Q & A with Petar Dilchev, Managing Director, Pandion Wild Tours Ltd., Sofia, Bulgaria.
A leader in birding, wildlife, and historical tourism in Bulgaria with side trips to Greece, and Romania.
TELL ME HOW YOUR COMPANY BEGAN.
It was my father, Nikolay Dilchev, who had the vision and knowledge to start a local tourism company based on nature. He graduated from the University of Sofia with a major in biology. He was always devoted to nature conservation and became one of the founders of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. After the political changes here in the early 1990s, he started to offer wildlife holidays. This was a first in Bulgaria. Sadly, my father passed away in 2015. Now I manage the company with the help of others in my family.
At first it was mainly from referrals. We still get customer referrals, but more often today we are meeting people at special fairs and trade shows. We also see a good amount of activity on our website.
ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS MAINLY FROM EUROPE?
We do receive customers from all over the world but mostly they are Europeans, especially from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.
MOST TRAVELERS ARE PROBABLY NOT FAMILIAR WITH BULGARIA’S BIODIVERSITY.
It is true that Bulgaria is not yet a very popular wildlife destination. I think this is because it is not well advertised. We are a relatively small country yet we are very rich in biodiversity. Along with Spain, we are the most biologically diverse country in Europe. We have hundreds of species of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and thousands of plants. Many are endemic to the Balkans or even to Bulgaria. The secret is our geographic location.
I enjoy watching the large birds of prey. We have the Eastern Imperial Eagle and three species of vultures - Black, Griffon and Egyptian.
WHEN IS YOUR BUSIEST SEASON, AND HOW FAR IN ADVANCE SHOULD CUSTOMERS BOOK TOURS WITH YOU?
We are busiest during the spring. Next would be early summer and autumn. During the winter months, big flocks of Red-breasted geese are here from Siberia and that is of interest to some people. Usually our clients book their holidays a year in advance. In the event of a cancellation where free spaces open up, we can accept late bookings.
WHAT IS YOUR TOUR GROUP SIZE?
Our birding groups are usually from 5 to 15 people.
Since our clients are mostly between 40 - 60 years of age, we do not schedule long or hard walks. The usual daily distance is between 2 and 4 km.
DO YOU PROVIDE ANY EQUIPMENT?
We ask our visitors to bring at least a binocular. All our guides have scopes which everyone can share and use during the tour.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU OFFER TRIPS TO GREECE AND TO ROMANIA?
We go there on a regular basis.
WHAT CLOTHES SHOULD TRAVELERS PACK?
Our popular spring season is usually warm, with temperatures between 17 and 24 C. Sometimes we get rain, but this is not common. Light durable pants and good walking or hiking shoes and socks are a must. Pack a light jacket and also a hat or visor and sunglasses.
Bulgaria offers a delicious cuisine plus great wines. During our tours we will taste great variety of traditional foods. For example, Bulgarian yogurt is famous throughout Europe (even in Japan), and our white cheese is also fantastic.
WHAT SURPRISES YOUR GUESTS ABOUT BULGARIA?
Most people arrive with little or even no information about Bulgaria. Their first big surprise is how green our country is. We have a lot of preserved forests and habitats for the wildlife because our agriculture is not so intensive. Then they are amazed at the diversity of our nature. They discover that people here are warm and friendly.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE VISITORS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
I hope they will leave with a good impression. I hope they will encourage their friends to visit us as well. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest countries in the European Union, so any increase in international tourism activities is very helpful. We try to offer sustainable tourism that supports all the regions we cover.
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