Latvia’s Best Beaches

Summer is the time when many Latvians exchange their plastic sun beds and artificial UV rays for real ones, and head out to find their own place in the sun, on one of Latvia’s many beaches.

If you’re here to catch some sea and surf, perhaps the easiest option is Jurmala, Riga’s closest beach area, with plenty of spots to choose from. For the more adventurous, why not venture out and explore some of Latvia’s other, lesser explored beaches?

After all, you’ve got over 531 kilometres of seashore and sand to choose from! Below you will find our guide to Latvia’s best beaches.

Beaches of Jurmala (photo taken from www.discover-baltics.com)

Beaches of Jurmala
(photo taken from www.discover-baltics.com)

JURMALA

The word Jurmala literally means “sea coast,” and is the collective name for a stretch of towns located not far from Riga’s city centre. The most popular destination for beachgoers is Majori, but you can also alight the train at Lielupe, Bulduri, Dzintari, or Dubulti, and from any of those stops the beach is just a short walk north.

There’s much more to do in Jurmala than just sun tan. If you get off the train in Majori, the Jurmala Tourist Information board is just within eyesight. Why not stop off here and learn about the area’s many museums – both indoor and outdoor ethnographic ones – nature trails, spa centers, and other fun activities that you can take part in. A walk down Majori’s pedestrian street, Jomas iela, will offer you plenty of places to eat, drink or just relax in the sun.

Take the Boat!
If the overcrowded trains in the height of summer are not quite your idea of relaxation, another option is to take the boat out to Majori. Enjoy a relaxing 90-minute ride on the Daugava River to Jurmala’s main town, Majori, which is strategically located between the sea and the Lielupe River, where your boat will arrive.

The boat leaves at 11:00 from in front of the Liela Kristaps (Great Kristap) statue in Riga, and arrives in Majori at 13.30. If you buy a return ticket, then you’ll have just enough time to head to the beach and grab a quick bite before catching the 16:00 boat back to Riga. Or, stay as long as you like and take the train or a minibus back.

Saukrasti (photo taken from www.vietasatputai.lv)

Saukrasti (photo taken from www.vietasatputai.lv)

SAULKRASTI

If you’re looking for a more peaceful and relaxing spot to take in the rays, head north to Riga’s ‘other sea coast’. Train fares are just as cheap, and the trains just as crowded, but the beaches are certainly less so. You can get off at nearly any stop from Lilaste onward, and the sea won’t be but a hop, skip and jump away from the train station.

If you alight in Saulkrasti, in addition to the beach there are plenty of nature trails, for example the sunset trail, which stretches over three kilometres from the White Dune to the Sun Bridge. This will take you through the forest but never too far from the nearby sea to steal a glimpse of the late northern sunset. For other museums and attractions, visit the friendly tourist information centre at 10 Ainazu iela (Mon.-Thurs. 9-18, Fri. 9-16, Sat. 9-15, closed Sun.).

Ventsils beach (photo taken from www.ventspils.lv)

Ventsils beach (photo taken from www.ventspils.lv)

THE BALTIC SEA: LIEPAJA AND VENTSPILS

If the Gulf of Riga is too tame for your taste, you can head out by car or bus to Latvia’s major seacoast cities: Liepaja, Ventspils, and Pavilosta. If you want to get there even quicker, Air Baltic offers flights from Riga to Liepaja to a very cheap price. There is plenty to do in each of these cities, and the beaches boast impressively massive sand dunes, and wide stretches of white, smooth sand.

For the adventure seekers looking for a bit more action, the small town of Jurkalne (which literally translates as “sea mountain”), located between Pavilosta and Ventspils, is apparently the best place for paragliding. The subtle combination of strong winds and high sand dunes (which is a relative term for flat Latvia), make this the perfect place for “flying.”

Each of these Baltic seacoast cities offer much more in the way of tourist attractions than simply their gorgeous white sand beaches, which is good news, since summer in Latvia does not always guarantee beach weather. Perhaps the most unusual attraction in these parts is the Karosta Military City, located just outside of Liepaja. If the bad weather is not enough punishment for you, you can seek refuge in a Soviet prison here – a reality show that you will most certainly want to escape before the night is through (see www.karostascietums.lv).

