The tourism industry, one of the sectors hardest-hit by the coronavirus, calls for help. The newly-announced border closures will cause major problems for them yet again, after the sector had just began to partly recover from the huge losses caused by the spring coronavirus restrictions.
While tourism virtually stopped in April and May, the summer essentially saw no major restrictions except for music festivals, tourism could slowly begin to recover. Especially in the countryside, since as a consequence of the restrictions and advisories, an increasing number of Hungarians chose to spend their holidays in the country instead of going abroad. As a result, Lake Balaton and popular domestic resorts did well during the summer, even contrary to the hectic weather. According to room booking portal szallas.hu, 34% of the domestic reservations during high-season were for the Lake Balaton area.
Those businesses, however, that heavily rely on foreign tourism, have been in bigger trouble. In June, nights spent by foreign tourists fell by 93.4% in Hungary.
As a result, experts agree that Budapest was the hardest hit where accomodation of foreign tourists amounts to 90%. According to the leader of Hungarian Hotel and Restaurant Association, while in July and August some businesses in the countryside could make up for the earlier loss, in Budapest this was not the case; in general, they couldn’t break–even.
There will certainly be lay-offs, and many qualified workers will choose other fields or go abroad, Tamás Flesch said, claiming that while he expected restrictions, the border closures surprised him. Therefore, the hotel industry expects the government to give support.
Tour guides face similar difficulties. According to the leader of the Federation of Hungarian Tourist Guides Éva Caesar, most of Hungary’s five thousand tour guides remained jobless and probably also already left the field.
“This latest announcement is just another blow for us,” Caesar said, arguing that only some of them could work during the summer, adding that employers rather tend to employ retirees, due to tax reasons. She also revealed that only 10% of them work in the countryside, the rest are in the capital, and now they are trying to teach languages instead. She also stated that they have been trying to get help from politicians since March, but other than promises, they haven’t received anything.
Travel agencies are also undergoing difficult times. To date, the pandemic has forced two of them (Robinson and Aeolus) to close.
According to Judit Lázár, the managing director for the local business of EETS, the situation has by now become “hopeless.” While so far they have been convincing clients that Hungary was safe and calm, all of a sudden, they had to tell clients that they can’t come,” revealing that since the government announced the new travel restrictions, cancellations are ongoing. Therefore, she doesn’t expect that by Christmas the business will come back to or near normalcy, as the overnight annoucement about the border closures fractured Hungary’s reliability.
Another leader claimed that travel agencies are now using up their last reserves. If the entry restrictions remain in place for more than one month, thousands of people will lose their jobs, leader of the Association of Hungarian Travel Agencies (MUISZ) Judit Molnár told infostart.hu. She also said that the agencies hope that the measures will only last for a month, as it would be “tragic” if not only the off-season (September-October), but Christmas-time would be affected or canceled.
“We are waiting for state support, as professionals want to work, but they can’t (…) The question now is not whether travel agencies are going bankrupt or not, but whether how many jobs could be saved, how many families’ livelihoods,” she concluded.
featured image illustration via Zoltán Máthé/MTI