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SOFIA (Bulgaria), March 22 (SeeNews) - Irish low-cost air carrier Ryanair aims to consolidate its operations in Sofia, as the company currently operates a total of 21 routes to and from the Bulgarian capital, sales and marketing executive for Central and Eastern Europe Denis Barabas said.
“While we are always interested in opening new routes, in the last year alone we grew our traffic to/from Bulgaria by more than 1,000%,” Barabas told SeeNews in an emailed interview.
In addition, the air carrier intends to develop its routes portfolio to and from the airports of Plovdiv and Varna, in response to increased tourist numbers in Bulgaria.
Ryanair recently announced it will launch in October its first flight from Varna, connecting the coastal city with Brussels, along with two new routes from Plovdiv – to Brussels and Milan.
Over 47% of Ryanair’s customers travelling to Bulgaria are foreigners, Barabas noted.
In 2016, Bulgaria posted a 17.9% increase in the number of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments, more than any other country from Central and Eastern Europe, Barabas said during a press conference earlier this month, announcing Ryanair’s summer schedule.
Tourists spent 25.2 million overnights in Bulgaria in 2016, Eurostat data showed in January. Non-residents accounted for 16.2 million of the total.
According to a recent SeeNews report on low-cost carriers in Southeast Europe, 56% of foreign tourists who visited Bulgaria last year arrived by low-cost flights.
Countries in the region also show great potential in terms of number of people who use air transport, as they report far less passengers carried per inhabitant in comparison to the EU average of 1.7 passengers per inhabitant, Barabas noted. In 2016, Bulgaria reported an average of 1.2 passengers carried per inhabitant.
Barabas declined to say if Ryanair is interested in launching flights from Burgas, the other big Bulgarian coastal airport.
“Ryanair routes are dependent on aircraft capacity, demand and a viable airport deal and we are in talks with up to 100 airports over potential Ryanair growth,” he said.