Latvia records sluggish tourism growth after centenary

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In contrast to forecasts by the World Tourism Organizaiton, this year Latvia has recorded the slowest tourism growth in Europe. Tourists rarely pick Latvia as their main destination and usually visit as part of a pan-Baltic trip, allotting little time to each country. Experts say poor marketing is to blame for this decline, reported Latvian Radio September 18.

While tourist numbers grew in absolute numbers, the increase was just 1% on year in the second quarter of 2019 with 800,000 foreign and domestic guests served in tourist lodgings. An increase of an average 4% was recorded across Europe.

"We don't have enough guests who come to visit Latvia exclusively with Latvia as their number one choice. This spreads across a number of indices, we also have a very high concentration [of nights spent] in Rīga, near Rīga, and in Jūrmala and Sigulda. For ten years now, the average stay is two nights, which we haven't managed to pass. This basically leads to us having interesting, new and high-quality offers as concerns the content, but as an industry we fail to export them for economic gain," said Ēriks Lingebērziņš, the head of a tourism research center in Latvia.

Lingebērziņš said that tourism is closely tied to the country's image, and therefore it's important to work with each tourist so that more people would return to replace them when they leave. The biggest obstacle for the tourism industry is the weak marketing. This was confirmed at the Association of Latvian Travel Agents and Operators.  

Inga Kavaca, the head of the association, said that there's no joint strategy over the sort of visitors Latvia wants to attract. "We have to understand our own values. We also have to understand what are our values in relation to the wider world. Because every country advertises with whatever is unique to it in the world," said Kavaca.

She stressed that Latvia should seek for more tourists outside Europe, while setting a target audience and market would help hotels and tourism operators understand the direction they should work in. Marketing requires funding, and to this end the Rīga City Council is planning to attract extra funding with a tourism tax of €1 for every night spent in a city hotel. 

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