2023 06 06
How did Kaunas withstand the test of a busy basketball weekend?

Two weeks ago, Kaunas was the center of an international event that generated a lot of buzz. The Euroleague Final Four attracted thousands of sports fans from abroad and across Lithuania. It was estimated that around two dozen thousand people visited Kaunas from May 19 to 21. And while there was no shortage of skepticism as the weekend approached about how Kaunas would manage to create the mood of an international sports festival in the city and meet the expectations and needs of the guests who flocked to Kaunas, the representatives of the restaurants and hotels noted that they had prepared well for a bigger number of customers and the intensive days. Therefore, everyone felt tired after the basketball tournament but satisfied with the challenge they had to face and the results that followed.


May is the peak month for Kaunas hotels


According to the representatives of Moxy Kaunas, a hotel located in the city center on Maironio St., the first room bookings for these days came in well before the Final Four was announced. Almost all the hotel rooms were already booked then, and the few remaining vacancies were snapped up immediately after the official announcement that the 2023 Euroleague Final Four would be held in Kaunas. Sure, some adjustments were made later when the specific teams were announced, but this did not result in any vacancies. On the other hand, May is always a peak month for Kaunas hotels, so on those days, compared to last year’s period, the occupancy of Moxy Kaunas, in particular, grew by only 10%, but room rates were much higher this year.

“Despite the fact that the hotel’s occupancy rate did not increase significantly, we made extra preparations for the weekend by extending our opening hours and deploying more staff to ensure that the service maintains its usual standards. As a lot of customers gathered in the bar at night, there was a DJ playing in the evenings. Fans could also watch the matches on a big screen in the hotel bar,” Evelina Šukytė explains.

The hotel has a total of 175 rooms and can accommodate 353 residents. It is mostly used by business clients and leisure guests coming to various events organized in Kaunas. Guests from Lithuania usually make up about one-third of the total number of clients, and the average length of stay is up to 2 nights.


Instead of raising prices establishments prepared for a higher number of guests


Meanwhile, the representatives of the Rebels Pub restaurant on Laisvės Avenue say that preparing for the intensive weekend was a fool’s errand. “As long as we are open, Kaunas has never seen an event of this scale, and we have never had so many basketball fans, so we didn’t know what to expect, for example, what kind of products to order, etc. I can summarize now and say that we did get the order right, although we had to rush to the shops and bring extra products to the bar over the weekend,” the restaurant manager Tomas Balandis says.

They focused all their forces on customer service. The bar worked in two shifts, opened an additional outdoor bar, and rented out a huge screen that was placed at the Nepriklausomybės Square.

“We have been psychologically preparing for at least a couple of months for this to be potentially the strongest weekend in our history. Everything did go just as we expected. There was also a unique experience of not having the usual ‘waves’ of guests where customers come in at lunchtime and then we have to wait for another wave in the evening. On the weekend of the basketball quarterfinals, we were swamped by customers from opening to closing, without a break – one big flow that never stopped. As we are a pub, the clientele was not very different, since we have mostly foreign guests anyway. The only difference is that this time almost all the customers were basketball fans: with a lot of paraphernalia and songs,” T. Balandis recalls the situation reflecting the experience of most bars and restaurants in Kaunas city center. Although there were rumors that some Kaunas restaurants and bars did not resist the temptation to raise prices during the basketball weekend, the Rebels representative said that they decided to stay true to themselves and not raise the prices, instead increasing the flow of traffic with an additional outdoor bar and a screen broadcasting the game.


Seeking opportunities to increase tourist flows in the offseason


Although there was no shortage of complaints about the inflated prices of accommodation or spectators stranded on the highway traveling to the event, Tadas Stankevičius, the head of Kaunas IN, says that the overall situation in the city was similar to that of other major events held in Kaunas.

“The fact is that Kaunas residents who went out during the weekend saw a lot of foreign guests, which is not something that happens so often in Kaunas. But there were no major problems on the technical/logistical side. Restaurants were well prepared for the weekend, for example by increasing the number of their staff, updating their English-language menus, and stocking up on food and drinks. I myself had a lot of contact with foreign guests throughout the weekend, and the feedback from everyone was very positive. People staying in Kaunas enjoyed the city, while those staying in other places – Vilnius, Birstonas, Druskininkai, and Kaunas district – enjoyed the smooth public transport system. Nobody stood on the street asking how they could get to their bus or train. In fact, it seems that everyone – fans, Euroleague representatives, and journalists alike – were satisfied, especially since the weather was as expected, which certainly contributed to the overall great experience in Kaunas and Lithuania,” the head of Kaunas City Tourism, Business and Investment Development, and International City Marketing Agency says.

However, he does not deny that there is an issue of a lack of accommodation during major events in Kaunas and that average annual hotel occupancy rates are higher compared to similar cities in neighboring countries.

“We are trying to convince hotel developers or operators to take into account the opportunities in Kaunas. There are already at least a few planned new hotels that will increase the city’s ‘room stock’, so there will be more opportunities to stay in Kaunas during such events in the future. On the other hand, more accommodation would also mean that more events of a similar size could take place in Kaunas.

We are also working in another direction to boost the November-March period when there is a shortage of events in the city, which is reflected in the lower occupancy rates of hotels. To this end, we are working with Kaunas City Municipality to create financial incentives for event organizers who organize their events in the low season. We are particularly interested in promoting business and academic conferences in Kaunas, which, from a tourism perspective, generate a higher economic return for the city than conventional tourists coming for sightseeing purposes,” T. Stankevičius shared his insights.

The city is looking forward to the completion and opening of Science Island as it will be a major attraction and a product that will generate inbound tourism. Another promising facility is the Darius and Girėnas Stadium, with a capacity of up to 30,000 people (compared to 20,000 at Žalgiris Arena). There is great anticipation for the stadium’s operator to be selected. It will take care of concerts and mass events in the stadium. The spectators – event tourists – are another segment of the population that Kaunas is focusing on.


Source: A. Aleksandravičius

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