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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Hungarian Tourism & Covid-19 Border Controls – a Case of the Law of Unintended Consequences?

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

About a fortnight back, the Hungarian government introduced a new system classifying countries “red-yellow-green” to refer to their perceived risk regarding coronavirus infections, and the rules applying to nationals of said countries pertaining to entry into Hungary.

Annoyingly, I can only find a link to it in Hungarian.

UPDATE on 30th July, 14.00

Latest in English here

Anyway, it seemed quite a good idea. As you may know, anyone coming from country X merely had to see which category the country was in to determine whether they'd be allowed entry, and if they'd need to be quarantined, etc, rather than have any number of conditions applying to individual nations.

Only I was talking to Tamás Flesch, President of the Hungarian Hotel and Restaurant Association, last week for a story about reviving the tourism sector and guess what?

He said, speaking of occupancy rates: “July was a little bit better because of the Formula 1 [Grand Prix race] but the general occupancy of hotels in Budapest which are open now is less than 10%, between zero and 10%.”

and then continued:

“We were getting reservations from abroad, not many, but some, But after this red-yellow-green system was introduced, such reservations stopped immediately, in a minute!”

How weird is that? I mean, it wasn't as if anything had really changed regarding entry, just the authorities had made it easier.

Well, Mr Fesch didn't really have a good answer, IMO. He said people were afraid to travel - well, yes, but why the different attitude caused by the new system?

Now I'm no trained psychologist (and if you are, perhaps you could comment), but this is what I reckon.

By equating the regulations to traffic light signals, what had been a purely theoretical assessment, ie by reading the neutral text, gave the reader something more concrete to relate to.

Furthermore, everyone knows traffic lights change regularly.

Therefore, the analogy reminded the reader that the signals are temporary, so the reader 'felt' the changeability of the regulations – gets scared of going due to perceived risk and cancels trip.

I hope I've put that in an understandable way. Whatever, folks are no longer booking in advance – that's what the man said.

Your answers on a postcard, better still, in a comment here on site, please!

All this had one advantage – the average daily room rate has dropped around 50% - so for those who are prepared to come, room prices are bargain basement.

Except, that is, at Lake Velence and Balaton – where hotels are full of Magyars not going to Croatia. A friend of mine paid Ft 50,000 a night for a small room in Zanka two weeks ago, and that wasn't on the lake shore. You can go double that in the better hotels.

Oh, final point – you'd think that the Hungarian police

since they are responsible for border control, would have something about the red-yellow-green classification system on their website.

But no. As of 30 mins ago when I looked, their latest notice on border crossing info, incidentally posted on 15 July, the day the 'traffic light system' was announced - was in plain old text form.

I'll try and load a screenshot to prove it. (Sorry, can't seem to do that.)

A case of left hand not knowing ….?

Alternatively, perhaps the cops own a few hotels and are better psychologists than those in govt :)

LINKS to recent tourism stories;

Here's the one with Mr Flesch:

58 views2 comments


Jul 27, 2020

Hi Kester, Your point about traffic lights changing is valid. The UK has just announced that people returning from Spain now have to quarantine for 2 weeks on their return. This leaves people planning to travel abroad to somewhere which is considered relatively safe today wondering if the rules will change while they are abroad for their trip. The inevitable consequence is that fewer people will take the risk of traveling abroad and will stay at home. The airlines and holiday companies are predictably up in arms (again). Expect this confusion to continue for a long time yet, this virus is not going away anytime soon. Stay safe ... Mike


Jul 27, 2020

Here is a description of the system classifying countries “red-yellow-green” in English: It's a bit simpler than the text your link leads to but it's good enough for info purposes.

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