Tourism and city life in Sofia forgot about the pandemic and are already reporting records
Today, the new "Economic and Investment Profile of Sofia" (2022) was published, prepared by the IME for the Sofia Investment Agency (SOIA). The profile shows the rapid development of Sofia after the pandemic, with the city's gross domestic product reaching over BGN 59 billion in 2021. Sofia contributes over half of the gross value added of services of the national economy, and in the digital sector, the city's share approaches 90%. One of the particularly interesting aspects of the new Sofia profile is the recovery of tourism and urban life after the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, tourism in Sofia was on the rise, with nearly 2 million realized overnight stays in accommodations in 2019, including over 1.4 million stays by foreigners. The pandemic and the strict restrictive measures severely affected tourism in the capital, with realized overnight stays shrinking to less than 800,000 for the entire year in 2020. The main decline came from foreign tourists, with only around 4,000-5,000 overnight stays by foreigners in Sofia in April and May 2020, compared to pre-pandemic levels of around 120,000-130,000 overnight stays by foreigners during the spring months. All of this hurt urban life, particularly in the tourism and entertainment sectors.
In 2021, as most restrictions gradually lifted and vaccines became available, tourist travel started growing, with nearly 1.2 million overnight stays recorded in Sofia. The recovery in tourist visits and overnight stays for Bulgarians is almost complete, while data for foreigners shows that international travel only partially recovered in 2021. Despite the overall economic recovery of the capital in 2021 and growth in almost all sectors, the slower recovery of tourist travel is one of the factors limiting the development and return to the usual dynamics of urban life before the pandemic.
In 2022, strong tourism growth can already be observed, with nearly 1.9 million overnight stays recorded in the first 11 months of the year, including 1.2 million stays by foreign citizens. In the second half of the year, the realized overnight stays in accommodations in Sofia surpassed the threshold of 200,000 stays per month, which is a record for the capital. In other words, although the impact of the pandemic on tourism in Sofia was evident for almost two years, in 2022, the tourist flow to the capital is fully restored and surpasses pre-crisis levels. This undoubtedly has a positive impact on Sofia, which is evident both in the dynamic urban environment and in optimistic data from sectors such as trade, transportation, hospitality and restaurants, culture, and sports.