Campaigners say apartments offered to tourists for short periods of time are to blame for rising rents in the Hungarian capital.

Hungarian activists are calling for their government to curb vacation rentals in the capital, Budapest, as tourists descend on the picturesque city for the massive Sziget music festival and other summer attractions.

Sziget, which features roughly 1,000 performances every year, drew about 530,000 attendees this year, down from last year’s all-time record of 565,000. 

According to estimates, over half of attendees come from abroad.

The influx of festivalgoers, coupled with Hungary’s already soaring tourism industry, means the city is packed with rowdy crowds every night after performances end on Sziget’s main stage at 11PM, residents of the city’s “party district” say.

“We can’t sleep because of the noise. When we go to work in the morning, [the area] is filthy,” Attila Bajnok, an activist and resident of Budapest’s seventh district, a historically working-class area known for its Jewish heritage, told TRT World in an interview.

Bajnok further commented on how trendy nightclubs and restaurants marketed to tourists has driven the price of flats up in the seventh district, forcing many residents to move elsewhere.  “[The area] isn’t for living”, Bajnok said.

Push for tourism

When asked for comment on complaints about excessive levels of tourism and noise related to the festival, a representative of Sziget succinctly told TRT World: “That’s fine!” 

The Hungarian government has pushed for an increase in tourism for years, and Sziget fits into its plan.

The Hungarian Tourism Agency, a government agency, launched the first international ad campaign to attract tourism to Budapest in 2018.

That year saw record increases for Hungary, with overnight stays topping 31 million, with commercial hotels registering 12.5 million guests, according to the Hungarian government.

If tourism numbers keep up with the government’s projections, tourism will account for 16 percent of Hungary’s economy by 2030.

Tourism brings another, less obvious monetary benefit. Tourists bring pounds, euros, dollars and other currencies to the country, which has its own currency, the forint.

Hungary having its own currency also allows the government to have more control over its economic policies, partly by weakening the forint to make exports cheaper and tourism more attractive.

The forint has been weak for years, making Budapest’s cheap prices ever-more affordable to tourists. The foreign funds they bring also help Hungary shore up its supply of euros, which many of the country’s major trading partners use.

ING Bank chief analyst Pater Virovácz told local news portal Hungary Today in February that exchanging banknotes  “currently costs Hungary 10bn forints a year”, or roughly 31m euros ($34m).

Bajnok, the seventh district resident, said the government should find other ways to bolster the economy and bring in euros. The burden of the government’s tourism plan shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of one district, which is home to roughly 50,000 people in the city of 1.7m, he said.  

Festival goers participate in a color party at the 25th Sziget (Island) Festival on Shipyard Island, Northern Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. The festival is one of the biggest cultural events of Europe offering art exhibitions, theatrical and circus performances and above all music concerts in eight days. More than 100 programs a day and performers from over 52 countries entertain the nearly 500 thousands visitors. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP)
Festival goers participate in a color party at the 25th Sziget (Island) Festival on Shipyard Island, Northern Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. The festival is one of the biggest cultural events of Europe offering art exhibitions, theatrical and circus performances and above all music concerts in eight days. More than 100 programs a day and performers from over 52 countries entertain the nearly 500 thousands visitors. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP) (AP)

EU resistance

Residents of the seventh district have formed activist groups to push for harsher penalties for public intoxication, which is illegal in Budapest but loosely enforced, and other measures to improve the quality of living in their area.

A referendum to force bars to close at midnight in 2018 failed, but as tourism has increased, local activists hope it will increase support for their efforts.

But Budapest is not the only city to face “overtourism”. 

Venice, with its beautiful canals and piazzas, is set to impose a 10-euro tax on tourists for day trips and will no longer allow massive cruise ships to dock in its historic port.

Airbnb, a home-sharing service that turns local flats into lodging for tourists, has been criticised for driving up prices in working-class neighbourhoods across Europe.

Barcelona has one of the highest rates of Airbnb rentals in Europe. The New Yorker described Airbnb’s presence in Barcelona as an “invasion”, saying some inhabitants see the service as a “pestilence”.

After public outcry, Barcelona took steps in 2018 to create an easily searchable database of Airbnb vacation rentals that have been given a necessary operating license in the city, the first of its kind.

The registry will allow authorities to easily check whether a vacation rental listed on the vacation rental service is in good legal standing.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bajnok said Airbnb contributes to the troubles in his neighbourhood, too. 

In 2017, Airbnb usage increased by over 14 percent, according to local real estate publications, making its growth second only to Paris and Barcelona.

The seventh district resident said local activists spoke with anti-Airbnb activists in Barcelona, Paris and elsewhere, to learn how to organise. Bajnok was sure efforts to curb rowdy tourism will continue.

Source: TRT World