Quick Q&A: Bozhidar Zahariev
Bozhidar Zahariev, general manager of Cleves, talks to SAN about his company's plans and the Bulgarian serviced apartment market.
Can you give us some background about your career, and tell us when you started work in the serviced apartment sector?
"I joined the serviced apartment sector in 2018 after a career in commercial real estate and facilities management working for Tishman International and Raiffeisenbank."
How established is the serviced apartment sector in Bulgaria, in terms of number of units and the presence of local and international operators?
"The serviced apartment sector in Bulgaria is in its infancy but developing now as a preferred alternative to hotels for project-based visits of more than a couple of nights. Currently Cleves is the only professional larger-scale serviced apartment operator in the Sofia market."
In 2017, we ran a story about how Bulgaria's presidency of the Council of the European Union was expected to fuel a boom in Sofia's serviced apartment sector - did this materialise?
"The Presidency led to higher hotel occupancies and was good for Cleves, too. It increased visibility of Sofia as a skilled and lower-cost business destination - especially for software engineering, back-office outsourcing and the automotive sector - and that has continued since the rotating Presidency, with a stream of Foreign Direct Investment projects."
How long has Cleves been established, and how many units does it operate?
"Cleves was established 11 years ago, and we currently operate 121 serviced apartments. For a quarter of those we are the property manager while in the rest we are in full ownership and management."
What are your growth plans for the company, in terms of numbers and locations?
"At present we have seven locations in Sofia, and we remain strong believers in the serviced apartment market in Bulgaria's capital. Those locations cover the most sought-after residential areas in the south-eastern and central parts of the city, and we plan on expanding our portfolio through property management services."
Has Airbnb and the like affected your business? If so, how?
"Airbnb and the low-cost airlines have made Sofia ever more popular with tourists. However, our target is working professionals, expats and diplomats often coming to Sofia for years. Airbnb is playing a useful role for private landlords but not really as a competitor for Cleves."
What is your prediction for the serviced apartment sector in Bulgaria over the next three years?
"All the trends are positive for Cleves, and we look forward to hundreds of more happy clients! We expect competition from local providers to increase but so far none have the scale and skills required to maximise the customer experience: multiple locations, control of whole buildings, internal property management and deep experience with client requirements."