RIGA - Latvia will be brought into the homes of viewers across the globe next year, when CNN International begins running a 45-second ad depicting the wonders of the Baltic state.
The ad, which is still in development, will feature some combination of the city of Riga, the countryside and the sea, officials said. The campaign will run for approximately a month and cost the state approximately 50,000 euros.
TV advertisement is just one of the many ways the government is hoping to lure more tourists to the country. The state has, in fact, dramatically increased spending on tourism promotion over the last few years - from 456,000 lats (680,000 euros) in 2003 to 2 million lats this year. Expenditures should stabilize in 2005.
Not surprisingly, since West Europeans are largely unfamiliar with the Baltics, tourism has been growing at a steady 10 percent per year since 2000. Most travelers hail from neighboring countries, according to the Latvian Tourism Development Agency, a state-run organization.
Tourism-related revenues accounted for 2.2 percent of the government's budget revenues last year, and the Economy Ministry, which oversees tourism policy, would like to see that number grow to as high as 5 percent - 7 percent eventually.
Under Juris Lujans, the previous minister, the ministry allocated approximately 2 million lats to promote "Sacred Latvia," a project promoting religious tourism. Some questioned the allocation of the money, and the priorities of the state's tourism strategy at the time of the decision, particularly considering Lujans is from Latvia's First Party, a political force stacked with ministers and other religious leaders.
But the idea for the ad spot on CNN came from other European countries' own tourism agencies, Uldis Vitolins, head of the Latvian State Tourism Development Agency, said. The challenge, he explains, was to find images of rural Latvia that would resonate with potential tourists.
"Riga is the best known brand of Latvia. We try to get people to Riga, and from there they can branch out to other destinations," Igors Klapenkovs, managing director for Inspiration Riga, a nonprofit organization that promotes Riga, said.
Vitolins said that the three Baltic states were working together to create a common brand to attract foreign tourists. But an agreement on creating a name or catchphrase for the three countries has so far proven to be elusive.
Latvia's long-term plan - called the National Tourism Development Program - was accepted in 2001. One aspect was to reduce the steep value-added tax for foreigners. Locals pay 18 percent, which was lowered to 9 percent in 2003 and finally to 5 percent earlier this year for tourists.
Other aspects, such as having discount airlines flying to Riga and procuring major international events, such as the World Ice Hockey Championship in 2006, will no doubt give the country an enormous boost. But with rising numbers come new risks.
"There is a real danger to growing without the infrastructure in hotels, public information areas for tour buses to stop, and public toilets," Ojars Kalnins, head of the Latvian Institute, says.
He adds that the situation with funds has been inadequate until now, but the key is how one uses the resources.
Monthly meetings have taken place between the Latvian Tourist Board and the city of Riga recently to react to the growing number of tourists, and to come up with more ideas.