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Europe's New Travel Destination

Low prices, good flight connections offered by budget airlines, and many attractions: The new EU states will experience a major tourism boom in the next few years, according to a survey.

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Mass tourism hasn't hit beaches in the Baltic states -- yet

Eastern EU states attract more and more tourists with their diverse offers of almost unexplored, long Baltic Sea beaches, historic cities such as Prague or Krakow, or affordable wellness trips.

The demand is at times so high that hotels cannot keep up with the rapid inflow of tourists. For example, a recently opened, up-scale hotel in Riga, the capital of Latvia, is currently fully booked at all times.

But the shortage of hotel rooms is not only a Latvian problem: A survey presented by the University Applied Sciences of Worms at this week's tourism conference in Berlin showed that the 10 new EU member states taken together don't have half as many rooms available as Italy.

"At the moment there is a shortage of hotel rooms during the high season," said Antje Günther, a spokeswoman for German travel operator Dertour, which has included trips to the Baltic states in its program in recent years.

Low Prices

The rise in interest is partly because of relatively low prices, said Roland Conrady, head of the university's tourism studies department.

Burg in Bratislava Slowakei

Castle in Bratislava

"Short trips to the Baltic states can be up to 70 percent cheaper compared to well established tourist destinations," he said. Prices in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, are 51 percent lower compared with Frankfurt in Germany. In Budapest, Hungary's capital, prices are even 29 percent lower compared to Frankfurt.

The airline industry is growing with the new tourism boom: 124 direct flights carry passengers to cities between Germany and the new member states. Low budget airlines have also picked up quickly on the new market.

When speaking about the low cost airlines, Pawel Lawandowski, director of the Polish tourist office, refers to them as a "revolution in the air": They have increased the number of their direct flights from 34 to 45, said Conrady.

But tourist don't only use low cost airlines such as Ryanair, Easy Jet or other less known airlines such as Czech Republic's Skxeurop, Wizz Air from Hungary or Air Polonia to get to their destination.

Frankfurt airport, which claims to lead the East European market, has also noted an increase. Last year, already 1.6 million passengers from the member states arrived and departed from Frankfurt airport -- a 9.3 percent rise compared to 2002, even though the entire passenger number dropped by 0.2 percent.

EU enlargement "a gift "

The tourism branch definitely profits most from the EU enlargement. The enlargement was "a gift" for the Baltic states, said Anda Silde from the Baltic tourist center.

Blick auf die Hansestadt an der Daugava

Bird's view of the Latvian capital Riga

The three Baltic states Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are relatively new holidays destinations for Germans. Only 3.8 percent of tourists in Estonia and 8 percent in Latvia come from Germany, however figures are increasing.

Optimistic surveys, comprising all 10 new EU states, show a 10 to 15 percent increase in tourist growth. But that's about it. Baltic states don't yet provide hotels, restaurants and general tourist offers required to satisfy the package tourism industry.

"A lot is being done," said Dertour spokeswoman Günther. "More and more hotel are added so that the supply will slowly meet the demand."

In due time a hotel and restaurant boom will follow the tourism boom in the new EU states.

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