Latvia's tourism expected to continue recovering

The past year was good in domestic tourism but still not at the pre-pandemic level, according to managers of rural and urban tourism surveyed by Latvian Radio.

Last year in the field of tourism in Latvia was not significantly better than the previous year, said Asnate Ziemele, head of the Latvian Association for Rural Tourism. She has compiled the insights of many in the hospitality industry about 2023. Local customers and visitors from the rest of the Baltic States dominate, but the return of further foreign visitors to Latvia is still ahead.

“The year has been like the previous one, which is not a bad year. Costs have risen enormously. [Tourism representatives] are afraid to rise prices because there are few foreign customers, and for domestic tourists, the amount of money for leisure spending is not growing. Consequently, prices have risen by a maximum of 10%. Prices for catering services have risen mostly. There was more turnover, but less profit,” Ziemele said.

There were fewer local tourist bookings outside the summer season. At the same time, the development of rural tourism is evidenced by the opening of new guesthouses and apartments, especially in Kurzeme on the coast of the sea. Wages have been raised for workers in the industry. However, conditionally “more normal” work is predictable with more foreign visitors expected, Ziemele reiterated.

“Estonians, Lithuanians, Finns, and Poles are most often named, fewer Germans, Dutch. But the number of nights booked by foreigners has increased - those who have come stay longer. But overall, there are far fewer foreigners, many say there are none at all,“ Ziemele noted.

Developments in the local tourism sector are also reflected in official statistics. In ten months of 2023, Latvia's tourist accommodation served 2.1 million foreign and local visitors – almost 12% more than last year in ten months. But that was nearly 15% lower than in 2019 - before the Covid pandemic, according to data compiled by the Central Statistical Bureau. The tourism hike in the capital has been faster. Around 22% more foreigners visited than in 2022.

Events such as the Hockey Championship, Song and Dance Celebration, and the Positivus festival played an important role, noted Ieva Lasmane, head of the Tourism Board of Live Riga.

The forecast of around 1 million foreign visitors in 2023 will be exceeded, but they will still be around 70% of the number of tourists in the year before the Covid pandemic. The capital is counting on more foreign tourists in 2024.

“Firstly, the natural cycle of how tourism recovers should be taken into account. Of course, it should be faster in the first few years after Covid, after which the rate of growth may be slightly reduced. What suggests next year should be better than this is a faster resurgence in group tourism. It still suffered quite a lot from the impact of the war [in Ukraine], especially from a market as big and important as Germany. The far-away markets - Japan, South Korea, China, also the United States of America, which have in the past been around 15 percent of the total tourist volume - are also slowly but yet recovering. These factors make it possible to guess that next year should be on a positive trend,” Lasmane assessed.

Riga was most actively promoted as a tourist destination in the rest of the Baltic States after the Covid pandemic subsided. However, in the coming years, there will be more extensive campaigns about Riga in several other markets, including Finland, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

Latvia has also marked 2023 in international roadmaps. The long-awaited entry to the Michelin International Restaurant Guide has taken place in the restaurant sector. In the field of tourism, the inclusion of the two longest trails – Forest Trail (Mežtaka) and Sea Trail (Jūrtaka) – in next year's “Lonely Planet” tour destinations is a significant benefit for Latvia and other Baltic States in the area of regional tourism.

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