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Christmas, New Year tourism will not meet pre-Covid levels

The opening of the annual Old Town Christmas market in Tallinn was well-attended, but the numbers would mostly have been made up of local customers (photo taken December 1, 2023).
The opening of the annual Old Town Christmas market in Tallinn was well-attended, but the numbers would mostly have been made up of local customers (photo taken December 1, 2023). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

This year's holiday season will not see foreign tourism levels of a pre-pandemic size, due to the weak economy, high prices, the proximity of aggressor state Russia and indeed the curbing of incoming tourism from that country.

Karina Küppas, manager of the Narva-Jõesuu Medical Spa told AK that: "The share of Russian tourists, and I can recall the figure very well: In 2019, was almost 20 percent. It has not and will not recover [to that level]. Plus other neighboring countries like Finland and Latvia cannot pluc this gap so quickly."

CEO of shipping Tallink Paavo Nõgene. "Finns are visiting Estonia less frequently this year."

"We can see from the figures that the numbers of passengers are not where they had been in 2019. Yes, we are seeing Finns in Tallinn and Estonia, but whereas they used to visit here several times, now they make, for instance, one trip over the same time frame."

While Eastern Orthodox Christmas, following the Julian calendar, used to give somewhat of a re-boost to business at the start of a new year, nowadays since the border is effectively closed to Russian tourists, stakeholders are not forecasting crowds for this festival this time around.

Additionally, two other key if further afield markets – North America and Asia – also have not recovered to pre-Covid levels, four years after the virus first started propagating.

The figures are in fact a 13-year low; the last time such a small number of overseas tourists were found in Estonia came in 2010, on the back of the last major economic downturn.

For tourism to turn a profit, firms' turnover should not just meet pre-crisis levels but in fact be about 40 percent higher than it was pre- crisis.

This has not materialized, however: In the first 10 months of the year, hotels have only seen a 13 percent rise on revenues compared with 2019 – when prices would have been lower, Ain Käpp, chairman of the board of the Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association (Eesti hotellide ja restoranide liit) said.

While hotels have managed to fill up for New Year's Eve, they will empty almost immediately thereafter, AK reported. While these also spell in some cases cheaper prices than before the pandemic, businesses will still need to cover costs.

A growth in domestic (and near domestic – Latvian tourism is on the up) tourism will help to buoy the sector up somewhat, but a falling exchange rate of the euro to the Swedish krona means many Finns this year will prefer a trip to their larger neighbor to the West, than to Tallinn and Estonia.

At the same time, many last-minute bookings are likely to be seen, AK reported – a leftover practice form the pandemic, meaning accommodation spaces are still available, though should not be banked upon either.

Paavo Nõgene can have the last word; the Tallink director said that he did not expect recovery to come even in the summer either, due mostly to just how expensive a country Estonia has become. "Every tax hike makes a trip to Estonia, a stay in Estonia, costlier. The competition [with other countries] in tourism is now very tight," he said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Iida-Mäi Einmaa.

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