Lithuania: from potential to prime destination

  • 2024-02-13
  • Andrius Bagdonas, Member of Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas

I was born, brought up and ascended to the political arena in Neringa, Lithuania's most exquisite resort. Nestled between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea, it stands as one of Europe's most beautiful, tranquil, and unspoiled gems—though regrettably not widely recognized. As a representative from this narrow strip of land, I dedicate my time and energy to shaping tourism policy as a Member of Parliament.

During my initial term in the Lithuanian Seimas, I observed a lack of a coherent master plan in tourism policy. In Parliament, only recently we have started addressing the deficiencies in our tourism strategy. What steps are necessary to take to reach our goals, which are not only to recover from the decline in tourist arrivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine but also to establish a new standard of quality in inbound tourism?

The current state of tourism in Lithuania warrants comparison. The Eiffel Tower sees approximately 20 times more tourists annually than Gediminas’ Castle Tower. The Greek Acropolis welcomes about 20 times more visitors each year than Lithuania's representative castle, where, according to our most famous national myth, a duke once dreamed of the Iron Wolf. In recent years, the vitality of the country's tourism has been significantly influenced by the rediscovery of Lithuania by its own people.

While we may never rival Paris or Athens, we have embarked on a challenge for the first time in three decades of our independence. Our initial goal is to increase tourism revenue fivefold by 2030, reaching around 5 billion euros. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, foreign tourists spent 1.3 billion euros in Lithuania—roughly equivalent to the contribution of agriculture to the gross domestic product that year. To attract 5 billion euros solely from tourism, we are currently working towards a consensus on formulating a tourism strategy that outlines the tasks needed to achieve our objectives.

Apart from Neringa's charm, Lithuania boasts inherent advantages, which are shared with our brotherly Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia. In the future, a summer holiday in Lithuania may become more appealing than a holiday in Southern Europe, where ruinous consequences of climate change will adversely affect tourism in Mediterranean Basin countries. To attract foreign tourists seeking rejuvenation, we must enhance the quality of lakes and rivers, especially the Baltic Sea, create attractive infrastructure for travelers, and responsibly care for the recreational value of the country's forests. These aspects will inevitably be reflected in Lithuania's future tourism strategy.

Cities, especially Vilnius, require compelling campaigns to promote inbound tourism, similar to the modern myths surrounding cities like London or Lisbon. Rediscovering culinary tourism is also crucial. While Latvians and Estonians may have heard of Lithuanian zeppelins, they may not surpass Bavarian sausages, Hungarian goulash, or Italian pizza. Even advertising a Lithuanian cold pink soup, known as šaltibarščiai, will not ensure a fivefold increase in tourism revenue by 2030. Such challenges will be outlined in the upcoming tourism strategy.

Ultimately, the Baltic countries should attract travelers with higher spending power. It is no secret that we neither desire nor welcome affluent Russians. On the other hand, every tourism policy should strive to captivate a share of German tourists to not only match pre-pandemic levels but also occupy the hotel rooms that unwelcome Russians no longer fill.

Just as Lithuanians have discovered the coast of Latvia, I dream that Poles would discover Lithuania. This year, relatively more Poles visit our country than before the pandemic. My ambition is for Vilnius to become even more significant to Poles—not just as the resting place of General Pilsudski's heart and the home of poet Mickiewicz but also as a pleasant alternative to Krakow or Augustow. I hope Poles rediscover Vilnius recreationally, appreciating its cultural and historical significance in depth. And in Neringa, Poles may find more appeal than in Sopot, though they may not be aware of it yet.

Nevertheless, we are creating more comfortable means of reaching each other. While convenient flights to Vilnius are still lacking, an excellent highway will soon connect Lithuania and Poland, and the "Rail Baltica" railway will link the Baltic countries to Western Europe.

When Lithuania is seamlessly connected to Europe, and tourism policy, along with investments, becomes part of everyday politics, Lithuania will have the potential to become the tourism leader in the Baltic region. To achieve this, we will implement structural reforms, increase budgetary financing for the tourism sector, and integrate all components of the tourism business into a sustainable ecosystem.