 

The Devastating Effects of Infobesity

Are you familiar with the word infobesity? Also known as ‘information overload’, it is a term that has been around for ages, but today it is more current then ever.

More and more studies are being made on the reason behind and effects of infobesity. And the reason is simple. Our ability and need to stay connected all the time means that we are constantly being over flooded with information. Our frequent checking of e-mails, real time news updates, Facebook, twitter and other social media has been proven to damage our health, make us stressed, affect our decision making and productivity and in worst case, even make us depressed.

Nearly half of us suffering from infobesity

A study made back in 1997 found that 50% of the management in Fortune 1000 companies where interrupted more than six times per day by the e-mails they received. If you compare the use of the Internet now, to 1997, one can only assume that the situation is much worse today.

A recently published study suggests that nearly half of all office workers in the UK are suffering from infobesity, and that 40% of them feel that they need to check their e-mails constantly just to see if they got any important work mail.

 

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So why don’t we stop over-consuming if it makes us unhealthy?

It is easy to blame the office culture, and sure many employer might demand of their employers to always be available and reply to e-mails within half an hour no matter the time of the day. We in the travel and event  business are especially aware of this, where we need to be available for as well customers as suppliers around the clock to not miss anything.

But that does not explain why we still spend so much of our free time checking twitter and Facebook feeds, even though we really don’t need to.

Infobesity as an addiction

A study made at the MIT University in Cambridge, USA suggests that infobesity is similar to real obesity and food addiction, as actually the same processes are taking place in the brain.

 

”The brain registers high-fat foods as highly pleasurable, via
the mesolimbic dopamine projection from the ventral
tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens [23]. The
neurotransmitter dopamine is also implicated in the reward
circuitry of Internet interaction – particularly during acts of
reciprocity, like those that drive popular online social networking site games.”
Click here to see the whole report

 

People that are suffering from stress and depression often seek comfort in eating high caloric food, because it provides a soothing effect when it activates the mesolimbic dopamine pathways. It works as a temporary stress reliever and gives you a sense of well-being. This leads to overconsumption of food and our reward system eventually adapts and requires even more snacks and food to keep the same level of satisfaction. The researchers at MIT propose that there is very little difference in the way we over consume food and information.

They suggest that just as an obese person can be given a diet plan to start to consume food in a healthier way, we might need a information diet plan, teaching us how to use technology and information in a healthier way.

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The danger of never being bored

Besides from making us stressed, depressed and affecting our decision making the constant access to information through our smart phone can also have another devastating effect – we never have to be bored! Although this might seem as a positive thing, research has shown that boredom actually helps us being creative. Being bored signals to the mind that we are in need of fresh ideas and stimulates creative thinking.

 

Technology Detox

At Travel Out There we have developed a Technology Detox Program – where all the participants have to leave their phones, tablets and computers at the hotel and head out for a day in disconnection and enjoying the moment. We guarantee you will come back as a fresher, more productive and creative team

Of course this is just a kick-start. In order to really beat the information overload you need a long-term plan, both as a company and in your private life. We can help to develop this with you during the Technology Detox program, specially suited to your company’s needs and routines.

 

But until then, why not start by trying out some info detox on your own.

Here are some great and simple tips from Lifehacks.

1. Switch off your phone when you get home from work.
2. Don’t use your phone on your way to and from work. Listen to music or read a novel.
3. Don’t access Facebook and Twitter for one week.
4. Don’t read any material that is not uplifting and motivational.
5. Turn off all email notifications or any other social media messages.
6. Do not watch the television for one week.
7. No newspapers, online news or any other form of world news access.

 

 

Belgrade Waterfront Will Turn Belgrade Into New Regional Centre

A fundamental change is taking place in Belgrade. In the end of June this year, the project Belgrade Waterfront (Beograd na vodi) was officially presented. The project is a collaboration between the Serbian government and Emirate company Eagle Hills, and is set to transform the whole city of Belgrade and turn it into the regional centre.

Belgrade Waterfront photo 1

Belgrade Waterfront plan

 

The project, that will take 10 years and 3 billion euro to finalize, will transform the Sava river front, which today mostly consist of unused land, magazines, and industrial buildings, into a “new city in the city”.

