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Interview Series: Nikolay Tonkoff, Creative Director, at Like.Bulgaria

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Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview, which focuses on a new Bulgarian social project called Like.Bulgaria and its impact on the travel industry in the country. Nadejda Popova, Senior Analyst – Travel and Tourism, spoke to Nikolay Tonkoff, Creative Director, at like-bulgaria.com.

Can you please introduce the project? What are its main business objectives, overarching digital strategy and available resources? How did it all start?

It all began as a joke. One morning, I had this idea, which I posted on Facebook and then it took off from there. To make a tourism brand is not that easy. Like.Bulgaria has managed to appeal to many people and to be liked by more than 33,000 people on Facebook since it was set up. The reason it was created, back at the start of 2013, was to promote a new Bulgarian tourism logo. As it happened, the new tourism logo caused a big wave of negative reactions among trade representatives and Bulgarian travellers.

It would be interesting to know why you decided to launch this project. What was the motivation behind it?

Bulgaria has never been promoted in a conventional way. Maybe it was this that motivated us to start the project and to present our country to the world in a modern and appropriate way for the 21st century. It is a positive, united and beautiful brand, and it is everything that we hoped it would be.

How successful has it been so far? Do you have any results that you can share with us?

The success has been enormous. Considering the fact that it is a self-financed project, we have managed to organise three big exhibitions in Bulgaria and to give a large number of interviews via different media, so it has become really popular. In less than a month, we sold over 500 t-shirts featuring our brand. Fans of our website come to Bulgaria from all over the world. Our cooperation with BG Radio, Vivacom and other institutions and media has made us really happy.

Who is it aimed at? Who is your main target audience?

Above all, the project is aimed at tourists coming to visit Bulgaria. Our aim is to present Bulgaria via social media in an unusual and unconventional way. At the same time, we are very happy that thousands of Bulgarians identify themselves with the brand. I think it is proof that we have done a good job.

What has feedback been like since launching the project? Is it predominantly from Bulgarians living abroad or travellers interested in visiting the country?

We receive letters from different people on a daily basis. Many travellers have already been to Bulgaria and liked it a lot. They also write to us about how much they like the project. At the same time many Bulgarians who live abroad also write to us with a real sense of nostalgia. We receive many recommendations, as well as advice and praise.

Do you receive any financial support for your project from the Government or any EU institutions?

As I mentioned before, Like.Bulgaria is still a self-financed project. It is a pity that no one from the Bulgarian Government or from EU institutions has contacted us offering to help.

How do you see it developing further? Will Facebook remain the main platform for the project or do you plan to expand and use other social media channels (ie Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram)?

At the moment, Facebook is the most popular social network we appear on, but it is good that our fans are managing to increase our promotion via other social media sites like Pinterest and Twitter. For the time being, we are focusing on updating our website, so that we can upload more information onto it.

What do you think about the role of in-destination marketing in this day and age of technological advances? How it has evolved during the years? What is key when producing such campaigns?

I think there is no future for mass tourism. Bulgaria offers excellent conditions for boutique and more targeted tourism. Many of the visions that we have published on our website have exactly this kind of flair.

How was/is Bulgaria performing in this respect? Do you think there have been good marketing campaigns that the country has launched to promote its tourism?

In my opinion, in all these campaigns, something is missing: the element of unification and consolidation. So, in this sense, Like.Bulgaria is the only brand, up until now, which made huge inroads, and there is huge potential to develop it for different kinds of campaigns.

Would you be interested in working with the local government to help boost the promotion of Bulgaria globally?

Last year, we attended the international cultural tourism exhibition in Veliko Tarnovo and won first prize for developing the Like.Bulgaria brand. At the event, we had the opportunity to meet representatives from almost all local governments and to have lengthy discussions with them about various possible future projects.


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