Bulgaria may be the “public health station” of the world – Stefan Sharpolov, a Chairman of the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and SPA Tourism
he businessman Stefan Sharpolov is a popular name in Bulgaria due to his work in the field of tourism, as an owner of a hotel chain and as a current or already a former owner of plants for the production of cakes, mineral water bottling plants, etc. On the whole, the forty-six year citizen of Burgas with the reputation of a man who loves to create. However, it is a less known fact that he is a graduate in philology, that he finished a Russian language high school, and maybe that’s why he says that he has a special attitude towards the Russians. He also worked as a journalist, and at the “tender” age of 26 years he published a book with documentalistics. If You ask him how he would introduce himself, he would briefly answer: “I am a Bulgarian”. He says that there is no difference what You actually do, whether in the filed of industry, science, culture, etc, unless You have a cause. And his cause is Bulgaria. Maybe that’s why he is also known as a Maecenas among the founders of the “Bulgarian Heritage” National Movement.
In June 2008 Stefan Sharpolov was selected as a Chairman of the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and SPA Tourism. We talked with Mr. Stefan Sharpolov about the development of the balneo- and SPA tourism in Bulgaria, about his vision and his performance before the tourists.
Mr. Sharpolov, when do our traditions in balneology and SPA tourism date back from?
It was back in antiquity when the mineral waters and the medicinal mud-deposits were made a cult by the people inhabiting our land. A number of archaeological fins evidence for the development of the balneology at these latitudes. Ancient Thracians used deify the flowing waters; ancient Greeks used to build “nympheums” (religious sanctuaries) around the mineral springs, where young lasses, symbolizing nymphs – the guardians of the human kind, used to perform religious and healing rituals. During the time of the Roman Empire settlements used to be built around the minerals finds, as these were healing, sports, cultural and administrative centers. Archaeological finds and chronicles evidence that the contemporary biggest and most famous Bulgarian balneo resorts have been established at the place of ancient settlement with curative mineral waters and curative mud-deposits, namely: Hissar, Kyustendil, Sandandski, Varshets, Varna, etc.
In the end of the XIXth c. and in the beginning of the XXth c. the balneology in Bulgaria marked progress. Many Bulgarian students graduated universities in Germany and Austria, and took their experience from these countries to Bulgaria. Modern and beautiful balneo public health stations were built in the small resort towns, such as Bankya and Varshets, in the architecture characteristic for this period of time, namely Neocession. The knowledge and technologies from Western Europe were introduced to Bulgaria. Balneology started developing as a science. Thus, in 1885, the very first Bulgarian Catalogue of Mineral Waters was published. In the middle of the last century, with the help of Russian specialists, a Scientific Institute of Resortology, Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation was established. For years there was a research on the influence of the climate and mineral waters on the human organism. Today, the combination between this great scientific experience, the new technologies and the introduction of the good European practices is in the basis of the philosophy for creating the contemporary balneo-, SPA and wellness centers to our hotel complexes.
What are the natural resources of Bulgaria?
There are more than 600 water sources in an exploitation regime, with a debit of over 5000 l/sec. located on the territory of the country. It is important to note that most of the resorts with the mineral waters are situated in ecologically clean regions and nature parks situated in beautiful mountain localities in the Rhodope Mountains, Pirin Mountain and Rila Mountain, in proximity to the popular ski resorts Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo, along the Black Sea coastline, in the lovely Rose Valley – under the mountain, tucked away at the foot of the PreBalkan, along the courses of the Struma River and Mesta River, the Sofia field, the luxuriant Thracian Lowland. Actually, almost everywhere in the country. It is typical for the Bulgarian mineral waters that they are of bathyal origin determining their permanent physicochemical composition and their influence by the anthropogenic pollutants and meteorological conditions. They are determined with great diversity with respect to the mineralization, physicochemical composition and temperature. There are deposits of mineral water with temperature of below 20оC – in the village of Voneshta Voda, Region of Veliko Tarnovo, and up to 103оC – in Sapareva Banya. Medicinal mud-deposits are another valuable natural wealth. There are five firth mud lakes situated along the Black Sea coastline, namely in Shabla, Tuzlata – Region of Balchik, Varna, Pomorie, and Burgas. There are peateries and peat-spring deposits in Central and Western Bulgaria, namely in the village of Banya – Region of Karlovo, the village of Baykal – Region of Kyustendil, and the village of Marikostinovo – Region of Blagoevgrad. It was back in the remote past when the people living in and passing through our country used this “black gold” to cure their aches. The palette of natural resources also includes the specific climate of the country giving the opportunity for developing an year-round tourism.
What is the income for our country from the balneo- and SPA tourism?
In the last seven years the income marked a constant increase. In 2006 this subsector provided approximately 3% of the amount of the income from tourism in our country, or 0.25% of the Gross National Product (GNP) of Bulgaria. The percentage was low, but important, for it doubled for a period of two years. This positive tendency remained in 2007 when the SPA tourism in Bulgaria took the second place after the sea tourism.
What should a hotel have to be called a SPA hotel?
It is impossible to believe that if there is a Jacuzzi and a massage bed in one hotel, then we can call it a “SPA hotel”. The European SPA Association, a member of which is our union as well, has 400 requirements in order to certify a hotel. In Bulgaria three hotels have been granted the ЕSPA certificates, as the process continues. The private business realized that this will bring dividends to it, for the ЕSPA recommends the certified hotels to the European health funds.
How should be Bulgaria promoted as a balneo- and SPA destination?
I do believe that our natural resources are phenomenal, and that our country may be called the “public health station” of the world, for its possibilities for rehabilitation. It is clear for all of us that humanity becomes sicker and sicker, mostly due to the stress and pollution, so the demands for treatment and rehabilitation keep increasing. However, the main problem for Bulgaria now is that is urgently needs the establishment of a whole vision for a national tourist product. As at the moment the country is popular as a ski and sea destination, but it is necessary that this image is added with the balneo, SPA and welness tourism, the historical and cultural tourism, the tourism connected with the religion, wine, golf, yachts, etc.
Bulgaria as an year-round tourist destination – this is what has to be promoted here, in the country and abroad. The interest in our country will grow only when we have a clear message.