The new waterfront will cover an area of 14.000 m2 and will among other things include residential and office buildings, a central park, the largest shopping mall in the Balkans, 8 hotels, riverside promenades, a pedestrian bridge crossing the river, and a 200 meter tall skyscraper, better known as Belgrade tower.

 

Sava riverfront today

Sava riverfront today

 

A new beginning for Belgrade

The Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić says that this will be a new beginning for Belgrade and Serbia as a whole, who’s economy has suffered hard during the last decades. Mismanagement, civil war, sanctions, damage of Yugoslavia’s infrastructure, one of the world’s highest inflations and Nato’s airstrikes in 1999,  left the Serbian economy half the size of what it was in 1990.

Although the economy has slowly been experiencing an upturn the last decade, this will hopefully be the spark that will help Serbia to really catch up, to attract more tourists and investors, and turn it into the regional centre and a leading Business hub in Eastern Europe.

After all Belgrade has a great position, as a crossroad between Western and Eastern Europe and has always been an important strategic place throughout the history.

 

byggnad belgrad1

Before and after the renovation of the Zadruga building

“The whole country will look as clean and scrubbed as this building”

The project has already started with the reconstruction of the Zadruga building, that has been turned in to the Waterfront’s gallery. At the opening Vučić announced that “This building is not only a model. Our plan is to change the whole of Belgrade, to change the face of Serbia, so that the whole country looks as clean and scrubbed as this building.

The construction will start  in 2015, and the new Belgrade symbol, the Belgrade tower, will be finished before the end of 2016.

Belgrade Waterfront photo 2

Sketch of Belgrade Waterfront, with the 200 m high Belgrade kula in the middle

 

A Mock up of the Belgrade Waterfront can be viewed at the Gallery on Karadjordjeva 48 in Belgrade

A Mock up of the Belgrade Waterfront can be viewed at the Gallery on Karadjordjeva 48 in Belgrade

We have been operating in Belgrade since 2009, and are today one of the leading DMC’s. We are looking forward to seeing Belgrade develop with this project and are convinced that Belgrade could become a leading business hub  and MICE destination of the region. We would also like to encourage everyone to come visit Belgrade already now, whether as tourist or on business. Belgrade is an exciting city, full of opportunity and potential but still with a rough edge to it that gives it a spirit unlike few other cities.

 

You can read more about Belgrade Waterfront on it’s official website.

Preparing for IBTM? Focus on your 5 P’s!

How to get the most out of visiting IBTM and other travel exhibitions using the 5 P’s

IF one was to break down the Meetings and Incentive Industry to its bare bones i think it would look something like this:

The Meeting and Events Industry circle, Most people believe Meetings and Incentives is the outer circle. As you work your way in each circle you will unveil the core elements of the industry.

The Core of the Meetings and Incentives industry are people, and for many companies, 80% of your business comes for 20% of your client base. Therefore attracting the right people to your brand should be any marketeers number one priority. The age old saying of is it not what you know but who you know is still the number one business driver for any DMC, Incentive House, Conference Venue or Hotel….But it is not just about knowing the people they have to be the ‘right people’.

Exhibition organisers pride themselves in creating the melting pot where right people get to network – an opportunity to be introduced to clients, future co-workers and insightful industry trends. Generally you always come away enthused, inspired and encouraged….but do they make a difference to key reason why you are there – to get more business? Here is my overview on how you can approach exhibitions and meet the right people in the future using the 5 P’s:

1. Professional

Be professional and presentable…this does not mean where a shirt and tie if that is not your style. Often at exhibitions people opt for a ‘no tie’ policy – but make sure you have a pack of mints in your pocket (especially if you are smoker)…fresh shirt, not too overpowering after shave /perfume and a big smile!

Pre book your meetings – use the exhibition meeting scheduler to ensure you meet the people that you think would be most beneficial for your business. Target the right people and analyse if they are in anyway connected to your loyal 20% client database. It is always a great conversation starter sharing that you have a common contact or interest.

Evidence that you have researched your target candidates will only impress them and help you create a better first impression! Therefore find out as much as you can about them before the meeting. Don’t spray and pray…aim to be selective in terms of who you want to meet.

Tip: Linkedin is a great tool to do conduct right people analysis. Upgrading to a premier account can increase your out reach capacity.

