Restaurants worried about potential lack of tourists in Latvia

The summer terrace season at restaurants is in full swing – or at least it should be. However, caterers worry that the geopolitical situation will reduce the number of tourists this summer and they will stay emptier than intended, Latvian Radio reported May 17.

Up to now, more than 350 caterers have received permits for the installation of an outdoor terrace from Riga City Council.

The restaurant in Old Riga, 'Kaļķu vārti', has not set up its terrace yet, but is about to do so in the near future, said Sandra Sirmace, executive director of the restaurant.

“A cold spring and it costs money. If you are on municipal or private land, you have to pay for it. Last year there was support from the Riga City Council during the pandemic when the municipality did not charge for land use. Then you can keep the terrace as long as you want. But in these times, when employees are also lacking, each day of the terrace costs something. There is a need for tourists here, because ithe locals visiting restaurants in Old Rīga are gone,” Sirmace said.

The restaurant's “Ferma” chef, Māris Astičs, said that with the opening of the terrace, in theory, the restaurant can serve more guests than only indoors, but this summer, in Astičs' view, it will not be possible to make up for the loss of pandemic.

"It's almost impossible to pick oneself back up. The problem is with employees. Many have changed professions and do not want to work in hospitality. Of course, wage increases, too, because everything is getting more expensive and people are no longer prepared to work on past-time wages. The most important are utility charges and food prices. I think we don't think much about Covid, but we're discussing how to warm up in winter anyway, and how to buy a duck so that the customer can buy it afterwards. Food prices have increased by 40-50%. Nor can we raise sales prices to the right business ratio," Astičs said.

Jānis Jenzis, founder and president of the Latvian Restaurant Association, said that the summer will not be rosy.

“At the moment, the biggest challenge is the war in Ukraine, because the catering business is very closely connected to the tourism business. In particular, group and organized tourism or business tourism have declined greatly. Latvia is relatively close to Ukraine. Maybe it looks like we're very close,” said Jenzis.

The President of the Latvian Association of Tourism Agents and Operators Ēriks Lingebērziņš also said that, at least for the time being, statistics for the first quarter of this year do not indicate that this summer will be favorable to tourism. At the beginning of the year, the mood was positive, but the situation deteriorated dramatically due to the war.

It is projected that the number of tourists will be around 43% of the number of 2019. The expert also pointed out that 20% of Latvian tourists used to be people from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

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