Our NTG activities were slowed down especially in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Still we collected some important information and these extraordinary conditions may give some impetus to the modifications of the NTG process.
Immediate effects of COVID-19 in the 3 areas of NTG
COVID-19 showed that Hungary is not fully prepared digitally. We could identify a training gap for both for employers and employees having to learn how to work from home. Videoconferences and home working were partly responsible for the reduction in MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) tourism.
Green issues were more or less forgotten during the lockdown period. People were less concerned about the environment, they were much more interested in adapting to the new situation that the epidemic brought with it (for example: switching to home working, adhering to increased hygiene and safety standards). Despite all this, during the lockdown the environmental indicators have improved significantly and serious problems in nature have been alleviated. (Examples: In Venice the Canals were clearer, daily CO2 emissions have dropped by 17% worldwide etc.)
The need for social skills was definitely reinforced, as these were required not only in the working environment but also at home within the family. Parents and children were locked-in at home and everyone needed internet and computer access at the same time. Children also needed assistance in resolving some of their digital or educational problems. The unpreparedness is shown also in the increase in the number of divorces after the first COVID-19 lockdown period. It is interesting to learn also how to engage with colleagues without their being physical present. The hardest part today is to support the employees digitally as well.
How was the situation handled in Hungary?
It is vital to reduce the uncertainties around the lack of security concerning employment status. Here we need to mention that the Hungarian system grants a relatively low level of protection in the case of unemployment. The situation is even more difficult in tourism sector where the otherwise limited local “Kurzarbeit” regulation could be extended to only a very low percentage of employees. The temporary easing measures were: a three-month subsidy of up to 75% of the wage for each employee in the case of a 15-75% working time reduction. Our very high VAT rate (27%, where it is applied) was not reduced with the exception of food home delivery starting from November 14th 2020. Some companies have immediately cancelled all employment contracts. The tourism industry in Hungary had a contribution and tax payment discount but only until June 30th 2020, though it was repeated from November 8th 2020. The credit moratorium was good and important but nothing happened in relation to the connected lease contracts. Contribution reduction was not extended to suppliers. The Hungarian employers in the sector still have no support for restarting their businesses.
What has been learnt from COVID-19
As a result of support being limited recovery may be slower. The international airline analyzes (eg. IATA) forecast it will take until 2023 to once again reach the 2019 number of passengers. Hygiene rules were exemplary; however, the risk of infection is higher for the waiters and the bartenders who have the most direct contacts with people during their work. During previous economic crises, demand for tourism and hospitality services has always decreased, but it has not previously been zero. Colleagues should be trained in relevant tasks, even if they are not engaged in a specific revenue-generating activity. It becomes increasingly important during this period to hold training sessions, give out information to our customers, and try to work using new technologies. Even professional athletes can stay in shape at home, so it is necessary to apply the same principles.
A new function is being born: “The COVID-19 responsible”
Last year was also possible to apply for the CheckINN Green Award, the initiative established by the Hungarian Tourism Association Foundation and the Hungarian Tourism Agency to recognize socially responsible and responsible tourism businesses and organizations. Although COVID-19 has shaken the tourism industry, sustainability and social responsibility aspects have now come even more in focus. The future must be kept in mind, so they are looking for the best ideas, developments and services to boost ‘green’ tourism in the long term. The above-mentioned Hungarian tourism professional organizations would like to support bottom-up initiatives. Ideas are mainly invited from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family businesses (accommodation, restaurants, attractions and other tourism service providers) with innovative solutions in the sector.
In order to win the award, candidates had to take part in a competition entitled ‘We Travel in the Green’, and in addition to the main prize, this year the professional jury also awarded a special prize. Based on the decision of the jury, the main prize was awarded to the Katica Tanya Experience Center, which is located in Patcel, Zselic. The tourism concept was dreamed up to enter the tourism market as an experience-oriented, close-to-nature and traditional lifestyle service provider that promotes active recreation. In the future, they will only develop attractions that do not consume energy or, if they do, produce it themselves from a renewable source. Given the large number of applications and the high quality of the ideas submitted, the jury also decided on awarding a special prize this year. This award recognizes an innovative, imaginative initiative that promotes sustainable tourism and environmentally-conscious thinking with a simple idea, involving a larger community. The winner of the special prize was the Bögretúr program of the company organizing sightseeing walks in Veszprém.
It was possible to apply also with environmentally-conscious projects that are already operating or under development and that aim at the long-term sustainability of domestic tourism. These included building a sustainable supply chain, energy efficiency measures, plans to reduce the ecological footprint, boosting green tourism, and preserving local cultural and gastronomic traditions. The prize came with a cash prize of HUF 3 million (appr. €8,600), which the winner could use to further develop their green program.