RIGA - Latvia's top tourist official has come out and stated what many have known for a long time to be true: that the quality of tourism services in the Baltic state has failed to grow in tandem with price, and in many cases has actually worsened.
Uldis Vitolins, director of the Latvian Tourism Development State Agency, told the Latvian Tourism Forum on Dec. 7 that the number of complaints about the quality of tourism service has grown significantly, and that this is a frightening trend.
He said that if in 2006 some 82 percent of foreign tourists said that they were satisfied with tourism services, this year the number had fallen to 55 percent.
Complaints, he said, are mainly related to the gap between prices and quality. Previously tourists were content with average services for average prices, but now the industry was charging high prices and still providing the same average services, Vitolins said.
Feedback on travel-related Web sites attest to the growing number of disgruntled foreign tourists who feel dissatisfied with 's even offended by 's their trip to Latvia. Unscrupulous taxi drivers, overpriced cafes and restaurants, unjustifiably expensive lodging and unfriendly service are some of the most often cited reasons for the dissatisfaction.
Vitolins said that Latvia was undergoing the same tourism growth pains that Estonia has experienced 's i.e., high prices for low quality service. As a result, the number of foreign visitors to the country has dropped.
He said possible solutions would be the formation of a standardized quality-ranking system, additional marketing activities and improvements in tourism infrastructure.
One of the main requirements for the development of the tourism industry is significant investment, as only this will facilitate a rise in quality, Vitolins said. "If there are no investments, there is stagnation," he said.
Normunds Kietis, a spokesman for the Tourism Development State Agency, announced that by the end of the year more than 5 million tourists will have visited Latvia.
Total money spent by tourists is expected to grow to 317.9 million lats (452.3 million euros), with daily expenses of the average tourist to Latvia reaching some 46 lats.
In 2006 foreign guests crossed the Latvian border on departing 4.6 million times, up 23 percent from 2005. Last year tourists spent 266.2 million lats, which is an increase by 40 percent year-on-year, while daily expenses had amounted to 39 lats.
In November the Estonian national statistic office reported that foreign tourist numbers had dropped 8 percent to 1.1 million people from January to September this year. While part of the drop is attributed to the April rioting in Tallinn, many believe that the Estonian capital has become too pricey to attract foreign tourists.
Last month the government approved a 500 million kroon (32 million euro) program to promote tourism. About 10 percent of the funds will go toward creating an electronic tourist information system, the Estonian ministry said. The system will serve people planning trips to the Baltic state as well as those already in the country.