Tourism has steadily begun to increase and spread to Eastern Europe over the last two decades. These countries may have very marketable features i.e. landscapes, beaches or leisure facilities but often have difficulty getting themselves into the international market because they usually have to do so through an established network of travel organisations.
Eastern European countries that have succeeded in being on the receiving end of an increase in tourism now enjoy a boost to their GDP. They acquire a higher inflow of hard currency and obtain revenue from taxes on tourism and the facilities or services they use during their stay. With this flow of income from tourists also comes a risk of dependency on the richer countries to continue visiting the area with the same intensity. As history has shown, tourism is very unstable. Tourists can feel at threat to visit the country, e.g. after news of war or shootings, or the destination can simply go out of fashion. The country is essentially discarded and will lose a major sector of its income and employment that is maintained by tourism from these developed countries.
Eastern European countries are distinctive in that they have a very small tertiary/service sector in comparison with their primary and secondary industries. By bringing tourism into these countries they will be forced to enlarge this service industry and as a result will bring some kind of stability to the economy through diversification. A wider tertiary sector will in turn create a greater appeal to more Western tourists and will go some way to improving the standard of living for the local population.
Eastern Europe is at an immediate disadvantage as far as tourism appeal is concerned because the world has a generally negative view of the Eastern bloc. It is a region previously ruled by a communist totalitarian regime, and now a state of heavy industry, extensive poverty, disease and pollution. However, I would argue that now this negative image, coupled with Western curiosity, is the main marketing feature. People want to see what life is like behind the Iron Curtain, witness the remains of the country’s turbulent history and experience the culture of a suppressed people. The fact that, throughout the Cold War years, Eastern Europe was out-of-bounds to the rest of the world appeals greatly to the West as treading unfamiliar soils carries a sense of adventure and great accomplishment.
Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, is a recent tourist hot spot that offers impressive architecture, history, culture and character. However, the atmosphere that we as tourists see is purely window dressing concealing the true nature of a country still in poverty.
The large percentage of the locals cannot afford the price hiked products and services offered to the tourists. As long as the tourists continue using the services and living in the hotels, house prices and the cost of living will continue to rise and it will become ever harder for the Czechs to afford to live by even an average standard of living. Instead of the economic divide between communist party leaders and the population, the social hierarchy has evolved into an economic divide between the tourist and the resident. This injustice has led to jealousy and racial tensions that have occasionally erupted into racially motivated attacks on the Westerners.
Hungary has an age-old tourist industry because the country puts huge effort into promoting itself to the international market. Researchers have found that about 75% of visitors come to Hungary from neighbouring countries for simpler and cheaper holidays. This impression will encourage tourists but will also limit the profit that can be made from the industry because they have to live up to expectations and keep prices low, for the reason that it is fundamentally its unique selling point. This explains the conclusion the researchers came to that tourism was contributing surprisingly little to the economies of most settlements. Concentrating its efforts towards a cheaper market may lead to poorer quality of services and ruin the national pride of the country in addition to discouraging future upper-market tourism.
Hungary, along with several of the other Eastern European countries, is keen to invest in the maintenance and reconstruction of art, historical monuments and mansions for the benefit of the tourist. Although this could be argued to be a constructive effect of tourism, I would argue the opposite because heritage and tourist attractions are of no value to the typical impoverished citizen. The desire to gratify the tourist redirects money to superfluous luxuries rather than focussing on the elementary necessities for the resident population.
One positive tourist development is that of ‘village tourism’ which directly supplies money to the rural population through payment of rent, opportunities of employment and sales of local agricultural produce.
Once a country has developed a bad international image the impact on tourism is all but entirely irreversible. A good example of this is Romania that has been cursed by incessant domestic problems that have shattered the national economy and radically lowered the standard of living. Romania is still a very backward country not just technologically and economically but also socially. It has strict and especially intolerant views on women and homosexuality and has a serious AIDS epidemic. New ski resorts are beginning to emerge as the country begins to realise the tourist potential and they are gradually attracting more tourists as the destination becomes better acknowledged.
The illiberal attitude in society will become a major problem when it begins to conflict with the natural behaviour of the stereotypical Western free thinking tourist. The tourists act ignorant to the culture and views of the locals and the locals are disgusted by the behaviour of the tourists. In turn this leads to prejudice, hatred and alienation between the two disparate cultures.
Ukraine is a country that is aiming to develop into a new tourist destination, reminiscent of the rest of Eastern Europe. By making this decision it is taking an immense risk of losing everything, as it has to inject a large amount of capital to build up a suitable destination for the international tourist industry.