Tourism has been a driver of the Hungarian economy. In 2019, tourism directly contributed 6.8% to total GVA and 9.5% of the national workforce (421 036 jobs). The impact of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the tourism sector, with preliminary estimates suggesting tourism GVA fell to HUF 2 194 billion or 5.4% of the national economy in 2020.

In 2019, there were 15.9 million international tourists in Hungary, and international expenditure accounted for 75% of total tourism expenditure. As a result of the pandemic, international tourists fell to 6.6 million (down 58.5%) in 2020 before rebounding to 6.9 million in 2021. The decline in tourists saw international receipts fall to HUF 1 738 billion in 2021 (down 41.6% compared to 2019).

Domestic tourism began to rebound in 2021. Domestic overnight tourists increased by 14.2% in 2021 but remained 28.5% under pre-pandemic levels.

Overall responsibility for tourism is with the Minister leading the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for religious tourism, while the Minister for Agricultural Policy, in co-operation with the Minister for Tourism, is responsible for the development of rural tourism.

The Hungarian Tourism Agency carries out the management of the Hungarian tourism sector on the basis of a mandate from the government. The responsibilities for destination management are divided into local, regional and central activities. The Agency and its subsidiaries carry out central tasks at the national and regional levels. Roles include the management of the tourism sector, strategy development, development and management of tourism products, central marketing, international sales, communication campaigns and the co-ordination of specific tourism developments.

The Agency co-ordinates and manages professional and other tasks related to destination management and plays a role in the professional co-ordination of Tourinform and the destination management organisation network. The role of Tourinform is to support local marketing and ensure the bilateral flow of information. Clear identification of tourist areas allows for planning, implementation, co-ordination and communication tasks for each destination.

The Agency is creating a new destination management services network. The new model will implement unified management and support the co-operation of local stakeholders to achieve a shared vision for the destination. The aim is for the destination management services, as key players in the tourism ecosystem, to ensure effective communication between local and central levels and within the destination to promote a destination-based approach to product development and successful market entry.

The central budget available to the Hungarian Tourism Agency for the period 2021-30 is HUF 90 billion in 2021, decreasing to HUF 45.9 billion by 2024 and staying at HUF 45.9 billion until 2030.

In 2021, Hungary developed a revised Tourism 2.0 Strategy which incorporates the impacts of COVID-19 and the lessons learned through the first three years of the National Tourism Development Strategy 2030. COVID-19 created a new context for tourism, with new objectives being set and related activities defined:

  • Complement the previous supply and product-based approach with a strong demand and needs-based approach. The focus of the Strategy is shifting from development to marketing, with a well-developed understanding of international and domestic market segment needs, used for marketing, sales and future development.

  • Define a new model of governance whereby sectoral governance is complemented at the destination level. The new network of destination management organisations links central management with the tourism regions.

  • Strengthen the role of the Hungarian Tourism Agency in education and career-path shaping to help improve the quality of the workforce.

  • Utilise digital solutions to accompany and support the travel process. In addition to the Agency’s role, sectoral interests also need to play an active role in developing and connecting digital solutions to improve the guest experience and understanding the opportunities of big data by looking in detail at sub-sectors, such as hospitality and the labour market.

  • Promote sustainability as a strategic objective, channelled through sector-based interests to involve actors across all sectors. Sustainability considerations are reflected in product development at the destination level through the introduction of a sustainability trademark and priority development for sustainable and ecotourism attractions (e.g. national park visitor centres and water recreation sites). This will help lay the foundations for a sustainable profile for tourism in Hungary.

The timeframe of the updated Strategy remains unchanged and sets out the direction and priorities until 2030. Tourism 2.0 aims for a 20% increase in guest nights by 2030 compared to 2019. The goal is to increase the number of nights to 50 million per year. These 50 million nights will be generated by 20 million tourists, with an equal distribution of domestic and international tourists. For sustainable growth, it is aimed to share increases between Budapest and rural destinations.

The Strategy identifies areas for development to attract international visitors, especially in the realms of nature, culture and active tourism. Health tourism is also attractive at the regional level from neighbouring source markets. For example, Hungary features 12 internationally important spa towns that account for one-fifth of overnight stays. Consequently, cultural and active tourism attractions, complementary services and the upgrading of spas to an internationally attractive level could be the most important breakthrough for Hungary and individual destinations.

Hungary’s Strategy identifies a range of other issues that will complement the structural changes. These include unified destination branding, the use of targeted and personalised marketing channels and quality improvement. Relatively small-scale improvements to quality can strengthen the wider offer. Education and training remain a core theme, as does sector financing. Tailored funding solutions and familiarisation with the needs and performance of the sector are necessary to ensure the continued availability of capital. It is also proposed to alleviate the administrative burden of complex regulation through the interconnection and re-regulation of data services and improved co-operation between sectoral interests, ensuring a clear division of roles and responsibilities between public and other stakeholders.

In terms of the recovery from COVID-19, domestic tourism is expected to be a significant driver of demand. Hungary expects that car-friendly and nature destinations will be popular with visitors, especially those from neighbouring countries.

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