Latvia a Wonderful Delight for Tourists from Across the World

Latvia a Wonderful Delight for Tourists from Across the World

Latvia is a beautiful North European country, a favorite destination for tourists from across the world including India. It is a country of superb natural beauty, rich culture, music, festivals, delicious foods and much more. Latvia is blessed with vast lands of forest, hundreds of kilometers of white sandy coastline, countless rivers and lakes, and breath-taking landscapes. In an interview with TnH, His Excellency AIVARS GROZA, Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to India, speaks about the uniqueness of Latvia as tourist destination and more. Excerpts:

Q. What is extraordinary about Latvia as a tourist destination?

Latvia is a very beautiful country located in the Northern Europe. With around 50% of Latvia’s land covered in forest and over 500 km of coastline, visitors have ample opportunities to admire the local flora and fauna. A tapestry of sea, lakes and woods, Latvia is best described as vast unspoilt parkland with its cosmopolitan capital, Riga. The country might be small but the amount of personal space it provides is enormous. Latvia has been ranked as the 5th best place to travel in 2016 by ‘Lonely Planet’!

According to Lonely Planet, “after a generous infusion of funds during its reign as European Capital of Culture in 2014, Riga is unrecognisable – chic, lively and over flowing with architectural gems – reclaiming its rightful title as the cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic”. The capital city of Riga has impressive array of historic building with cobbled lanes and Art Nouveau Architecture making people to gaze up, as they wander the streets of Riga. Not surprising, Riga has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Latvia’s natural environment and man-made facilities offer participation in a full range of sports and physical activities for all ages, ranging from golf to ice–hockey.

While Latvians take pride in their language and traditions, Latvia is also at physical crossroads between Europe’s east and west, which has led to a unique mosaic of ethnic groups, languages and perspectives that breeds healthy competition and new ideas. Latvians are also diligent in their cultural life, actively supporting and participating in a wide range of activities. Museums and exhibits in Riga and other cities provide art, artefacts and edifying experiences. Theaters, concert halls and the National Opera offer venues across the country with a rich array of traditional and modern performances. For a small country, Latvia has produced a seemingly inordinate number of internationally known music performers, including opera singers and musicians. On the national stage, Latvia’s Song Festival takes place every five years (next event in 2018), bringing together thousands of singers and dancers from across the country.

As an active member of the EU, UN, OECD and other international organizations, Latvia is fully integrated with Europe and the world. Most large countries have diplomatic representation in the country, with embassies or consulates located in the capital, Riga.

Q. Why do you think that Latvia is good destination for Indian visitors?

One’s destination is never a place but a new way of experiencing life. And I am sure that Latvia is not just good but a wonderful place for Indian visitors. Every human likes to listen to music. Particularly in Indian and Latvian cultures, music has always been a key aspect. Latvia is country, which sings. The summer in Latvia is also a period of festivals and various other events. There is a city or town festival almost every weekend in one or another part of Latvia.

Latvia is located in the temperate climate zone and therefore has four pronounced seasons. Visitors in Latvia can enjoy a real winter with subzero temperatures and snow, spring floods, warm summers, and colorful autumns. As Indian tourists in particular prefer travelling during the summer season, so they can use the opportunity to go on a tour of the Baltic Sea shoreline or have a holiday in the Latvian resort city of Jurmala, known for its white sandy beaches.

Winters are also attractive time for Indian tourist to visit Latvia especially in Christmas and New Year. The feeling of a whole Riga fully covered in snow and the different decoration around the city will leave Indian tourist with expressions of different amazing thoughts.

Blessed with hundreds of kilometers of white sandy coastline, countless rivers and lakes, Latvia has a breath-taking landscape that has preserved its natural beauty. This makes Latvia the perfect place for ecotourism and ethical travel. Then again younger generation will certainly enjoy Latvia’s vibrant nightlife. As in any industrialized nation, Latvia has all conveniences that tourists and families need.When it comes to Indian tourists’ requirements for accommodation, food services and even cultural programmes or leisure activities, Latvia has it all. Indian cuisine is available in various restaurants, including pure vegetarian food that is now very popular also among the local population. Latvia is a foodie haven with popular farmers’ markets and over 100 quality restaurants. While travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer, our guests also recognize that Latvia offers significant cost advantages to tourists. And last but not least, it is a very peaceful and secure for family vacations.

Q. How simple is the visa process of Latvia for Indian travelers? How about the first time travelers?

Since Latvia acceded to the Schengen Agreement in 2007, Latvia’s diplomatic and consular representations abroad issue uniform or Schengen visas valid in the territory of all Schengen countries. The service focuses on delivering visas within a short time (less than ten days calculated from the date the Embassy receives the application). In line with standard practices for travelers to Schengen area, all bona fide travelers are welcome and may stay in Latvia and other Schengen countries for up to 90 days during a six-month period.

