Tourism firms get ready

  • 2001-04-05
  • Mark Taylor
VILNIUS - Another summer season is almost here and with it will come tourists, especially foreign tourists. Most tour operators are expecting an increase in the amount of visitors compared to relatively poor numbers over the past few years.

According to statistics from the Lithuanian State Tourism Department, approximately 304,000 people stayed in Lithuanian hotels last year, an increase of 0.9 percent from the previous year, but a drop of 12 percent from 1998-99.

Lithuanian guests accounted for one-third of the total number, which continues to shrink steadily. The rest are visitors from Germany (40,100), the countries of the CIS (27,000), Poland (18,400) and Finland (18,100).

Although national hotel occupancy figures have not been favorable, more new hotels have opened up around Lithuania and more are on the way.

Also, more foreign and well-known hotel chains are taking an interest in Lithuania. Best Western already has a hotel in Kaunas and Vilnius while Radisson SAS now has hotels in both Vilnius and Klaipeda.

Others include the Stiklai, which is now under the Chateau Independent chain of hotels, and the towering Lietuva.

The Scandic Neringa Hotel on Gedimino Avenue in Vilnius, the Holiday Inn Vilnius on Kalvariju Street and the Marriot Vilnius Hotel on Gedimino Avenue in the former Hotel Vilnius building will all be coming soon. The central Hotel Vilnius has been closed for eight years.

Kestutis Ambrazaitis, general manager of Lithuanian Tours Ltd., said he feels fairly optimistic about this year even though the last couple of years have not been prosperous for tourism companies.

He even believes that 2001 could be the best on record. His company has already received 6,000 bookings compared with about 5,200 total bookings last year. He is expecting possible growth of 10 percent to 15 percent and says that other tour operators are also optimistic.

His company started in 1991 and was one of the first of its kind. It is now one of the largest out of about 320 licensed businesses. He is happy with the increased spending on tourism by the government and hopes to see continued support.

But Ambrazaitis criticized the Lithuanian government for not supporting the tourism industry more.

"There's absolutely not enough promotion by the government," he said. "It has the lowest amount of spending on tourism promotion in the whole of Europe."

He said that the Lithuanian government spends 40 percent less on promotion than Latvia and four to five times less than Estonia.

He thinks Lithuania should learn from other countries which bring international journalists in regularly and operate tourist information bureaus in various countries to promote their nations.

Income from tourism in Lithuania came to roughly 2 billion litas ($500 million) last year compared to 2.4 billion the year before.

Most people in the tourism business feel that the weather was the real reason behind this lower figure, as well as a sluggish economy and the fact that the increase in visitors from the West has still not made up for the lower numbers of Russian visitors to Lithuania before the Russian economic crisis in 1998, then approximately 30 percent of the total number of visitors. The number now stands at between 15 percent and 17 percent.