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Bulgaria and Romania join Schengen: Experts on what it will mean for prices, transport & overtourism

Bucharest, pictured here, will soon be more accessible for tourists
Bucharest, pictured here, will soon be more accessible for tourists Copyright Árpád Czapp via Unsplash
Copyright Árpád Czapp via Unsplash
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The Balkan countries started the process of joining the Schengen Area on 31 March.

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April is set to be an exciting month for Romania and Bulgaria.

On 31 March, the Balkan nations started the process of joining the Schengen Area as controls were lifted at air and sea borders. 

Discussions about lifting controls at land borders - which would see the two countries properly join the Schengen Area - are still ongoing. 

While both nations have been members of the European Union since 2007, they are still obliged to show passports upon entry to other EU countries, unlike many other European citizens.

In 2024, border controls for the two countries will be simplified and it’s likely many other aspects will change, too.

There’s a lot of speculation whether Bulgaria and Romania will follow in the footsteps of recent Schengen Area entrant Croatia, which has been widely criticised for raising prices across the board since their entry.

Bulgaria and Romania are not expected to switch their existing currencies to the Euro - as Croatia has done - in the immediate future, but there will, unsurprisingly, be changes almost immediately.

With the help of experts on the region, here’s everything you can expect as the changes come into force.

The bridge between Bulgaria and Romania, in the town of Vidin, Bulgaria is the second on the 500-kilometre stretch of the Danube River between the Balkan neighbors
The bridge between Bulgaria and Romania, in the town of Vidin, Bulgaria is the second on the 500-kilometre stretch of the Danube River between the Balkan neighborsValentina Petrova/AP

Will prices shoot up when Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen Area?

Elaine Warren is a travel expert and the founder of The Family Cruise Companion blog.

She’s hopeful that the move into the Schengen Area won’t immediately spell price hikes, which could immediately put off potential tourists.

“Increased competition might balance out any tendency for prices to rise too sharply in the most visited places. With travellers able to easily compare prices across borders, hotels and other businesses will want to stay competitive on rates,” she tells Euronews Travel.

It does seem to be too early to tell exactly what might happen, though.

“It's also possible certain costs may gradually align more between Schengen countries. But overall, the mix of effects - more visitors but also fiercer competition - suggests price impacts won't be clear-cut. Popular spots may see modest increases, whereas rural areas and consumer prices face downward pressures,” Warren adds.

“We cannot deny that joining Schengen looks poised to energise tourism in Romania and Bulgaria tremendously. Their economies stand to gain substantial new opportunities. It will be fascinating to see how visitation and business evolve across both nations in the years ahead.”
Elaine Warren
Travel expert

Robert Blaszczyk, the head of Strategic Clients Department at global fintech Conotoxia, tells Euronews Travel that while potential changes are not clear cut, there is hope for the countries and visitors alike.

“Joining the Schengen area has quite a neutral impact on the prices in these countries, especially at the beginning. The marginally positive impact of reduction of the time and cost of road transport will not be initially felt,” he says, ”In the longer term, it tends to be offset by a stronger demand spurring from the rise in number of visitors. However, the impact on tourism is unequivocal.”

What are Bulgaria and Romania putting in place to attract tourism?

Romania and Bulgaria are still known as fairly ‘off the beaten track’, seldom visited by tourists. That doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer visitors, though.

Whether it’s the TikTok-famous Therme spa in Bucharest, the up-and-coming party towns on the Black Sea or Sofia, the vibrant Bulgarian capital, there’s plenty to draw travellers east.

Lucia Polla is a travel expert and the founder of travel blog, Viva La Vita.

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She’s a fan of both Romania and Bulgaria and hopes the Schengen Area move will open up the countries to a new generation of tourists.

“I can't wait to see more travellers discover these gems,” she tells Euronews Travel, “I anticipate a surge in tourism, which could lead to more competition among travel providers. - and that means even more affordable accommodation and transportation options!”

Sustainable travel is a very hot topic right now, with tourists increasingly choosing greener methods of transport to reach their destinations.

Lucia is hopeful that the Balkan nations will take this on board as they attempt to attract more tourists.

“Visitors will have more freedom to explore at their own pace and use eco-friendlier options like trains and bikes. This shift could foster a deeper appreciation for local cultures and responsible tourism practices, benefiting both the environment and the communities we visit,” she says.

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The very absence of rigorous checks in place at borders without Schengen privileges has been known to put off tourists who think it isn’t worth the hassle.

“What sets Romania apart is not only its natural beauty, rich historical and cultural heritage, and warm hospitality but also its charming villages where time appears to stand still. For many visitors, these villages evoke a sense of Western Europe from a bygone era, reminiscent of a century ago or even childhood memories.”
Cezarina Pomojnicu
Founder, Romania Private Tours

That could change - literally overnight - says travel expert and co-founder of StayNewEngland.com Michael Donovan.

‘When I visited Bulgaria in the early 2000s, the non-Schengen borders added complexity that dissuaded some independent travellers. After their expected accession, I think we'll see more backpackers and Eurotrip-style tourism, especially among younger Europeans. This demographic has skyrocketed local economies elsewhere post-Schengen,” he tells Euronews Travel.

Romania in particular is, Michael says, “already experiencing a renaissance as a cultural and outdoor adventure hotspot. Removal of border checks can bring its unique Black Sea coastline and Transylvania region to a truly global stage.”

A view of Bulgaria's capital Sofia from above
A view of Bulgaria's capital Sofia from aboveAlexandr Bormotin via Unsplash

He - and other experts - have projected an initial surge of 15 to 25 per cent in international visitors to both countries, which will continue to grow as the years pass.

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“Longer term, full integration will also likely raise standards within tourism infrastructure as a means to accommodate higher volumes. Overall it's an exciting step for the region that I believe will profoundly grow its prominence on the international travel map in the years to come,” Michael adds.

Could Romania and Bulgaria fall victim to overtourism?

While it’s clear that the two nations’ entry into the Schengen Area will increase tourism and bolster their respective economies, there are concerns that overtourism - so common across Europe - could soon become an issue.

Ritesh Raj, COO and CPO of CuddlyNest, an accommodation booking platform, believes that “the Schengen inclusion could lead to over tourism in popular destinations within Romania and Bulgaria.”

In popular tourist destinations like Venice, Barcelona and Malaga, residents have been pushing back after years of disrespectful visitor behaviour.

“Bucharest is incredibly decently priced, whether for a hotel or the cost of a pint. Compared to most other European capitals, Bucharest certainly doesn't attract the same number, but that brings its benefits, as it doesn't feel overly stuffed with tourists and oversaturated with crowds.”
Tom Bourlet
The Stag Company

Ritesh is fearful that, given time, Bulgaria and Romania could see a similar trend.

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“[Their new popularity] could result in a surge in prices for accommodations, local goods and services, as increased demand often drives up costs,” he tells Euronews Travel.

That’s not a foregone conclusion, though, he says.

Bucharest's Arcul de Triumf is one of the Romanian capital's many highlights
Bucharest's Arcul de Triumf is one of the Romanian capital's many highlightsCALIN STAN on Unsplash

“[Increased tourism] could also stimulate destination diversification. Increased accessibility could lead to the exploration of off-the-beaten-path locations, spreading the benefits of tourism more evenly across the country, a trend that could lead to more sustainable and inclusive growth in the tourism sector.”

Ritesh suggests that the balance of growing tourism and a lack of knock-on damage is down to the countries’ authorities, saying success “will largely depend on how Romania and Bulgaria manage their tourism policies and infrastructure in the face of increased visitor numbers.”

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