BURGAS, Bulgaria – Sunbathing, gambling and bar hopping – it’s business as usual at Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Burgas just days after a suicide attack that killed six people.
The gigantic Sunny Beach complex on Bulgaria’s southern coast, which offers 80,000 hotel beds plus holiday homes and apartments for rent, has long been a favourite summer spot for party animals from all over the world.
Unfazed by its built-up coastlines, kitsch souvenirs and crammed beaches, it seems tourists that come to Sunny Beach – many of whom are Israeli – are also undaunted by the threat of terrorism.
“It’s a tradition – Burgas before the army. My friends were here two weeks ago and now it’s my turn to go wild,” says Lior, an 18-year-old from the Israeli city of Haifa, who visited Sunny Beach with four other girls just two days after the attack.
“I am not scared. You see, I am wearing a T-shirt in Hebrew,” adds her boyfriend Gal, 17.
“We like it here, it’s not high-class but it’s nice and cheaper than in Israel. We go to bars every night and we can gamble,” friends Ammon and David, both 23, said.
Mazal, an insurance agent in her 50s from Tel Aviv, sums up the general mood: “You, Bulgarians seem more scared… Look, life goes on no matter what.”
It is peak summer season and Sunny Beach is brimming with about 1000 Israelis, who represent about 6 per cent of tourists to the resort, according to operators.
Tourism has shown no sign of slowing since the suicide bomber blew up a bus carrying 47 Israeli tourists on Wednesday, killing five people and their Bulgarian driver, and injuring another 36.
“We’ve had no cancellations, at least so far,” says Denitsa, who works for a local tour operator that welcomes German clients to the resort.
“People ask where it happened but don’t care at all from then on.”
Though tourists remain unruffled, airport security has been heightened, with a total blackout imposed on information concerning incoming Tel Aviv flights.
“All charters from Israel were taken off the information boards immediately after the accident. Many additional measures are also in force,” says Georgy Andreev, a spokesman for Bulgaria’s transport ministry, refusing to elaborate for “security’s sake”.
There was “very little security” in place before the attack, says Shoshi Ailer, a teacher from Hod HaSharon, near Tel Aviv.
Ms Ailer, who witnessed Wednesday’s explosion, said she and her 18-year-old son decided to stay in Burgas but thought the attack would discourage other travellers from returning.
“I’m sure that a lot of people – not only Israelis – will think again about coming. Bulgaria was considered ultra-safe, but not anymore. It’s a pity.”
Tourists have never been targeted in Bulgaria before.
Last year the Balkan country – a former close ally of the Soviet Union and now a member of the European Union and NATO – welcomed 8.7 million foreign tourists, including 140,000 from Israel.
Tour operators had expected an increase in tourism of between eight and 10 percent this year but are now hoping the blow dealt will not be too hard.