More than just superficially trendy, Hungary is trending – that’s the phenomenon when a topic in online and social media or a stock on the sharemarket shows high levels of public interest and activity.
When the world music industry turns up for the first World Music Expo (Womex) to be held in Budapest (October 21-25), it will be a symbolic fanfare that celebrates Hungary as an especially popular place to visit these days - not only for musicians but regular as well as incentive tourists, conference attendees, professional & scientific visitors.
Over 3,000 international participants plus 320 artists from 90 countries, along with 1,260 music companies are expected to flock here for the Womex week alone. Womex to the max, as it were.
Womex will take over the Palace of Arts, the A38 concert boat and the iconic Whale recreational centre, all on or adjacent to the Danube, supported to the tune of HUF327.2 million by the Human Resources Ministry. It looks like a good investment.
Music is also the driver for the hundreds of thousands of individual visitors coming to attend the many festivals held around the country, from the biggest of them all, Sziget on Óbuda Island in Budapest, to the equally energetic festivals in regional centres such as Veszprém. Sziget alone attracts some 200,000 international visitors, just under half the total number who attend this major event. Even Australians are hopping over for it.
Trending in medicine, too. Hungarians, along with Australian and US physicians, are the founders of the World Institute of Pain, whose annual Advanced Interventional Pain Conference & Practical Workshop at the end of August (this year will be the 20th) in the Kempinski Corvinus Hotel and at the Semmelweis University attracts the world's most eminent specialists and medical industries involved in pain management. Dr Loránd Erõss, the head of Hungary's first Functional neurosurgical Department and Center of Neuromodulation in the National Institute of Clinical Neurosciences is on the advisory board.
He says one of the main attractions of this event for the profession is that "as well as intensive theoretical courses, this training conference also offers participants practical hands-on courses in pain management, using fresh corpses, which is extremely rare and possible because we are a forensic institute with ready access. It provides a poweful learning experience in minimally invasive pain management techniques."
Dr Erõss' department is a centre of excellence in the neurosurgical and neuromodulative treatment of pain, epilepsy, spasticity and movement disorders, which started offrering practical surgical experience training courses five years ago, with participants coming from all over the world. "We started with one course a year for intrathecal Baclofen therapy in spasticity, and now we are having to run five a year, including spinal cord stimulation courses for drug resistant pain." he says.
Professional medical tourism, such as these events generate, is not so much about large numbers (though that too) but about the prestige and respect they generate for Hungary as a country of medical and scientific excellence.
In September, for example, there will be at least three quite different international medical conferences (on biology, on leukemia and a clinical update in medicine) and three more in October. This month, the Hungarian Kidney Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary and delivers its 22nd Budapest International Nephrology School (Aug 26 – 31) at the Semmelweis University. It will be held in conjunction with the 13th International Symposium on Wine and Health, coinciding with the 10th World Kidney Day.
Hungary is trending strongly in film and literature, with a Grand Jury Prize for László Nemes' uniquely envisioned Holocaust drama, Son of Saul at the Festival de Cannes in May this year and the sought after Man Booker International Prize for fiction (GBP 60,000) to László Krasznahorkai, for his body of work. His latest novel, The Melancholy of Resistance, also displays his signature style, as the judges pointed out: ½’what strikes the reader above all are the extraordinary sentences, sentences of incredible length that go to incredible lengths, their tone switching from solemn to madcap to quizzical to desolate as they go their wayward way; epic sentences that, like a lint roll, pick up all sorts of odd and unexpected things as they accumulate inexorably into paragraphs that are as monumental as they are scabrous and musical.’
Budapest has always been the major attraction for international visitors to Hungary, but the Hungarian National Tourist Office is trying to develop foreign interest in the rest of the country, developing promotional tools such as the brochure (online and multiple languages in print), A Dozen Reasons to Visit Hungary, which promotes several regions, including Õrség, Hortobágy National Park, Írottkõ Nature Park, Lake Tisza, Mecsek and Kaposvár and the Zselic area which are all are part of the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN). It also promotes the Norther regions of the country, all the wine regions, medical tourism and Lake Tisza.
As early this year as February, the number of guest nights spent in Hungary by foreign visitors had increased 11 per cent, and actual guest numbers by 13%, as reported by the Central Statistical Office. Hungary welcomed a hefty 42 per cent more guests from Great Britain, 11 per cent more from Italy and 5.4 per cent more from Austria than in the same period in 2014.
The increase follows visitor growth in 2014, a record year for the Hungarian hospitality industry, with filming crews alone spending 100, 000 guest nights in the country. (Not necessarily alone …)
Hungary, it seems, will continue to trend.
The total contribution of travel and tourism to Hungary’s GDP (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was HUF3,255.3bn in 2014 (10.3% of GDP) and is expected to grow by 5% to HUF3,417.7bn (10.5% of GDP) in 2015, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In 2014, the total contribution of travel & tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 9.8% of total employment (415,500 jobs). This is expected to rise by 4.4% in 2015 to 434,000 jobs and rise by 2.1% pa to 535,000 jobs in 2025 (12.7% of total).
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