Hungarian countryside appears on the air map


While the collapse of Malév has pushed 20% of passengers of the former Hungarian national airline to travel from Vienna or Bratislava due to he lack of route alternatives in Budapest, the improving capacity of Hungary’s countryside airports may help somewhat balance this loss. 

Hungary’s airport operators might look at Austria and Switzerland with envy since, although these countries are smaller than Hungary, their inland air transport is blooming, carrying thousands of locals on a daily basis. Since Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport, the country’s main airport in the capital, is on the outskirts of the city, a 40-minute drive from the center, inland flights do not make much sense here. But when it comes to attracting passengers from foreign countries, Hungary’s international countryside airports, namely Airport Debrecen in eastern Hungary and Hévíz-Balaton Airport, more widely known as Sármellék, in the Trans-Danubian region are becoming more successful. 

Main attraction

Although there was a successful trial flight in May from the south Norwegian city of Stavanger to Sármellék, it is still only a hope of László Könnyid, the mayor of neighboring Hévíz, to make such charter flights regular and bring Norwegian guests “with strong spending power” to the region on a regular basis. But other routes are already well established. Lufthansa, for instance, even increased the capacity of its charter flights, operating between four German cities and Sármellék in April to four times a week. Tourists arriving at Hungary’s Trans-Danubian international airport mostly end up at the hotels of popular bath cities such as Sárvár or Zalakaros. 

Wellness tourism is also the main driver for Hamburg Airways’ flights departing from the German city and landing at Debrecen: hotels in the second city and nearby Hajdúszoboszló directly benefit from these charters. Tourism to Debrecen is also boosted by Wizz Air flights from London’s Luton Airport, launched on June 18, and from December 2012 it will also benefit from new charters from Eindhoven and Milan. With these two new routes, Wizz Air estimates it will bring no less than 100,000 passengers to Debrecen in 2013, creating about 100 new jobs in the city. The airline hopes the new routes will be popular among young Dutch and British partygoers, as, according to the airline, they “do not really mind where they are as long as they are surrounded by pretty girls and alcoholic drinks”.

Great ambitions

Debrecen hopes to get its biggest boost, however, from health, or more precisely dental, tourism. Hungarian dental services have a good reputation in Western Europe, and bad teeth can be fixed here far cheaper than, for example, in the UK. As such, dentists, together with other health service providers in the region, have already joined forces and are now promoting their services through London-based partners and travel agencies. 

While Debrecen Airport’s managing director Tamás József Meleghegyi admits that the airport is regional and does not intended “to become Ferihegy’s [the old name for Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport] competitor”, another Hungarian airport company did have more ambitious plans: Alba Airport once planned to host international flights in the western Hungarian Börgönd, near Székesfehérvár, and thus become a challenger of the capital’s airport. However, the development came to a halt after encountering “unexpected difficulties” such as the need for gopher relocation and finally, given the economic circumstances, the investment was called off in April 2012. 

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