It is understandable that contributors to your supplement on tourism in issue #650 are worried about the prospects for this coming summer. However as I have lived and worked in the tourism business through a number of recessions in Britain, I thought it might be helpful to offer some grounds for optimism and to suggest some possible stategies.
Holidays have fortunately now become a firm agenda item for an enormous percentage of the population in most European countries. People find it easier to swap their cars for public transport, to delay redecorating their houses or to withdraw their children from private schools rather than give up holidays. Millions of people are of course profiting from the recession, being on fixed salaries or pensions, whilst prices tumble for most of what they want to buy. I have friends traveling business class for the first time in their lives or taking two holidays rather than one, given that 2009 is clearly the year for those with money to spend it. What point is there leaving it in the bank to earn 1 percent interest a year and then to run the risk that when the recession ends in 2010 holiday prices shoot up again?
Promotion in an electronic age costs little money; it only takes some time. Gone are the days when contacting potential clients involved printing, postage and stationery costs. The Latvian and Lithuanian tourist offices in London are showing how much can be done on minimal budgets with flair, networking, phoning and regular e-mail contact. A personal touch combined with a basic communications system is a certain way of winning clients.
When I encourage friends to visit the Baltics this year, I say they should expect to pay 2004 prices rather than 2008 ones and with a little care, they should have no problem in doing so. Old Town cafes in any of the three capitals that charge 3 euros deserve to go bankrupt. Those that charge 1 euro will thrive and will also have year-round local clients. Hotels realize too that peak season will be meaningless this year if they attempt to hold 2007 and 2008 rates. They too can choose between making some profit from a reasonable flow of clients or suffering the fate of those who do not adapt to 2009 reality.
The state sector will need to take on some commercial attributes. No longer should museums be allowed to close once a week and take national holidays during the summer given the catastrophic loss of revenue this entails.
I have great respect for the many tourism businesses in the Baltics that are adapting to changing circumstances and are not letting themselves be affected by the overall atmosphere of gloom. In the long term, they will benefit from the efforts they are making now and will be rid of competitors who do not deserve to succeed.