Latgale tourism industry calls for government crisis support

The Ezerzeme Latgale region Tourism association surveyed more than 100 regional tourism businesses and found that many small businesses are concerned about not meeting the current criteria to qualify for government support during the state of emergency caused by the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, according to board member Līga Kondrāte on April 6.

“If the situation lasts longer than May, then a large part of entrepreneurs have said (and it's more than a third) that they'll be forced to carry out mass redundancies, which will in turn be very expensive for the government,” said Kondrāte.

Half of Latgale tourism businesses have scaled back operations, and half have closed, sending employees on both unpaid and paid leave, or working from home where possible. All of the companies are hoping for government support so that they can retain workers and recover operations.

The Aglona Bread Museum has been forced to close, as owner Vija Kudiņa doesn't currently have excess money to pay wages and doesn't want to risk receiving any fines. She's had tour requests that she's had to turn down from those who want to bake their own bread. Right now Kudiņa is sticking to baking bread to sell at the adjoining shop, but it's not enough to make ends meet.

“That's one tenth of the revenue we could have if we were operating as when we're open.” said Kudiņa.

Meanwhile “Dzīļu” bakery owner Aina Barsukova has found another alternative to the various creative workshops she usually runs from her business. “We realized that food can be taken to go, and people also started asking for it. And my son is a chef and he consults me, and I cook,” said Barsukova. Orders for the daily special are placed via a WhatsApp group, and meals are collected around 5:00 p.m..

A few guest houses (which are very popular in the region) are continuing to operate, offering their services to provide self-isolation to those who need it, however it's not quite enough to get by. The prices for such services in the countryside don't compare to those in Rīga or other larger cities, and many businesses are worried that they don't qualify for government assistance due to the high turnover criteria.

“500 thousand is a very large sum, in Latgale few businesses fall into this category, so the greatest proposal and request for the government is to once again review the criteria and categories required, broadent the support category list and review the criteria,” said Kondrāte.

Those working in the tourism industry hope that people will choose to travel Latvia once the situation has become more stable. Ezerzeme will conduct the next industry survey after Easter.

As previously reported, the government has extended support to businesses and employees affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Now, instead of government support targeting select industries including hospitality and catering, the government says all companies with a turnover decrease of at least 30% from March 2019 and some less-affected companies will be able to apply to have employee downtime covered from the state budget.

The state previously wanted to cover crisis-induced employee downtime across 40 industries, with an estimated €102 million to be spent on the task. Support has now been extended significantly. Finance Minister Jānis Reirs previously said downtime compensations could be paid out to about 150,000 employees across Latvia.

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