Rural wine tourism is a way to diversify the mass-tourism product and bring more prosperity to disadvantaged rural areas. It is a very recent concept in Bulgaria but it is foreseen to grow in the future. However, there is a lack of research-based publications on wine tourism in the country in general and its potential role in sustainable rural development. The aim of this research is to explore the state of wine tourism in Bulgaria and to present the key challenges the country is facing. A threefold approach was used to collect information for this study: (I) literature review; (II) semi-structured interviews; and (III) winery visits (observation). Eleven wineries were visited and fourteen interviews with stakeholders were conducted. Relevant stakeholders to rural wine tourism development were identified as wineries, NGOs and associations, government and tourism businesses. The main challenges facing the development of the wine tourism industry are a lack of regional competitiveness, public awareness and recognition, a lack of regional and local infrastructure (roads and signage), service delivery skills, capacity and proactive attitude in wineries, a lack of tourism strategies (national, regional and local level), planning processes and governance structure, a lack of service quality assurance mechanisms and a lack of available market research. There is a strong potential for developing rural wine tourism in Bulgaria. The presence of wineries, cultural heritage attractions, nature, food and accommodation options, as well as the defined wine regions have all laid the foundation for it.
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