Tourism Profits Should not Come at Cost to Residents

Tourism

Francisco Santos, a 32-year old Portuguese architect, a resident of Lisbon, was in Budapest earlier this month. Originally from Viseu, a provincial Portuguese city, he met up with a group of former school friends for a three-day, 15-strong stag party.

This involved some heavy drinking, especially on the final, Saturday night, in Budapest’s District VII party quarter.

“We finished about six this morning. We’d rented a house as a group, but I got a hotel room for last night. I woke up at 11:30. I feel a lot older than 32 right now,” he admitted to me on the plane to Lisbon.

Santos – who coincidentally designs hotels in his day-job – not only denied causing any public disturbance, he denied seeing any.

“There was no real trouble. Yes, there were some Brits that were [taunting] my friend, because he’d dressed up in pink. And at the Széchenyi Baths, there were some groups, very noisy,” he said, noting Brits were the main perpetrators.

Santos estimated he’d spent EUR 300 on his stay, not counting accommodation (at EUR 15 per person per night, that would total EUR 675 for the duration). And assuming a similar daytime spend by all, the group’s input to Hungarian economy would come to EUR 5,250 - not counting ancillary income like his Wizz Air tickets and airport landing fees.

That’s good business for Hungary and especially for the District VII hospitality industry.

Comes with a Cost

But as revealed in the story on Page 17, not all visitors to Budapest’s party district behave as well as Santos and friends. This niche – but thriving – tourism segment comes with a direct, physical cost in terms of vandalism and damage to the property of local residents.

But this is probably negligible compared to the more intangible costs borne by the same residents in terms of disturbed sleep, anger and frustration both with the outlandish behavior of some visitors and the seeming unwillingness by the authorities to stop it.

The lack of police presence and action, against both the very real, excessive bingeing and open drug dealing in the heart of Budapest is in stark contrast to the squads of well-armed, burly cops and soldiers regularly depicted by TV news broadcasts on the country’s borders, supposedly acting against what is, today, a largely non-existent horde of illegal immigrants.

The disturbances are spreading: as residents from housing blocks surrounding the party district increasingly rent out their properties via Airbnb to visitors, their unfortunate, former neighbors are equally increasingly woken up by returning revelers incapable of locating their accommodation. The corridors of such blocks are also increasingly found awash with vomit and urine in the morning. (Diplomatic sources suggest Brits are the worst offenders.)

Dóra Garai, a leading campaigner for the protection of ordinary residents in District VII, warns that frustration is rising, and it can only be a matter of time before clashes – mostly so far limited to egg throwing and cold water tossed from upper-story flats – between locals and unruly visitors result in serious injuries.

En route to Lisbon, Santos judged the trip good value. “Of course it was worthwhile, we grew up together as kids,” he said. “Now we are all spread out, in London, Zurich, around Portugal; we don’t see each other very often.”

But for Budapest’s party district to be worthwhile for all in Hungary – and truly sustainable – local residents need a better deal, and the authorities must find a way to act to facilitate that.

The Bottom Line is a monthly column written by Kester Eddy, a long-standing and well respected Budapest-based business and economic journalist, who has written for the Financial Times and many regional publications. The opinions expressed in the column are not necessarily those of the Budapest BusinessJournal. To comment on this column, or on anything else in the BBJ, email the editor at robin.marshall@bbj.hu

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