Readers of the Earl of Carlisle's letter in last week's edition of The Baltic Times may have gained the wrong impression of the British Embassy's Responsible Tourism campaign. The campaign, which goes much wider than putting beer mats in bars, is intended to deal with a problem which we acknowledge; but it is a problem which should not be exaggerated.
It is worth underlining that of the 85,000 British tourists that visited Latvia last year the vast majority enjoyed a pleasant and trouble free visit. We hope that with the help of our campaign, Riga will continue to be a popular choice for British tourists, creating jobs and bringing benefits for the Latvian economy. But at the same time we take very seriously the problems caused by the bad behaviour of a small minority of British visitors; and equally, we take seriously the problems which British visitors (again, a small minority) suffer while in Latvia.
With the growth of cheap travel in Europe, the problems we face in Riga are far from unique. So before launching our campaign we looked at what other British Embassies had done. Experience has shown that the best way to get people thinking about what they do in a foreign city is to make information available in ways other than just traditional newspaper and magazine articles, and to make it available where there are likely to be significant numbers of tourists. We discussed our plans with the Riga Tourism and Information Centre, Criminal Police and a number of bar owners to seek their views on our proposals before going ahead.
When we launched the campaign on March 15 we had two main purposes. First, we wanted to remind British citizens of the importance of responsible behaviour when visiting Latvia. Second, we wanted to highlight some of the problems visitors may experience. We are using a number of different methods to get these messages to as large a number of British tourists as possible. Beer mats have indeed been provided to those bars that have a large British customer base. Leaflets with useful information are also being provided through hotels and Riga Tourist Information Offices. Articles will be placed in popular tourist brochures. And the Embassy Web site will continue to offer up-to-date advice for visitors. It is certainly not our intention, through any of these means, to either antagonise or insult visitors. We believe that if we can get people thinking about what they are doing we can reduce the problems. But ultimately the British Embassy cannot police the actions of all the British citizens who visit Latvia.
Yours sincerely, Ian Bond
Her Majesty' s Ambassador British Embassy Riga