2. Personal

The first impression counts….strong handshake and always look the person in the eye when introducing yourself and SMILE.  It costs nothing but creates much.

Take the opportunity to invite your key partners / clients for a meal or out for a drink during the exhibition. One has to acknowledge that relationships, and hence trust, develop more after hours than at exhibition itself.

Tip. Always spend an hour or so when you are back at the hotel room to remember faces to names. Perhaps even taking a selfie after your meeting to help you remember the name…this really impresses people as not many other people do this…and there is nothing worse than getting the name wrong.

3. Plan

After day one of an exhibition you have probably met all your targeted Right People candidates. Take the opportunity on day 2 and 3 to spend some time in seminar / learning zones. This is a great opportunity to be inspired by ‘influencers’ in the industry and get an understanding of trends. If the speakers cannot offer either of these 2 insights do not hang around for the duration of the talk – move on…if they do, make sure you ask questions and share contact details after the seminar.

4. Passionate

Sometimes people get tired and by the last day really do not want to be there…or even worse already left. Seeing a vacant company stand is the cardinal sin when it comes to exhibitions!

Always remain upbeat, positive and enthusiastic – people want to work with people who have these attributes. Take an opportunity to say hi at any given moment….whether it be in the cafe waiting to be served a coffee or on the bus to the exhibition hall itself. It is often the ‘chance meetings’ that prove to be the most beneficial. Carry a pen and note on the back of the business card or in a small note book of who you met when.

5. Proactive

Show that there is lead in your pencil! Take the initiative to follow up after the exhibition. Remember, ‘You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do’.

Why book with a DMC?

 

 To book direct, or not to book direct: that is the question

When you are planning an incentive or corporate event abroad, you might find yourself thinking “Why should we book with a local DMC when we can find so much information and book by ourselves over Internet? “What is the real value of booking with a ground handling company?”

Those are two very good and relevant questions! We now live in a ‘connected world’ and it is quite easy to source direct contact details of hotels, restaurants, venues and activity providers in the destination online.  But by arranging all this yourself you are missing out on the key value of using a local DMC, namely their local knowledge! In this article we hope to shed some light on the benefits of using a local DMC and help you choose what options is the best for you!

But first let’s have a quick look at our philosophy.

“Transparency is the new currency of trust”

At Travel Out There we believe in giving our clients as much information as possible.  Albert Einstein quoted that “The Only Source of Knowledge is Experience”. All of the Travel Out There team are highly experienced in the Tourism and Events industry and are very keen to share their knowledge with you! From the moment you arrive on our website, throughout the booking process and during you experience with Travel Out There.

We accept that we generate two types of browser to our website – ‘The Researcher and The Purchaser’.   It is obvious that we are always eager to turn a researcher in to a purchaser but the Travel Out There team is happy to inform the researcher as much as possible about the destination.  We believe that primarily Travel Out There are promoting each of our destinations and secondly the Travel Out There experiences in the respective city. We hope that the information you find on our website might encourage you to visit the destination for your corporate event. Hence developing a desire and a trust that the destination is suitable for your event.

 

The benefits of a Local DMC

Whether you have visited the city before or it is completely unknown to you, we have listed some fundamental reasons why you should seriously consider booking with a Local Ground Handler.

Local Knowledge

Living, working and experiencing the destination as all our local experts do day to day it is evident that they:

a) know more than you do
Besides knowing the city, what’s hot and not, and staying updated with newly opened places, all of the Travel Out There Event Managers have inspected the hotels, eaten at the restaurants, managed events in various venues and experienced all the activities. As Travel Out There’s slogan states you have to ‘Experience it to Believe it’. Before any service is included on our website it has to be checked out to guarantee that it is up to standard for all of our valued clients.

 

 

b) they are better connected than you

Our local event managers have many years of experience in the travel and event management industry both in their countries and abroad. Meaning, they know whom to call to make your special request and ideas possible, get that extra good price or book that otherwise inaccessible venue.

c) they have access to benefits you can’t get otherwise and can often beat any other prices available

Having the assistance of Travel Out There Local Expert can also make you an instant VIP through the connections that we have made working in the MICE industry for such a long time.  We will always work hard on your behalf with our contacts to grant free room upgrades, hard to get restaurant reservations, cutting lines, access to otherwise closed experiences, exhibitions and private guides.

