Wetland activity center attracts criticism for lack of activity

Three years have passed since the municipality of Rēzekne district leased the landmark water tourism development center "Bāka" ("Lighthouse"') by Lake Lubāns to a company called SIA "Vlakon". The purpose of the lease was to develop the object as a nature tourism center of regional and international importance. At the moment, however, local residents are dissatisfied with the opportunities offered by Bāka for tourists, saying that much more active activity took place when the municipality itself ran the center.

Lake Lubāns is the largest lake in Latvia, but not currently on the itineraries of most visitors to Latvia despite its importance as a wetland bird-watching habitat and the other opportunities it could potentially offer to enjoy nature and water activities.

The architecturally attractive Baka water tourism development center was established by the municipality of Rēzekne region 12 years ago in a degraded area on the shore of Lake Lubāns, attracting one million euros of funding from the European Union.

Bāka has been leased to SIA "Vlakon" for three years now. The signed contract envisages the task of promoting active recreation and nature tourism in the surroundings of the facility. Given the size of the facility, its striking location, and its million-euro price tag, the monthly rent of 308 euros per month (plus VAT) would appear to be a bargain. The contract is a very long one – valid until March 31, 2032.

Center administrator Inta Tropa said that various services are available at the center: "Visitors have accommodation, SUP boards can be rented when the summer season comes, boats can be rented, fishing is available, a tennis court, volleyball court, but these are all paid-for services."

Inta Tropa admitted that most of these opportunities have not yet been used by visitors so far this year.

"You just go up to the tower where there's a telescope where you can look and watch the birds," she said.

But there is also no visible information about the services that are theoretically on offer.

According to the official website, the complex can be hired for 650 euros per night, a conference room for 40 euros per hour. Boats or SUP boards cost 6 euro per hour, a tennis court 10 euros per hour and fishing 5 euros per day. The beach is listed as free to use... but unavailable due to construction work.

"There is no information, yes. It would be good if there was, when driving from one side or from the other. We don't have it. Maybe we should talk, I don't know," said the administrator when asked if providing information signs might be a good idea for a tourist attraction.

Local concern

Local residents and tourism-related specialists interviewed by Latvian Radio said that the quality of services offered has fallen.

"Employees change there very often... it has happened that the supervisor does not greet people, groups, when they arrive, and it creates an unpleasant impression of Latgale [region]," Agnese Kruste, consultant of the Lubāns Wetland Information Center, said.

"And also the fact that the amenities are now paid-for, when they were free before," Kruste added.

The impression is that few, if any activites are actually taking place.

"We also see that there are no activities there. I really hope that the pandemic is over, and this year the lessee will start developing tourism, water tourism and bigger activities, because up until now, as far as I know, it was mostly only engaged in fishing services," said Valentīna Puste, the deputy head of the Dricaņi association of the Rēzekne municipality for economic issues.

The municipality agreed to rent out the premises after receiving criticism that municipal funds should not be used on it and that an entrepreneur would do a better job, Puste told Latvian Radio. 

The municipality's expenses for the maintenance of the object were said to be more than 50,000 euros per year. The revenue from paid services was only 20,000 euros.

The lessee has the opportunity to make a profit from the management of the surrounding water bodies, because together with the water tourism development center, ​​260 hectares of ponds were leased. The representative of SIA "Vlakon" Ivars Marnauza did not hide that the main purpose of renting Bāka was to expand the company's activities in the field of aquaculture. So far, however, even this hasn't happened.

"This activity was affected by the generally known events – I am thinking about Covid-19 and further also about this geopolitical situation in the world. All this created instability in the economy, which directly affected the company's activity – as a limiting factor for the workforce, the increase in the price of energy resources and the impossibility of predicting the future development of the situation," explained Marnauza.

The representative of the company said that in the near future they plan to participate in project tenders related to the development of aquaculture.

"It is planned to make investments related to the internal strengthening of the dams, clearing of bushes, clearing of the surface of the ponds from overgrowth. Of course, daily maintenance work is not left out either, so that people can feel more comfortable there," said the company's representative.

As and when demand increases, he promised to improve the availability of tourism services as well.

Although proposals have been received to terminate the lease agreement with SIA Vlakon, the municipality stated that there is no substantial justification for this yet. The contract does not stipulate a specific number of activities to be performed, for which the lessee could be blamed for non-performance.  

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