28 March, 2008

Latvia Tourism

Tourism in Latvia is a disgrace. Tourism is one of the easiest ways for a country to attain inflows of foreign currency but Latvia does not do enough to represent itself and attract international guests.
Many people from other countries are intercepting people searching online for tourist options in Latvia because Latvians have little interest to communicate in English.
Do a search online for Rural Tourism Latvia and you get websites from Armenia and Belarus intercepting the tourists from Latvia with their websites. Most of the other search results are irrelevant and you have to know Celotajs is the Latvian word for 'Rural tourism' !
Once you are at the Celotajs website you are not able to book online. I asked this office why they did not have online booking and was told that they 'voted against it in case someone with the same name arrived at the accommodation claiming to have made the booking.' Absolute insanity! I offered to provide the office an online reservation system free of charge but they declined.
Try booking a ticket online to catch a ferry. You cant even find a website that represents ferries at the port unless you know that the Riga Port is called Riga Free Port or that the ferry company is Tallink. But even once you can find the Tallink webpage it is impossible to book online instantly!
Ok so let's try an easier search -'Latvia' and the http://www.latviatourism.lv/ website respectably comes up in second place on the first page. Proceed to booking using the English language and you have to navigate using the Latvian language. Then when you get your results in Latvian listing accommodation all over Latvia!
Latvia should be a Mecca destination for people from all over the world wanting to do countryside walks or ski trips lasting a few days. But Latvia does not have any chalets or long distance walking tracks. Latvians will tell you that Downhill skiing is better but we do not have mountains so best you go to Austria.
Lithuania has over 200km of cycle tracks leading up to the Latvian border and Latvia has a few interspersed listed tracks. Hellooooo! Anyone home in Latvia care enough about Latvia to do their job?
I did work with the Aluksne Town Council to improve rural tourism. I had honours students from Australia stay in Aluksne for 1 month doing research and writing a plan. I paid for most of it from my own pocket. We had transmitter technology installed that communicated about tourist sites 24 hours a day in 5 languages. Then one Latvia authority made yet another demand of 1000 lvl more to provide certification so the Council could include the transmitters on tourist information material. This in effect killed a non-profit project that could have had large benefits for all of Latvia and tourism businesses in all remote areas of Latvia. Imagine the rural employment improvement opportunity that Latvia has missed and the export of this technology to other EU countries that Latvia could have represented.

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