In a nutshell: THE FUTURE INCENTIVE CAPITAL OF THE BALKANS
The most beautiful things are sometimes invisible to the eye. Despite globalisation and constant connectedness, there are places that the international meeting scene has not yet discovered. And when we do discover them, our eyes sparkle and our heart is lifted. Velingrad is such a destination: well-known to Bulgarians but otherwise unheard of by almost everyone else in the immediate region.
The town of Velingrad is located in the heart of a large karst plateau, at almost 800 m above sea level. Nestled in the middle of the picturesque Rhodopes, it is famous for its salubrious climate and mineral hot springs. That is why it is a popular hiking and holiday spot, and in 2008 it was awarded the title of Spa Capital of the Balkans. Its curative waters from more than 70 springs have been known since Roman times. They triggered the development of tourism even before World War II, when the first Olympic hotel in Bulgaria was built in the town. In recent years, tourism has really flourished, though. The water has curative and preventive properties against numerous diseases. As a whole, the product mix forms an exceptional incentive destination, just waiting to be discovered by European event planners.
There are some traditional public baths around Velingrad where you can come in contact with the history and tradition of the use of mineral water. Indeed, we recommend this experience, and likewise you should not miss a visit to Lake Kleptuza. It is the largest karst spring in the Balkans, with a discharge of 600 to 1,200 litres of water per second filling the scenic lake. Today, it is a tourist attraction and the symbol of Velingrad. There is an abundance of water in all of its forms in Velingrad and its surroundings. Water is the mother lode propelling the tourist product of the town, which is second to none in Europe. The title Spa Capital of the Balkans is thus more than justified but it is also a great responsibility in terms of managing and protecting the town’s rich water resources.
The remarkable natural scenery on the plateau seems to be made for shooting films. Alternating pine forests and grassy knolls prevail, culminating in the Rhodopes mountaintops. We were surprised by the beauty of the plateau, so it is no wonder that it has been discovered by film crews as well. In fact, Sofia is one of the centres of European film production, not least as a result of filming incentives. According to the locals, several films have been shot on the plateau. It even posed as Canada in one of the foreign films shot in the town’s surroundings. No surprise there.
One of Velingrad’s major advantages is that tourism is in effect throughout the year. This destination is appealing in all seasons and it is difficult to decide the most suitable time for a visit. In terms of incentive programmes, you can have fun in the snow or go skiing in winter on the nearby ski slope of Starina. In summer, there are interesting naturalistic programmes in the Yundola area. And throughout the year, there is a wide range of hotels with bowling centres, sportsgrounds, and an endless variety of spa programmes. Regardless of the season, everything can be combined into very compelling incentive programmes.
Post-2000 investment boom
The main hotel boom in Velingrad happened after 2000. During that time, top-class hotels that can compete with the best in Europe were built. Spas are the norm, as well as outdoor and indoor pools, physical therapy, massages, gyms, and everything else that belongs to the first-rate spa hotel category. Today, there are 45 hotels, 20 guest houses, 2 sanatoriums, 7 mineral public baths, and 32 pools in Velingrad. Moreover, large investments have been made in additional tourist services and public infrastructure. Velingrad’s tourist product has thus been improving from one year to the next and it is entirely comparable to the best spa cities and destinations in Europe.
High quality and self-confidence
The hotel structure speaks of their quality. Of all the 45 hotels, seven are five-star while fifteen are four-star ones. A destination with such a hotel structure can easily host even the most demanding meeting and incentive groups. Quality, though, also means a friendly smile given by the staff and hospitality that is not forced. Hoteliers and tourism professionals have faith in their product. The result is satisfied guests, which can best be measured through the positive reviews seen on internet portals. We were the most impressed with the high level of understanding of the guests’ needs, wishes, and expectations. In that context, Velingrad is without question particularly outstanding.
The meeting scene
Most meetings and incentives taking place in Velingrad are local ones. In practice, this means that not a week goes by without key hotels hosting events organised by Bulgarian associations and companies. Hoteliers strongly promote weekday events since weekends are usually booked by individual guests.
The largest meeting hall is in the Grand Hotel Velingrad and seats over 200 attendees. Other four- and five-star hotels also provide first-rate conference capacities. Listing individual capacities would take up too much space and, actually, your choice of an event location mostly depends on the style of the hotel that would suit your event. The range extends from the superior boutique Villa Vuchev, which can accommodate 15 people, to Hotel Arte, which is renowned as a design hotel with cutting-edge services. Every hotel has its own advantages, so before you decide we advise you to check out the details at www.velingrad-bg.com.
In general, the Hoteliers and Restaurant Association brings together the key providers at a destination and is the main contact point. In the future, they will strive for the best promotion of destinations possible in terms of meeting tourism. For incentive programmes, the best thing to do is contact the Bulreisen agency.
By way of conclusion
Velingrad is a first-rate incentive destination. It already has all it needs to deliver even the most demanding incentive programmes. One of its advantages is Sofia’s easy accessibility and, as already mentioned, the town’s remarkable natural resources. In addition, the prices of services are really competitive. According to some research studies, they are up to 40% lower than comparable prices in Europe. What is lacking is more consistent and targeted promotion. Everything else is taken care of by the excellent hoteliers of Velingrad.
VELINGRAD INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2020
MTLG INDEX / 2020 EDITION
M – MEETING DESTINATION
Destinations that can host up to 1,200 meeting attendees.
- The number of 4* and 5* category hotel rooms: 1,500
- The number of 4* and 5* category hotels: 45
- Banquet hall maximum capacity: 200
- The largest hall in the city (in m2): 260 m2
- Destination population: 41,718
- Maximum hall capacity in theatre style: 250
VELINGRAD OVERALL PERFORMANCE
Natural and cultural factors 4.78
General infrastructure 4.77
Tourist infrastructure 4.82
Meetings infrastructure 4.61
Subjective grade 4.80
Marketing buzz 3.87
ICCA Index 1.20
Numbeo Quality of Life Index 3.14
Numbeo Safety Index 3.88
ACI Airport Connectivity Index 3.72
OVERALL SCORE: 3.96
COMPARISON WITH THE REGION
Velingrad is already opening a new chapter in incentive travel. According to all its properties, it is an incentive destination. Everything is in place and ready even for the most demanding meeting organisers. The hotel structure is also appropriate, which is not always the case in competitive destinations. There are many advantages – they just have to be put together into suitable packages and programmes. Soon, this sleeping beauty will surely wake up and become a thorn in the side of its regional competitors. It just needs to seize its numerous opportunities and present them appropriately to the international meeting market.
Banica is a traditional salt cheese pie that cannot be missing from the table, even for breakfast. Another must-try dish is ljutenica, a relish made of peppers, aubergines, carrots, garlic, and tomatoes. It is often served with meat or just as a spread with bread.
One of the traditional Bulgarian crafts is the production of woollen carpets. Hemus Ltd. is a company that has preserved the know-how for the reproduction of manual textiles. You can visit their factory and discover how handmade carpets have become popular in the many European palaces, villas, public buildings and museums.
BEST INCENTIVE IDEAS
The Rhodopes forests are an excellent testing ground for discoveries, such as safaris with Russian jeeps where you will be guided across icy rivers and the highest peaks. This exciting experience will be upgraded with an al fresco lunch prepared from organic produce from local producers.