City Cruises

Published on Monday, June 20, 2011

Lithuania makes low-cost bid

Lithuania, host of the first joint AITO tour operators and agents annual conference, is hoping budget airlines will offer more direct flights from the UK this winter following a rapid increase in the number of visitors to the Baltic state.

Visitor numbers from the UK, Lithuania's sixth largest market, were up 21% in the first quarter of this year and overall visitor numbers were up 39% on the same period of last year.

In April, low-cost carrier Wizz Air launched a five-times-a-week service from Luton and two flights a week from Doncaster to the capital city Vilnius.

In May, Ryanair launched a daily service from Stansted to Vilnius, which it operates alongside its flights from seven UK airports to Lithuania's second city, Kaunas.

"We are hoping that Wizz Air will increase its Luton service to daily from this autumn and that there will be more Ryanair flights," said Augusta Jaudegyte of the Lithuania National Tourism Office.

In total, Lithuania attracted 1.5m tourists last year, a 10% rise on the previous year when visitor numbers plunged due to the worldwide economic crisis.

"Some hotels were almost empty in 2009," said tourist office chief officer of statistics Olga Goncarova. "A lot of new hotels opened before the crisis, but 30% to 50% of the rooms were empty so we have a lot of room for growth."

Prior to the launch of direct flights, the former Soviet state was struggling to appeal to UK travellers, possibly due to a lack of awareness of its rich heritage, its countryside and its beaches.

Indeed, AITO chairman Derek Moore admitted the destination was previously unknown to many of those attending this week's conference in Vilnius.

However, the country will attract more publicity this year, the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union.

The tourist board is planning to launch a social media campaign this year to attract more young travellers and students to take advantage of the sort of low-fares offered by Ryanair and Wizzair.

"We don't want to attract stag parties but we do want young tourists because although they might not have money to spend now, they will come back again later as luxury travellers," said Goncarova.

"We are investing in our future."

By Linsey McNeill

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