Season 2015
by dok in on 2015-05-26
At the start of the year, in March, our seaside project, the Free Varna Tour, was working full throttle, as the opening of the season was just around the corner and we were preparing to meet tourists from all over the world. This year, however, is different. In 2015 the Free Varna Tour will not exist in the form of a free walking tour in our seaside capital.

Stopping the Free Varna Tour has been one of the most difficult and hard decisions to make in the five year history of our organization. However, there is no way we can continue ignoring the reality. The Free Varna Tour and our activities in the city of Varna will be put on hold for the time being and during the summer season of 2015 we will discontinue our free walking tour there. 1,500 tourists this summer will have to find and alternative way to learn about the history and culture of the city.

The decision was made by the annual General Assembly of the members of 365 Association in response to a number of reasons, among which:
  • Failure to fulfil the goal, set at the starting of the Free Varna Tour project: to present the city of Varna as a year-round cultural destination to tourists, visiting the city. In three years we managed to help 4,500 guests from 80 countries discover the cultural heritage of the city, but we find this utterly unsatisfactory, taking into account the effort we put in. We have only been able to reach about 0.25% of all foreign visitors of the city in the three seasons we have been in operation. In comparison, in the capital city of Sofia about 4% of the foreign guests visit our tour. The Free Varna Tour is a seasonal project and does not operate outside of the summer months.
  • We have worked with three different teams and employed two different functional models, all to no avail. We were confronted by the reality of the fact that a huge chunk of the young, intelligent, bi- or multilingual Varna locals are set on leaving the city. About 70% of the people we have trained (who attended and passed professional courses and acquired guide certificates in accordance with the Tourism Law) already live abroad or in other Bulgarian cities, since they cannot find career opportunities in Varna. Many of the most promising young people leave the city immediately after finishing high school. To better illustrate the picture, during our last guide training campaign in Plovdiv four people competed for one spot, while in Varna the ratio is two for one.
  • We encountered numerous problems in the implementation of our tried and tested model of popularization, namely through a network of accommodation providers. It turns out people in the tourist business in the city are not interested in such initiatives. The 365 Association has established partnership with over 150 accommodation providers in Sofia and about 60 in Plovdiv, who actively recommend the Free Sofia Tour and Free Plovdiv Tour, respectively. In Varna, though, we failed to establish a good relationship with local hotels and hostels. Our network of accommodation providers in Varna and the region includes over 50 hotels and hostels. However, they have shown little or no interest in recommending the most popular free attraction of the city (according to TripAdvisor), whose main goal was to present the city as a cultural center.
5 of 5 starsReviewed June 19, 2014

I would like to recommend this tour for anyone who might be arriving at Varna; meeting every day at 6pm in front of the cathedral, the tour goes over all the important places in Varna in an informal way (and lasts about two hours) - you will definitely see more of Varna with this tour than you would on your own, and hear lots of stories, urban legends and so on. It's a great example for a successful initiative, and I wish more cities would have such things.

Visited June 2014
  • We have had a hard time cooperating with the Varna municipal authorities in our last season in particular. Due to pressure, exerted by the local branch of the Union of Bulgarian Tourist Guides (with about 250 members), the city’s info center stopped even mentioning our tour. Despite our multiple partnership proposals, a new free tour was started, which is, however, not free for the citizens of Varna, as it is subsidized with public funds. Practice has shown this model is unstable, inflexible and often remains unknown to the vast majority of tourists. Despite the fact that the model of our free walking tours is well known all over the world, our initiative was not found no acceptance and support by local authorities.
For these reasons, as well as the hard time we had working out the specifics of Varna, the 365 Association has decided that the Free Varna Tour and the city are not among our priorities for 2015. We believe we cannot further develop our project under these conditions and in this environment. Therefore, this year the Association will channel its resources towards new and already established and working projects in the cities of Sofia and Plovdiv.
Our decision to discontinue activities in Varna concerns season 2015. During this well-deserved break, we are going to popularize Varna as a cultural destination online. The Free Varna Tour and the city itself will always be of special significance to us, as we cannot hide the sentiments that draw us towards the seaside. We hope to see you again soon in Varna, at the Free Varna Tour.