 

Booking with a local DMC will also

Save you time

Ask yourself: How valuable is your time? The time it takes to co-ordinate a corporate event, dealing with multiple providers, in a foreign language, as well as international call charges you begin to realize that booking with a local partner will actually save you both money and time!

Provide a safety net

After you have planned everything, a local manager provide a safety net during your trip that you simply won’t get by booking yourself or buying insurance. Our event managers assure that all of the activities and venues are well arranged and live up to expected standard. In other word, there will be no unpleasant surprises. And if something unexpected should happen, a last minute cancellation or bad weather for your outdoor activity, our local managers will always have a back up plan ready and prepared.

Give you a tailor made experience:

At Travel Out There we do not believe in selling bespoke packages or off the shelf experiences. We like to give our clients exciting incentive ideas and inspirational concepts that we then work closely with you to tailor make a proposal to your exact needs and requirements. We specialize in creating and forming unique team building activities, and we can make basically any activity in to a team building experience (read our previous post how we look at team building)

 

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6 Best Ways to Enjoy Summer in Amsterdam Like a Local

 

Summer is the perfect time to visit the Dutch capital and we have listed our six best tips for enjoying your summer in Amsterdam like a local. Hang out on the city beaches, go for a bike ride, indulge in cheap pancakes, and much more.

 

Summer in Amsterdam

 

Amsterdam’s Best Summer Venues

With summer finally being here, we want to treat you to our three favorite Amsterdam summer event venues. Enjoy and we hope to see you soon in the Dutch capital!

1. Het Rijk van de Keizer

Het Rijk van de Keizer

Het Rijk van de Keizer

Located in the UNESCO protected grasslands of Amsterdam, Het Rijk van de Keizer is an old military base turned into an beautiful event venue. You can host your event inside one of historical buildings or, if the weather allows, outside in the lush garden. The amphitheater is the perfect place for group activities or presentations. Finish of the day with a relaxing stroll in the wetlands, a pause in the hammock or a delicious dinner prepared with fresh, organically grown ingredients.

This is the perfect place for a team that are in need of some energizing, relaxation and fresh perspectives.

2. Roest

Roest

Roest

Roest describes themselves as a creative refuge and an experience that is open to new ideas. And this is indeed a pulsating cultural heart of the city. The complex houses a bar, theatre, exhibition space, venue, nightclub and a city beach. Its minimalistic, industrial designed interiors, and outdoor area, including the beach, are frequently used for cultural markets, conferences, concerts and festivals. Let your minds flow freely and get inspired by the creative surrounding. And when you are tired of brainstorming and discussions, sink down in one of the sun chairs and enjoy a drink on the beach in the Dutch summer sun.

This is the perfect place for a team that are looking for a creative input, brainstorming and new ideas.  

3. The Scheepvaartmuseum

ship museum

The National Maritime Museum

This is the perfect venue for fancier occasions. Enjoy the bright summer nights in the glass roofed courtyard, perfect for gala dinners or receptions. The Maritime museum is also one of the city’s largest 17th century buildings, a storehouse for the Dutch war fleet dating back to 1656. Other than the amazing courtyard that will turn any event into a lush experience, they have many other venues suited for corporate events, including two exclusive locations at the waterfront.

This is the perfect place for a team that are looking for an exclusive and luxurious evening.  

 Amsterdam is full of inspiring venues and unusual conference facilities and whether you are planning a gala dinner, a conference a team building activity or presentation you can be sure to find a place to suit you perfectly and that will even exceed your expectations. T

For more info on venues in Amsterdam, check out our website, or contact Anne-Marie, our local event manager in Amsterdam.

Latvia – the Good, the Bad and the Not so Ugly

The Good

Latvia, a small nation situated in the heart of the Baltic States, sat very comfortably between neighboring Estonia and Lithuania. The country’s location, cultural vibrancy and many attractions are proving to make its capital city Riga, a popular tourism destination for corporate events and weekend breaks.

Riga

Riga

According to data from In the first quarter of 2014, Central Department of Statistics, Riga accommodated 193,698 foreign guests in the first quarter of 2014, which is 19% more than same time last year. Most of the tourists that stayed in Riga hotels and other accommodation facilities were from Russia – 31%, followed by Estonia – 10%, Lithuania – 8%, Norway and Germany – 6%, Great Britain – 5% and Finland – 4%. The biggest increase in the amount of tourists came from Poland (56%), Germany (42%) and Great Britain (27%).