Q. How does the Latvia’s visa service remain competitive?

As of this year, in collaboration with VFS Global we are glad that Indian travelers can now submit their application at 14 visa centres located across all India. We are aware that most of Indian tourists decide on their destinations based on recommendations of local tour agents. The latter can rely on a direct contact with the Embassy. Representatives of larger groups attending conferences or medical tourists can also expect an individual meeting with the Consul in order to have pre-screening of necessary documents.

Q. What tips can you offer to Indian nationals applying for visas to Latvia?

I would recommend planning your trip with an established travel agency in Latvia or India. Standard application process would include a clear travel itinerary with relevant hotel bookings and travel insurance. Timely application is also encouraged. After all, the advice by our tourism experts is that Latvia is “best enjoyed slowly”.

Q. How important is the Indian outbound market for Latvia? How many Indian tourists visited Latvia last year?

Indian outbound market is important for Latvia. Since the opening of the Embassy in New Delhi there has been a sharp rise of Indian tourists. The annual rise of tourists to Latvia from India has been approximately 100% since 2014. Similarly, the numbers of Indian students at Latvian Universities are increasing exponentially and, according to latest estimates, have crossed the symbolic mark of 1000. Hence, Latvia is welcoming a wide range of visitors from India.

It is a known fact that Indian film industry has a strong influence for potential Indian travelers. The shoot of some part of the movie ‘Agent Vinod’ staring famous Bollywood couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor was in Latvia. Recently other Bollywood stars have enjoyed the hospitality of our culture and we would like to invite more Indian film producers to come to the beautiful Latvia.

Latvia also considers MICE outbound tourism from India to be very important. Last year, Latvia as the Presiding country of the EU Council hosted over 200 hundred international meetings. All these facilities are still in place and ensure that Latvia has all the capacity to organize different types of conferences. Last year every fifth tourist visited Latvia specifically for business purposes. It is becoming a new destination for many Indian corporates who want to offer their delegates a truly refreshing experience. Latvia has one of the fastest telecommunications infrastructures in the world, providing companies seamless connection with customers and partners abroad. It is ranked 6th globally for average measured Internet connection speed. Moreover, World Bank’s report for this year ranks Latvia as 22nd out of 189 countries for the ease of doing business.

Finally, I would like to draw attention of your readers to the high quality of medical services that are characterised by a personal, committed, hospitable and benevolent attitude, as well as a customised approach to each patient. Diagnostic and treatment equipment in Latvian medical health care facilities fully meets the standards of the European Union. Every year thousands of people from Scandinavia, Russia, and Western Europe come to Latvia to regain their health and beauty.

Q. How is the air-connectivity between the two countries?

Latvia is easily accessible for business and leisure travelers, conveniently located between Eastern and Western Europe. Riga International Airport is the largest airport in the Baltics, offering direct flights to over 80 destinations around the world, with low-fare carriers providing reasonable rates. Business travelers appreciate that the airport is just 20- minute drive from the city centre. Indian travelers can easily have a breakfast in Delhi and then dinner at one of the restaurants in Riga on the same day. Convenient connection is offered by Finnair via Helsinki, Turkish Airlines via Istanbul or by Lufthans via Frankfurt.

Q. How will you describe the relationship between India and Latvia?

This year we celebrate a quarter of a century since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Latvia and India. India has always had strong ties with the Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia). Most academicians, scholars, politicians, diplomats and citizens of both India and the Baltic nations recognize our shared Indo-European linguistic and cultural heritage. Although being thousands of kilometres apart, we have been historically linked by the ancient trade route called The Amber Way, where India was one of the destinations for the Baltic amber. As a second proud example stands out the movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi for nonviolent resistance, which guided India to independence, and inspired other movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Thus, The Baltic Way, when on 23 August 1989 nearly two million people joined hands forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius, proved that faith in democratic ideas and love of freedom can together generate a spirit of unity. It led to the nonviolent renewal of independence of the Baltic States.

Now we join hands with people of India to bring our relationship to the next level. Last year has been a very special for us – we have opened the Latvian Embassy in New Delhi. It serves as the contact point between the countries, our people as well as our business communities which show increased interest in expanding cooperation. As most promising areas for the business cooperation Latvia considers transport and logistics, higher education, ICT, life sciences, food processing and, of course, tourism.

Q. What do you like the most about India?

Having lived here for the last two years I am impressed by India’s contrasts and diversity, whether it is food, nature or people. This vibrant lifestyle is hard to be conceptualized or put into fixed categories. While traveling around and working in India, I constantly rediscover it as a place and as a state of mind.

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