Riga tourism gets an international flare

  • 2009-04-08
  • By Monika Hanley

FINDING A WAY: Despite a sometimes shady reputation, the number of foreign tourists coming to Latvia continue to grow.

RIGA - As the tourism season begins in Latvia, the local government has begun to work together with the international community to insure the safety of foreign visitors. The most common complaints have involved over-charging tourists in bars and clubs, something that has attracted international attention.
Recently, representatives of England's Cardiff police on a visit to Latvia suggested an intricate "signal light" system to supervise entertainment establishments and compile data regarding alcohol related crimes for each club or bar.

Trevor Jones, chief of the Cardiff police, said that penalty points were given to places for each offense, resulting in placement on a red, orange or green list. When placed on the red list, venues are stripped of their alcohol license, an incentive for cooperation.
"By amending legislation, such a system could also be introduced in Riga as the problems are similar," said Stephen Murray of the Cardiff police.

The representatives accompanied the Latvian State Police and Municipal Police in Riga on raids and praised their work, but said that problems still exist. They noticed that three Swiss tourists were required to pay 136 lats (193 euros) for three beers in a pub.
"If it is not forbidden, it does not position Riga as a tourist-friendly city," said Murray.


Many locals are of the opinion that Riga is not the problem, the tourists are.
"They don't stop coming, they are rude, and they don't care about the city. Our pub is a good place, but I can see how they would get charged 100 lats for one beer," a waitress at a local Irish pub told The Baltic Times.
The majority of the complaints to police are about British tourists, who have gained international fame by urinating on the Freedom Monument in Riga's center.

"Of course, it is a source of frustration for me and my consular staff, but the point I keep making is that it's a seriously tiny fraction of British tourists coming to the Baltics," said Ambassador Richard Moon.
The British Embassy has started its own campaign of responsible tourism to help combat these trends.
"We have the responsible tourist campaign, since March of last year, with a dual purpose: to warn people that they can get into trouble and to warn them against the dangers here against tourist rip-offs," said Moon.
Marita Neimane of the Latvian Tourism and Development agency told The Baltic Times that the Welsh system is a good idea, but there are problems.

"The Welsh system is great and interesting [but the] Latvian police say that we have other legislation, that's why we can't do this kind of program," she said.
However, the city has other plans to keep tourists safe.
"We have a project we are working on called Q, for quality sign. It's like the Michelin stars. Restaurants with these high prices or over charging do not get this sign," she said.

The agency currently has a hotline for tourists as well, should they need help.
Representatives of the Latvian Institute, on the other hand, told The Baltic Times that their goals are different.
"Our main goal is to promote the image of Latvia abroad, we work with international journalists to cover stories, but they come here anyway. We don't have many requests for safety."
International observers have also advised the city to improve police language skills in order to improve prestige internationally.

In 2008, 12 foreign tourists were detained for serious offenses in Riga.