The attraction of Riga

So why is the tourism to Riga increasing? Well for a start, there are many exciting and memorable things to do in Riga and surrounding areas. It is an ideal location for a group of friends or a company incentive to have fun and engaging travel experience. The city caters for all interests and desires, from the thrill of shooting an AK47 in a disused Nuclear bunker to enjoying a 5 star spa experience in Jurmala: a famous beach resort once known in German as Riga Strand, or Beach of Riga.

Riga is not only a popular city to visit in summer months; many visit Latvia to feel the sensation of a real Baltic winter. The experience of walking from VecRiga (old town) across the frozen River Daugava, (approximately 500m in width) to Pardaugava is feat many thought impossible! However, the opportunity to bobsleigh with an Olympian is one that is unique to visitors to Latvia and one not for the faint hearted. (Click here to our Bobsleigh video).

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Challenge gravity at Sigulda

Sigulda, a town one-hour drive from Riga, is an adrenalin junkie’s paradise. Here you can hit 4 G’s as you hurtle down the bobsleigh track, bungee jump off a cable car and experience the feeling of weightlessness as you fly in the vertical wind tunnel.

Nightlife

Riga’s nightlife is still one of the biggest reasons to visit for both corporate and leisure breaks. There is a popular T-shirt in Latvia: ‘Riga – 365 Friday nights a year’ and for many visitors from Scandinavia and Western Europe it is unlikely you would have experienced anything like it. Since Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union, in 1991, much of Latvia’s freedom of expression and creativity has exploded on to the nightlife scene.

Many of the restaurants, bars and clubs cater for a stylish and trendy crowd who simply love to have a hedonistic experience! The good times roll on to the early hours and if you are visiting during the summer months it is very likely that you will not see any darkness. If time is limited on your visit to Riga, some companies run bar and club excursions that ensure you are always in the right places at the right time.

Ink-Riga042vc

One of Riga’s many clubs

One evening – two cultures

What adds to the spice of Riga’s nightlife is that you get to experience two cultures – Latvian and Russian – in one evening. The Russian-speaking population of Latvia rose from 12% to 40% between 1935 and 1989, mainly thanks to the post-war Soviet occupation, and now constitutes to around 50% of Riga’s 700,000 population. The two communities have not integrated extensively, each have its own schools, media and public figures but many of the larger clubs and bars you will see both cultures mixing.

It is very hard to imagine a Riga of 1991 in relation to today’s Riga. In Soviet times there was only 2 cafés in Riga’s old town, now the concentration, range and quality of café’s and restaurants in Riga would give any cosmopolitan capital city a run for their money. From hipster coffee shops to sushi bars, traditional medieval restaurants lit by candlelight to panoramic restaurants shining with the stars, Riga’s restaurants will suit all tastes and diets.

Culinary tourism and Black Balzam

Culinary tourism is becoming more popular and the Latvian Tourism and Development Agency are marketing Riga as a ‘Delightfully delicious destination’ and helping to promote culinary events and uniting restaurants in Riga who are actively attracting visitors to sample many of the local delicacies.

Taverna_420_200

Beer Degustation – allows your senses to travel through Latvia

Latvia’s national drink, Riga Black Balsam, certainly touches areas other drinks fail to reach but should you not dare risk this ‘exotic’ spirit we would recommend you sample one (or perhaps a few) of the many locally brewed beers. Each of the 4 regions of Latvia, Zemgale, Latgale, Vidzeme and Kurzeme have a flagship beer as well as many smaller breweries producing beers to satisfy your thirst. Honey beers, dark beers and live beers as well as the opportunity to bath in beer in a spa resort in Valmiera.

If you like beer you will love Latvia but should you not have time to travel to the 4 corners of Latvia you can experience a beer tasting experience in Riga with accompanying local treats and delicacies. (Click here to watch our Latvian Degustation video)

The Improved Hospitality

One of the positive outcomes from the 2008 economic crisis is the great improvement of service within the hospitality industry. Back in the ‘boom years’ there was no expectation for good service and people would leave tips no matter how their meal was served or tasted. When times got tough and disposable incomes shrank people started to become more vigilant on their spending. In combination with more attention and training in to service level requirements, Latvia’s hospitality industry has blossomed with this eagerness to earn gratuities rather than simply expect them.

