Last stranded tourists return home: Bulgarian minister
The last group of tourists stranded in Bulgaria since Friday by a payment row of their tour operator and air carrier Bulgaria Air have returned home, the economy minister said.
"The last Russian tourists have been transported home," Minister Traicho Traikov told parliament Thursday as opposition lawmakers attacked him for allowing the scandal to tarnish Bulgaria's image as a tourist destination.
Hundreds of Russian tourists, but also many Finns, Latvians and Estonians, could not return home from their summer vacations on the Black Sea when Bulgaria Air cancelled their flights over unpaid debts by tour operator Alma Tour.
Alma Tour's Russian and Finnish partner operators were forced to pay again for charters to bring their clients home, while Bulgaria's economy ministry held tough negotiations with both the tour operator and Bulgaria Air to find a solution and prevent the scandal from blowing up.
On Tuesday, Traikov had commented that the timely return of some 600 vacationers scheduled to leave by the end of September was still "under question".
The transport ministry meanwhile negotiated on Wednesday evening the departure of 139 Russians for Saint Petersburg.
The number of Russian tourists in Bulgaria this summer jumped by as much as 40 percent, but opposition lawmakers in parliament on Thursday countered that many of them would not return next season.
Socialist deputy Rumen Petkov said the incident caused "incalculable damages to tourism".
Bulgaria hopes to see an overall 10-percent rise in tourists this year.
© 2011 AFP