Budapest set to end party tourism – DW – 07/24/2020

When she turned 30, Dora Garai couldn’t take it anymore. Loud drunks, garbage, the stench of urine, prostitutes and drug dealers in his driveway. She moved to the quieter outskirts of Erzsebetvaros, the seventh district of Budapest.

She was not alone in this feeling. In recent years, thousands of residents have fled Bulinegyed, the city’s famous party district, including families who have lived here for generations. In the house she grew up in, Garai says, only three out of 30 apartments are now inhabited by the original owners. The rest are all Airbnb apartments for party tourists. Entire streets are now in the hands of owners, mostly foreigners, who want to take advantage of short-term rentals. “There is nothing left for us locals,” says Garai.

Budapest cityscape at night
Budapest has become in recent years the Mecca of festive tourism in EuropePhoto: picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/McPhoto

Cheap flights, booze and frustrated locals

Budapest has become one of the most attractive party spots on the continent over the past 10 years. The relatively cheap alcohol in more than 500 bars and clubs in the party district attracts young Western Europeans in particular. For many of them, the motto is: drink, dry, repeat. They arrive and depart via low-cost flights and see little or nothing of the city itself in between.

Resistance against these excesses of party tourism developed early on – but nothing has changed over the years. So, together with other disgruntled residents, Garai founded the citizens’ initiative Elheto Erzsebetvaros. The 34-year-old has been on the District Council since last year – and now has a chance to turn things around.

The coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity to regulate the situation. With tourists missing due to the global travel slowdown, the party mile is set for an overhaul. The current situation is “an opportunity to make tourism here more sustainable and to find a solution acceptable to all”, district mayor Peter Niedermuller recently told a press conference in Budapest. It adopted a set of strict measures to regulate party tourism from September.

Read more: Mallorca’s party hotspot under new lockdown

Mayor of the 7th district of Budapest, Peter Niedermuller (Istvan Kissimon)
Peter Niedermuller, mayor of Budapest’s popular Erzsebetvaros district, said the current situation is “an opportunity to make tourism here more sustainable”.Image: Istvan Kissimon

Under the new regulations, bars, restaurants and clubs in the area must close at midnight. Establishments wishing to stay open longer must have a special permit and must meet numerous requirements. For example, operators must ensure that their customers do not consume alcoholic beverages on the street. They are therefore no longer allowed to serve plastic cups – a departure from previous practice. This is not only to prevent customers from drinking on the street, but also to reduce waste. Now, bouncers must check compliance with the rules and ask guests to behave themselves.

Bar operators must now also keep the streets in front of their establishments clean and make their toilets available to non-paying customers. So that it does not become too loud, the noise level is measured: if it exceeds the authorized limit, the special permit is withdrawn. Business in the party district will also be affected by the new regulations. Hospitality establishments can only remain open after midnight if they stop selling alcohol after 10 p.m.

In addition to volume and garbage regulations, the housing problem should also be solved. The rapid spread of Airbnb apartments needs to be curbed urgently, Niedermuller said. “Now we need clear rules, otherwise it will soon be like the Wild West.”

The Hungarian Parliament also sees it that way. Almost unanimously, he decided on July 14 to harden his line against the rental of short-term accommodation. As in New York, Paris, Amsterdam and many other cities, owners in Budapest will in future have to register with local authorities, which may also determine how many days per year an apartment can be rented out to tourists.

Read more: What will be the future of tourism in Venice?

The Great Synagogue of Budapest
Budapest’s Great Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter also includes the city’s Jewish MuseumPhoto: picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Schoening

Bar, club owners feel disadvantaged

Although the move has pleased residents, bar and club owners say it is a disaster. They have already been hit hard by the coronavirus, they say. The new requirements would result in additional costs and lower sales. They are organizing a protest march on July 29 against the new regulations.

Bar operator Miki Karpat is unhappy with the new measures. “The big problem with these regulations is that they put everyone under one roof,” he said. Its bar, Hivatal, is small and its guests are considerate. It has nothing to do with the roaring crowds a few blocks away, he said.

“Police should be cracking down there rather than punishing the whole neighborhood,” Karpati said. However, he does not want to take part in the protest march. “We have a policy of understanding with our neighbours,” he said. He thinks the organizers of the protest march – the owners of the big bars and clubs – would rather drive unwanted neighbors out of the area.

Activist Garai, however, is also critical of the restrictions, which she says don’t go far enough. “Especially for large bars and clubs, it is quite easy to meet the exceptional conditions,” she said, stressing that not much will change for residents. She therefore calls for the big clubs to be moved to the outskirts of Budapest, for example to former factory buildings.

Bar owner Miki Karpat at his Budapest establishment
Bar owner Miki Karpat finds new measures unfair to establishments that don’t encourage excessive drinkingPicture: DW/F. Schlagwein

Can festivals and cultural tourism coexist?

In addition to the strict requirements, Mayor Niedermuller wants to draw tourists’ attention to the history and tradition of the party district. The area where tourists party until dawn is also home to Europe’s largest synagogue, a church and a memorial to Holocaust victims – the area was once a Jewish ghetto, hence dozens of Thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. The few survivors brought the Jewish Quarter back to life, and today Budapest is a central focus of Jewish culture across Europe.

But Niedermuller has yet to take concrete steps towards a fusion of party and cultural tourism, as he says the city lacks money for big initiatives. The activist Garai is far from hoping that such a possibility will succeed: “Alcohol unfortunately always brings more profit than culture.

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