Latvia has some of the lowest wages in the European Union, therefore should you experience good service a 15% tip would be greatly appreciated.

The Bad

As you walk around Riga you will be able to see evidence of past wealth lining the streets, Riga has the highest density of Jugendstil- Art Nouveau- architecture in Europe, yet it is not symbolic to the nation’s current financial and employment woes.

The Latvian economy suffered one of the sharpest downturns in the world during the crash of 2008-10. The economy shrank by more than one-quarter, in large part because the central bank insisted on keeping the local currency, the lat, pegged to the euro. The economy has improved since 2010 and the growth was one of the fastest one in Europe and considered a success by IMF. But although the economy increased with 5,5% in 2011 and 5,6% in 2012 the unemployment is still high and the GDP remains on the same level as before the crisis.

Population of Latvia

Population of Latvia

Emigration problem

With low wages and few job opportunities it is understandable Latvia is on the verge of a demographic disaster’. A 2011 survey revealed the Latvian population shrank from 2.2 million in 2000 to just 2.0 million as of 2011 — plunging 13.0 percent in little more than a decade. Although the emigration has stabilized a bit since the recovery of the economy after 2010 the shrinking population is still a fact. Worse still, if nothing is done to tackle the exodus, the population could drop to 1.6 million by 2030, according to a recent economy ministry study.

Migration studies by University of Latvia Professor Mihails Hazans show the country is becoming demographically top-heavy. “Most emigrants are young — about 80 percent of recent emigrants are under 35 — hence the remaining population is ageing faster,” said Hazans, whose studies have referred to the trend as a “demographic disaster”.

“Do we have some hope that they will come back? Unfortunately not very much. After three years the number who are planning to come back in the short run drops from ten to three percent.”

More babies

Initial suggestions by a special task force on demography set up by centrist Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis are aimed at boosting the birth rate and coaxing scientists to come home. Improving access to kindergartens and reviving fertility programme funding that was slashed during the crisis top the task force’s list of priorities. My partner was in 2011 granted a 300% increase in monthly governmental support for our child (30LS-45 euros a month to 100LS-140 Euros a month).

Dombrovskis has also floated the idea of using EU funds to give expatriate scientists good reasons to return. “I see that as an issue of the brain drain,” Dombrovskis told AFP, pointing to the current dearth of funding for high-tech research. “But the main reason behind emigration is the economic situation: lack of jobs, and lack of well-paid jobs. That’s what we need to concentrate on if we need to deal fundamentally with emigration.”

The Not so Ugly

Latvia prides itself as having in many people’s eyes the most beautiful women in the world. Should this not be the biggest temptation to visit this wonderful nation then I don’t know what is? What is the magic secret behind their looks? I am not really the person that should be answering this but I did have a go at explaining a few theories in a blog post a few years ago.

Travel Out There goes Blonde in 2011

Travel Out There goes Blonde in 2011

European Capital of Culture 2014

This year, 2014, is a year that has been anticipated for many years by Latvia. The introduction of the Europe took place on 1st of January 2014 and Riga is the European Capital of Culture. Neighboring Baltic capitals Vilnius and Tallinn have already held the Capital of Culture title, in 2009 and 2011, respectively, with varying degrees of success.

There are six main themes, such as the arts, history and national identity, which the European Capital of Culture events and entertainment is reflecting. More than 100 cultural events will take place during the year with the biggest number of events placed in August. On the 9-19th of August the world’s biggest choir music festival will take place in Riga, with participants from 73 different countries. The international Opera festival in Sigulda has been a yearly event for the last 22 years, and this year’s edition, taking place on 1.3 August, will be even more spectacular than usual.

Sigulda Opera Festival

Sigulda Opera Festival

This article was originally written by our CEO, Austin Nicholas. He has lived in Riga for over 10 years and has founded Travel Out There (the good), have yet to master the Latvian language (the bad) and have made his contribution in to trying to improve Latvia’s demographic dilemma. (the not so ugly). Should you want to know more about Austin please do not hesitate to contact him or check out his google profile – Austin Nicholas