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A ‘Socialist Hellhole’ struggles to keep up with booming tourism
[COPENHAGEN] A country that was recently the target of a Fox Business monologue on the evils of socialism has become a magnet for tourists.
Denmark is set to welcome a record number of travelers this year. Its life philosophy of "hygge," a world-famous foodie scene and a wildly popular Nordic Noir film industry are among attractions luring tourists. The Danish Chamber of Commerce estimates that at the current rate, hotels in the country will respond to the influx by providing enough beds to accommodate 10 million tourists by 2021, which is almost twice Denmark's population.
Notable recent visitors include the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who in a New York Times column noted that Denmark is "doing a very good job of hiding" its alleged status as a "socialist hellhole."
Given the buzz around visiting Denmark and with hotel occupancy rates already around 80 per cent, the industry is planning to raise supply considerably to accommodate even more tourists. And as banks and other businesses move into cheaper accommodation, hotels are popping up in prime locations everywhere. Examples include a five-star waterfront Hilton that is due to replace the local headquarters of the Nordic's biggest bank, Nordea. At the other end of the scale, the budget chain Wakeup is adding hundreds of rooms across the city.
In all, there'll be about 8,000 more rooms over the next four years, raising supply at a rate of around 11 per cent per year (in contrast, a total of 6,500 rooms were added in the previous 17-year period).
The Copenhagen tourism board, Wonderful Copenhagen, is forecasting an annual growth rate in visitors of 3.9 percent, raising projected hotel stays to around 7.58 million a year by 2021.
The expected increase in demand may fall short of supply. But Lars Ramme Nielsen, head of tourism at the Danish Chamber of Commerce, says giving customers more choice is well worth the risk, given that a standard room in an average hotel today can cost more than US$250 per night.
City officials say they want to build on the popularity of restaurants like Noma to lure more foodies and turn Copenhagen into the gastronomical capital of Europe. Unusually warm weather and hosting of the ice hockey World Cup in May helped push arrivals in the first half of the year to a record.
In his column, Krugman spoke glowingly of a bike ride he made from Copenhagen to Helsingor (the Elsinor in Shakespeare's Hamlet). However, a note of caution is warranted. Danes take bike riding very seriously and the best way to anger a local as a tourist (aside from criticizing the socialist welfare model) is to stand in the middle of one of the country's many bike lanes.
With 350 kilometers of dedicated paths and lanes, Copenhagen is considered the most bike-friendly city in the world. About a third of its citizens cycle to work on a regular basis, and rent-a-bike businesses have multiplied.
"I don't think the tourists realize how hardcore cycling in Copenhagen is," said Christian Vas, a 38-year-old Hungarian waiter who drives a typical Christiania cargo bike and who made the city his home four years ago.
Aurimas Mul, a 30-year-old business owner, notes that tourists are easy to spot on their rented bikes, so the trick is "to keep your distance, especially when I ride my racing bike."