Businesses prepare for a tourist-packed summer

  • 2000-05-11
  • By Brooke Donald
TALLINN - The days are longer and lighter which means one thing to residents of Tallinn: The tourists are coming.

A stroll down any of the cobblestone streets in Old Town these days is a bit more cramped than in the past several months when slush and icicles were the main obstacles of which to be watchful. Now, camera toting tourists are swelling the winding paths, and pubs and restaurants are extending their business into the streets with tables, chairs and umbrellas emerging from winter hibernation.

The city definitely has a different air to it - and it's not just the aroma of Saku and A.Le Coq. Kadriorg park and the waterfront leading to Pirita are seeing bike, roller blade and foot traffic again. Record high temperatures a couple weeks ago have pushed people outside again - and Tallinn businesses like it.

Travel agents say the unusually warm weather in April started the tourist season almost one month earlier than normal.

Tourism accounted for about 15 percent of the Estonian economy last year and income from tourism totaled 10.18 billion kroons ($585.4 million), according to Estonian Tourism Board statistics. Last year, Estonia attracted more tourists than ever, with a total of 3.2 million foreigners - 60 percent of whom were Finns - visiting the former Soviet republic, Border Guard data shows.

Aside from the Finnish tourists who only need travel 85 km south, Swedes, Russians and Latvians also topped the list of most frequent guests last year.

This year, the World Tourism Organization named Estonia Europe's fastest growing tourism destination, giving hope to local businesses who depend on the foreigner's consumption to boost profits.

Estonia's major hotels in Tallinn and the country's summer city, Parnu, have said they are fully booked for the summer, leaving tourist farms and smaller motels to accommodate the reservationless wanderlust.

Reval Hotel group development director, Urmas Pastarus, told the daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht that all of the group's hotels were fully booked for weekends until the end of the summer. The average occupancy rate of Reval's hotels, which include the Olumpia, Park Hotell and Casino and the Central Hotell, is around 60 percent.

Katrin Kristall, managing director at Promenaad Hotel in the Northwest sea resort of Haapsalu, said Promenaad was fully booked for all weekends (Wednesday to Sunday) until September, with only single vacancies left at the start of each week.

Foreigners, however, aren't the only ones taking advantage of the hotels around Estonia and the beer gardens in Tallinn's Old Town Square. Increasingly, Estonians themselves are on the move. The difference?

Estonians, instead of staying in the large hotels, prefer the services of tourism farms and motels in the southern and western parts of the country. According to the Statistical Office, foreigners tend to stay only for a short time in Estonia, mainly in the capital, while locals go on holiday for longer periods outside of Tallinn.