PILLOW TALK: A new tax threatens the approaching summer tourist season.
KLAIPEDA - Palanga has kicked off the summer season with a buzzing main-street fair, a number of concerts, sports contests and the Baltic Assembly, which saw the participation of all the chairwomen of the Baltic States’ parliaments.
From now on, Palanga Bridge, the main tourist attraction spot in the resort, in honor of these notable guests, will be called the Friendship Bridge.
A shower of compliments
With the Assembly’s schedule being quite secretive and with no media called for a briefing, rumors started circling that the women’s presence in Palanga was only to boost the opening ceremony of the summer season’s festival “I love Palanga.”
In addition to the distinguished women, delegations from Georgia’s Kobuleti and Germany’s Bergen municipalities also came for the celebrations.
Mayor of Palanga Sarunas Vaitkus, an exuberant man and a tough decision-maker who has already made a good deal of change in the resort over his one year in office, was active in accommodating the guests.
“There are many sightseeing and spots for leisure in the Baltics, but Palanga is the real pearl of it. I wish much sunlight to everyone, as well as encounter a lovely summer romance,” Ene Ergma, the Estonian parliament speaker, said at the foot of the Friendship Bridge.
Solvita Aboltina, the speaker of Latvia’s Saeima, noted that the Baltic Sea has been linking the three Baltic States for centuries. “Albeit we have certain differences, Palanga will always be the best spot to get better acquainted with each other and make long lasting friendships,” Aboltina said during the opening ceremony of the Friendship Bridge.
Lithuanian Seimas head Degutiene admitted to be feeling, on the bridge, as if during the Baltic Way in 1989, when people of all the three states clasped hands in a massive human chain. “I hope Palanga will be a favorite resort not only for Lithuanians, but for everyone in the Baltics. Just let the sunshine always be here,” Degutiene said, staring at the gloomy skies.
Introduction of “pillow tax”
Most Palanga businesspeople say they don’t intend to raise their prices this year. Some expressed concerns over the so-called “pillow tax” that goes into effect from June 1. Introduced by Palanga municipality’s Council a few weeks ago, it will be applied to all resort guests staying in local hotels, motels, guest houses and spa’s.
“Accommodation providers will have to additionally charge their guests 1 litas per person a night. We are planning to collect some half a million litas in tax this year. The money will go for Palanga’s advertising and infrastructure improvements. We had planned to introduce the resort entry fee this season, but it needs more preparation and an investment into its mechanism. We may impose the fee starting next year, but for now, I hope the ‘pillow tax’ will do its job. In fact, all major European resorts are applying it, Druskininkai included,” Vaitkus said to The Baltic Times.
Speaking of high tourism season novelties in Palanga, he pointed out the expanded beach strips from the estuary of the Raze River, to the Birute Botanic Park and Children’s Park.
“As Palanga aims to become a true family resort, we are hoping all parents and their kids end up in it for various attractions, a fairytale theme-sculpture park and a kids’ cafe nearby,” the Palanga mayor said.
A wide range of hotel prices
Gintaras Siciunas, president of Palanga’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, says that resort guests will be able to find accommodation in a wide range of prices. “Somewhere between 50 and 2,000 litas per person a night,” he said. “Though gas prices are to go up from July, we are not going to raise the hotel prices. Sure, first of all, it is up to every hotel owner. The situation will depend on many things, but weather and tourist flow are always the most important factors. However, considering the flexibility of local restaurateurs, I am sure they will be moderate with their prices. It is always better to keep a room occupied than empty,” the association president noted.
He says that some hotels from July are already fully booked. It is a good sign,” he says.
Irena Svaniene, head of Svetingas seimininkas (Hospitable Host), a local organization uniting local accommodation service providers, says there are still available many rooms for as little as 25 litas per person a night. “However, cheaper accommodation also means [less] services, and a common shower and bathroom,” Svaniene said to The Baltic Times.
More Americans and Chinese are expected
Resort business believes that the upcoming summer cannot be worse than the last. Palanga has been seeing increasing tourist numbers since 2009. Only during the season of 2008-2009, at the peak of the crisis, did Palanga suffer a downward spiral in tourist numbers. Meanwhile, last summer, the resort boasted a 15 percent increase in the tourist flow, year-on-year.
An increase of foreign tourists this year is expected not only from Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Poland, the traditional spots, but also from as far and exotic a country as China.
However, some believe that the Chinese, in the beginning, may actually be launching a business, or working illegally, than coming for the holidays.
After the Palanga’s Tourism and Information Center chief’s trip last year to the U.S. and meeting with numerous travel agency decision-makers, as well as the Lithuanian Embassy’s top diplomats, the hopes for American tourists in Palanga this summer are high.
“Last year, roughly 20,000 Americans visited Lithuania, but only a few reached the Baltic coast. This has to change,” says Egidija Smilingiene, deputy director of the Tourism and Information Center. “Most of them are driven to Lithuania by nostalgia,” she added.