Budapest to make party tourism a thing of the past | DW Travel | DW
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, Budapest’s seventh district.
She was not alone in feeling this feeling. In recent years, thousands of locals have fled Bulinegyed, the city’s famous party district, even 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 predominantly foreign owners who wish to take advantage of short-term rentals. “There is nothing left for us residents,” Garai said.
In recent years, Budapest has become the hotspot for party tourism in Europe
Cheap flights, alcohol and frustrated locals
Budapest has become one of the continent’s most attractive party spots over the past 10 years. The relatively inexpensive alcohol in the more than 500 bars and clubs in the Party District is particularly appealing to young West Europeans. 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 very early on, but nothing has changed over the years. So, together with other disgruntled residents, Garai founded the Elheto Erzsebetvaros citizens’ initiative. The 34-year-old has been on the district council for the past year – and now has a chance to make a difference.
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 a makeover. The current situation is “an opportunity to make tourism here more sustainable and to find a solution acceptable to all,” district mayor Peter Niedermuller said recently at a press conference in Budapest. It has adopted a set of strict measures to regulate party tourism from September.
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Peter Niedermuller, mayor of the popular Erzsebetvaros district in Budapest, says the current situation is “an opportunity to make tourism here more sustainable”
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 many requirements. For example, operators must ensure that their guests do not consume alcoholic beverages on the street. They are therefore no longer allowed to serve plastic cups – a departure from the previous practice. This is not only to prevent customers from drinking in the street, but also to reduce waste. Now bouncers have to check that the rules are being followed and ask guests to behave properly.
Bar operators are also now required to keep the streets in front of their establishments clean and make their toilets available to non-paying customers. In order not to become too noisy, the sound level is measured: if it exceeds the authorized limit, the special authorization 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 the volume and waste regulations, the housing problem should also be solved. The rapid spread of Airbnb apartments needs to be stopped urgently, Niedermuller said. “We now need clear rules, otherwise it will soon be like the Old West.”
The Hungarian Parliament also sees it that way. Almost unanimously, he decided on July 14 to toughen up the tone against short-term rentals. As in New York, Paris, Amsterdam and many other cities, owners in Budapest will need to register with local authorities in the future, who can also determine how many days per year an apartment can be rented to tourists.
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The Great Synagogue of Budapest in the Jewish Quarter also includes the city’s Jewish Museum
Bar, club owners feel disadvantaged
Although residents liked the move, bar and club owners consider it 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 not satisfied 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 customers are attentive. It has nothing to do with the roaring crowds a few blocks away, he said.
“The police should crack down there rather than punish the whole neighborhood,” Karpati said. However, he does not want to participate in the protest march. “We have a policy of understanding with our neighbors,” he said. He believes the organizers of the protest march – the owners of the big bars and clubs – would prefer to drive unwanted neighbors out of the neighborhood.
Activist Garai, however, is also critical of the restrictions, which she says do not go far enough. “Especially for the big bars and clubs it is quite easy to meet the exceptional conditions,” she said, stressing that not much will change for the locals. She therefore asks that the big clubs be moved to the outskirts of Budapest, for example in old factory buildings.
Bar owner Miki Karpat finds new measures unfair for establishments that do not encourage binge drinking
Can festivals and cultural tourism coexist?
In addition to the strict requirements, Mayor Niedermuller wishes to draw the attention of tourists to the history and tradition of the party district. The district where tourists partied until dawn is also home to Europe’s largest synagogue, a church and a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – the district was once a Jewish ghetto, hence dozens thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. The few survivors brought the Jewish Quarter back to life, and today Budapest is a central hotbed for Jewish culture across Europe.
But Niedermuller has yet to take concrete steps towards a merger of party and cultural tourism, as he says the city is running out of money for big initiatives. Activist Garai has little hope that such a possibility will be crowned with success: “Alcohol unfortunately always brings more profit than culture.