In 2005, about a year before we launched Vagabond, we started HighFlights, Bulgaria's Airport Magazine. It was a square-format mag in both English and Bulgarian, and the initial idea was to distribute it as a compliment to the passengers going through Sofia Airport.
Its main purpose was to present travel destinations to both incoming and outgoing travellers. To put it in another way, we would carry stories and travelogues about Bulgaria and about world destinations that air companies flying out of Sofia Airport reached. Significantly, we also ran information about the airport itself – those little but very useful tids and bits that passengers want to know when they have a couple of hours to bide between flights.
At that time both the management of Sofia Airport and the Ministry of Transportation, its principal, appeared quiet sympathetic to the idea. Hey, they said. Most other airports in Europe have some sort of a publication that is given off to passengers to while away their waiting times. It wouldn't cost anyone a penny, so let's do it.
The first issue of the magazine appeared in September 2005, and quickly became a hit. What was initially meant to serve the people going through Sofia Airport became so popular that the airport would run out of copies and we would have to print extra and extra. The other Bulgarian airports, those in Burgas, Varna and Plovdiv, followed suit. We started distributing to them as well.
Editorially, HighFlights in its original form soon transcended the boundaries of your typical airport mag. We ran interviews with interesting people: the opera diva Alexandrina Pendachanska, politician Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria-born German TV star Samuel Fintzi, adventurer Rumen Grozev, actress Snezhina Petrova, to name just a few. We carried stories about all corners of Bulgaria, and France and India, Thailand and Turkey, Greece and Portugal, the UK and Brazil. There was fun. Our MisLeading Advice and On the Origins of Some Bulgarian Idioms sections were hilarious and prompted readers to send us letters from as far away as Australia and Mexico, with the whole of Europe in-between.
HighFlights also had an up-to-date calendar about current cultural events in Sofia as well as plenty of reviews about anything from high tech gadgets on the Bulgarian market to movies, music and theatre performances, and books.
However, as everyone who has done business in Bulgaria knows, what starts in a well thoughtover manner does not necessarily end particularly well. The reasons are many and varied, and are related primarily to the Bulgarian way of doing business rather than any sound economic practices. Managements change, and so do the mindsets of their superiors. Theoretically, the management of a major state-owned enterprise is supposed to make sure that enterprise offers adequate goods and services, and makes money at the end of the year. The reality, however, is often different.
With the onslaught of the economic crisis which coincided with the advent of GERB, HighFlights found itself in a situation that had no easy or fast solutions. Again, it had little to do with business practices or economic common sense, but rather depended on the whims and quirks of individuals who treated state property as if it was their own. Nothing new or unusual.
To cut a long story short, we had to rehash the original HighFlights into a smaller format and make it a part of Vagabond. Now HighFlights continues to reach the passengers of Bulgaria's airport "in a package" with Vagabond, its younger brother.
What makes us proud and happy is that people continue to associate Vagabond Media with HighFlights – even though it's been about three years since the last issue of the square format mag came out. And yes – it is a collectible. I know personally at least a dozen people, both in Bulgaria and abroad, who still keep all their complimentary copies in their bookshelves from Number One (September 2005) to Number 69 (November 2011).