400 thousand Belarusians visited Lithuania in 2012
The number of tourists from Belarus is expected to rise by 17%, according to Lithuanian statistics.
Lithuania's Tourist Information Center has recorded a 62% increase in the number of tourists from Belarus in 2012 against the previous year.
"Around 3500 visitors from Belarus turned to tourism information centers in Vilnius. In 2012 we had over 6000 tourists from Belarus," says Zita Bukina from the Vilnius Tourist Information Center.
Accoding to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, visitors from Belarus accounted for the biggest number of tourists in Lithuania (340,000 people) in 2011. Lithuanian officials reckon this is not a limit.
"Since there were 17% more Belarusian tourists in 2011 against 2010, we estimate there will be 400,000 tourists from Belarus in 2012. We estimate there was a roughly 17% growth," Gerda Butkuviene from Lithuanian Department of Tourism's press office told Euroradio .
Iryna Kalesnikava, director of the Belarus-based travel agency Baltic Travel, confirms the growth of Belarusian tourism flow to Lithuania. Ms Kalesnikava who has worked with LIthuanian for the past ten years definitely has something to compare with.
Iryna Kalesnikava: "When visa cost 5 Euro, there was a huge demand for tourism in Lithuania. But when visa costs were raised to 60 Euro, the demand dropped slightly. You can't just travel to buy some sausage, you know."
There are several factors that contibute to the popularity of Lithuanian destinations among so many Belarusians, namely: the diversity of travel tours, numerous bus connections between Minsk and Lithuania and a new train sefvice from Minsk to Vilnius.
Iryna Kalesnikava: "Previously, there was a spell when everyone wanted sight-seeing tours. Now most people do not need sight-seeing; they already know everything. For example, those traveling to Palanga prefer taking strolls in Botanical Gardens, in a forest or riding a bike. Occasionally they can take a boat ride to Klaipeda to the Maritime Museum, and that's about it."
Interestingly, the tourism and information center in Kaunas recorded a drop in the number of Belarusian tourists in 2012 - 1857 Belarusians in 2011 against only 1668 last year (10% decrease). However, Belarusians very often fly from Kaunas (and Vilnius, too), says Jurate Batrusaityte from the marketing section at Kaunas Airport.
Jurate Baltrusaityte: "The citizens of Belarus accounted for 8-10% of Kaunas airport passenger turnover. Belarusian toursis very often traveled from Kaunas to the "sunny" destinations like Cyprus, Alicante, Rhodes, Malta and other. These destinations were the most attractive for Belarusians last year."