sustainable tourism. I would give an example with the plight of a typically craftsman quarter in my city of birth Plovdiv. Everyone has heard about the quarter “The trap” (Kapana), but whoever has been there rather sees a booze atmosphere. This is the result after only three years of “efforts” by the municipality in the city. It tells a lot. If we rely only on primal pleasures in tourism, this will lead to concomitant secondary negative effects. Personally, I would like Bulgaria to be a popular destination for sustainable adventure tourism and not to be considered by everyone as the cheapest place in Europe for alcoholic intoxication.

Is the discovery of the new, more modern face of Bulgarian tourism the mission of the site “RuralBalkans.com”, whose editor-in-chief are you? What change do you want to provoke with it?

The idea behind my site’s creation has come to my mind last summer during a warm day at a beach in Pomorie. We were making a sand castle with my son. Close to us a group of hulky men had fun. They were demonstrating their typically rural mentality. One of them stepped upon my son’s castle, as this guy “was invading” the sea. He didn’t even bother to excuse himself. This angered me a little bit and I started listening to their conversation. They turned out to be people from Veliko Tarnovo’s municipality management. They were talking about tourist projects, about castles and museums with wax figures. This was when it came to my mind that our tourism could have another face – everything that takes place out of the popular urban destinations, where tourism is presided over by people with rural mentality. After a week or two I thought out the name of the site. We are still establishing the site’s team as things unfold. We develop dynamically. The basic change, which I wanted to provoke personally is in people’s attitudes towards local tourism. I believe that its human face is not in popular resorts, but in the smaller populated areas, where yet there is life in what people do and the smiles are real.

Your book tells about two ethnic communities, which are bridge between Romania and Bulgaria – the Banat Bulgarians and the Vlachs. What did you find out in your travelling about the Bulgarian-Romanian connections today? What role could tourism play in our nations’ development?

From my point of view the Danube could be not only a frontier, but also a road. For years the river has been considered an impassable barrier between the two nations, as a line of division in the communication of relatives on both sides. In the last years the cultural connections are growing and this influences tourism too. There is of course much to ask for. Romanians are the most active tourist nation on the Balkans. They like to travel and to discover new places. The idea of our book is to show how beautiful Danubian Bulgaria is not only for Bulgarians, but also for our northern neighbors. While we travel in Romania, we visited a lot of interesting places such as a hunting cottage next to Bratovoeşti and an adventure park in Comană. These places are close to the Danube and would be interesting for Bulgarian tourists. As far as the Banat Bulgarians and the Vlachs are concerned – these are lively local communities, which organize interesting events such as the festival Farshangi in the village of Bardarski Geran. Romanian tourists have already been visiting it, which shows the potential of the region. The border can be passed at 12 crossing points, which creates a lot of opportunities.

Your book also creates the feeling that thoughtful and capable people have started developing tourism in Bulgaria, even though the emphasis falls on their initiatives and not on their personalities. But isn’t wrong for Bulgaria to specialize in tourism and not in some high-tech industry with big added value? Instead of being a country for tourism and distraction of the globalized tourist, isn’t it better if Bulgaria is a scientific and technological power, which it has been in electronics until 1989?

This is a question of national importance. Cities such as Rousse, Silistra, Svishtov and Vidin are getting depopulated today, because there is not enough investment in modern digital economy. In this sense the development of tourism is not an alternative. In order to provoke positive change greater investment in infrastructure, education, culture, in stimuli for demographic change must be planned in the whole region. Tourism is only a segment of a well-balanced local economy, which should attract the young people. Unfortunately, the present state policy is aimed at attracting barmen and waiters, rather than engineers and doctors. I hope that this problem will be resolved in the near future, because there is a need of a thorough change in the value model of Bulgarians.

Many people see “seizing and holding power” as an obligatory condition for their personal and social development. Which are the most interesting initiatives in the spirit of the social entrepreneurship, which you have found out to be realized away from “the obligatory” touch to the power?

A strong person doesn’t need state power in order to be useful for the society. Danubian Bulgaria gives excellent examples of bright people, which used to change the social conditions in spite of power. The history of the Financial Academy in Svishtov is a telling example. In the last years the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship appeared as a reaction to some negative results from the activities of the state power. The bright people manage to realize their ideas in spite of power’s efforts to monopolize the public energy. I would give as an example the efforts of separate people such as the activists at the cultural centre in Bardarski Geran, the organizers of the opera festival in Belogradchik, the novelist Stoyan Nikolov – Torlaka and the inspirator of the bicycle tour “Dunav Ultra” Boris Begamov. They all try to create a better face for the region through their personal energy and will for change.

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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Author: Vladimir Mitev

Жител на град Русе. Румъноговорящ. Locuitor orașului Ruse. Vorbitor de limba română.

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