Latvia's tourism not quite at pre-pandemic levels yet

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In January, Latvian tourist accommodation services had 51.5% more foreign and local tourists than at the same time a year ago, according to the latest figures from the Central Statistical Bureau. It is still 43.3% less than it was in early 2020, before the Covid pandemic. Latvian Radio spoke to the industry representatives on March 20.

Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association president Andris Kalniņš said that the most difficult situation is currently for catering businesses.

“Large tax debts have accumulated during Covid, around 45 million. And that situation, let us say it, with rising energy costs, is very, very complicated with rising food prices. It is not possible to include the increasing costs in the price of the service, but the catering sector would need to adjust the regulation and do the same as our neighbors, reduce VAT on catering,” said Kalniņš.

Andris Kalniņš also mentioned that last year Latvia ranked last in the EU after the number of foreign tourists served. Ieva Lasmane, head of the tourism board of the Rīga Investment and Tourism Agency, disagrees with this opinion. She explained that the survey ranked European countries by percentage of the number of foreign tourists that they were able to recover from 2019. 

“We're working with a relatively small number of restaurants, which are about 50. Everyone has survived both the Covid crisis and last year and everyone is still working successfully. The Spring Restaurant Week will feature at least five new restaurants that have opened over the past year. But of course, the industry as a whole is very, very large and situations vary. The number of hotels closed has declined over the past year. Last year in January 56 hotels were open, this year already 66,” said Lasmane.

Latvian Investment and Development Agency Director Inese Šīrava said that tourism marketing campaigns will take place in both the Scandinavian countries and the German market which is important for Latvia.

“We go to tourism exhibitions in Germany, in different regions of Germany, and we also invite different media representatives and tourists to Latvia. The aim is to create a picture of Latvia as a diverse but also safe destination. We pursue a variety of marketing activities in Sweden and Norway and Finland. This year, we are planning to promote the 'home restaurant' campaign to the people of Lithuania and Estonia. We also want to focus much more on gastronomic tourism, promoting our restaurants,” Širava said.

Ieva Lasmane added that many big events are planned in Riga this year.

“May starts traditionally with a marathon, then there's a hockey championship, then the Song Celebration, then the Positivus festival. The tourist season will conclude with the world running championship. After the Song Festival, Riga plans a rather extensive summer cultural program. We will have one campaign now in the spring for the Baltic States – Lithuania and Estonia. And what else is a very positive aspect for this year is that there are very many large-scale business tourism events, around 1,000 participants, and then there are many events with 300, 400, or 500 foreign participants,” said Lasmane.

If around 60% of foreign tourists visited Rīga last year compared to 2019 levels, this year the number is predicted to be 80%.

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