Capital of Culture: success or failure?

Lithuania's tenure as European Capital of Culture started with a bang with the New Year's Eve fireworks, but will it be remembered as a fizzle?

Lithuania's tenure as European Capital of Culture started with a bang with the New Year's Eve fireworks, but will it be remembered as a fizzle?

VILNIUS — To quote Dickens: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

With Vilnius’ year as European Capital of Culture coming to a close, it’s clear the long list of festivities and cultural programs failed to attract more tourists to the largest Baltic state. Recurring headlines about embezzlement and wasteful spending tarred the reputation of the Vilnius — European Capital of Culture 2009 group tasked with coordinating events. However, organizers say a long-term impact on the country’s cultural scene will be felt, as events and activities tried for the first time this year could blossom into new traditions and that the city’s increased international exposure could foster a future upswing in tourism.

The economic crisis, which hit Lithuania among the hardest of any country in the world, was a major obstacle in the way of bringing more tourists and their foreign currencies into the coffers of local businesses. The figures show this obstacle was not overcome. According to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics’ latest room occupancy rates, the 2009 numbers from January to September show a 21.8 percent decrease from the same period in 2008. Instead of celebrating, hotels spent the year protesting value-added tax increases on top of lower occupancy rates. Meanwhile the collapse of Lithuanian national airline flyLAL made Vilnius more expensive and inconvenient to reach as direct flights to most of Europe’s major cities were eliminated.

Evalda Šiškauskienė, president of the Lithuanian Hotel and Restaurant Association, points to a lack of marketing abroad by the government promoting Lithuania as a tourist destination during the Capital of Culture year.

“On tourists’ map of the world, there is no positive image of Lithuania at all,” Šiškauskienė told Baltic Reports.

Vilnius — European Capital of Culture 2009 Director Rolandas Kvietkauskas agreed that marketing was not properly executed. Kvietkauskas is the event’s second director after the first, Elona Bajorinienė, was forced to resign in February 2009 amid amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement. The prosecutor general’s investigation into the project’s finances under Bajorinienė’s watch is ongoing.

“We could not use the tools to promote the city, the marketing … due to budgeting cuts,” Kvietkauskas told Baltic Reports.

In addition to advertising, the cuts also forced the cancellation of numerous events that had been under consideration which Kvietkauskas said would have further enriched the year’s schedule.

Legacy may prove project’s success

However, even if it wasn’t enough to bring more visitors this year, Kvietkauskas says that the program has increased international awareness of Lithuania’s historic capital.

“For the first time we could say we had very concentrated information, very planned information to the outside world,” Kvietkauskas said. “I think Vilnius became more known. This was a goal.”

He also asserted that new ideas this year would make a lasting impact on the city’s cultural scene.

“We had a number of new ideas which really found their place,” Kvietkauskas said. “Like the Street Musician Day, the Vilnius Opera Festival. We were trying to go into the spaces that were not used before for cultural things, like the railway station, like the bus station, like the river. We saw a lot of possibilities for investing in young artists.”

Bad debt

In the meantime the Vilnius — European Capital of Culture 2009 debt problem is being resolved, as the Vilnius municipality has agreed to cover the outstanding debt accrued in 2008.

“Actually, what we have still from 2008 is debt which is approximately €150,000 but those questions are on the way to being solved and we see that it depends on the municipality and how they will cover those debts,” Kvietkauskas said.

7 Responses for “Capital of Culture: success or failure?”

  1. european says:

    it was a complete failure!
    I registered as an ambassador for culture program….however communication was absent. No contact t ambassadors. The very good idea to use word to mouth marketing wasnt used at all. At some events people couldnt find attractions bcs of overdesigned but useless information material or people couldnt see anything due to down to earth stages. At the end I knew that events in 2009 will be as stressy as in 2008 and before that I most times stayed away and when I went it was the same as before. Management was rather bad… a high fluctuation of people wrking with VEKS couldnt garantuee sustainable management and of course budget cuts and a missing airline flying to Vilnius. Vilnius as missed its chance and I am afraid Tallinn will do so too…. Vilnius was so unsuccessful that even the new capital of culture, the city of Essen firstly refused to send a representative too receive the key….however someone came finally…

  2. Billy Bob says:


    Not only did flylal go bankrupt, but the second biggest airline pulled out at the same time, Air Baltic, and why….. because Lithuania thinks that they are better and bigger than anybody else in Europe, they think they can get away with charging what they want and going against the flow of normal business practices …

    Vilnius airlines had the most expensive landing fees in Europe, a little back water country with not too much to offer and they think they can charge large fees to airlines, well they soon learnt their lesson this year, but how long will it take for them to forget it,

    Now Vilnius airport has the lowest landing fees in Europe, 2 things are going to happen because of this

    1, airlines will start to come back (as they already have

    2, more tourists and visitors will start coming back to Vilnius and hopefully put Lithuania back on the tourist map.

    Oh forgot number 3, Lithuania will forget all the lessons it learnt this year and as soon as things start recovering they will increase charges again and the whole cycle will start again, it already took Vilnius airport 10 months to realise that if it dropped its fess then airlines will come back, I am pretty sure it will take less than that for them to start increasing the fees again.

  3. Billy Bob says:

    Oh forgot to say … reason why it was a total failure .. NOBODY COULD GET HERE !!!!!!!!!

  4. Henk says:

    I was also ambassador for this event, in the Netherlands. I can savely say that 150 people didn’t visit Vilnius for two reasons

    1. No airplanes ( you won’t believe it !)
    2. No normal guide with programmes of any kind. The info that was there by the way only in Lithuanian, so that also didn’t help

    So 150 x 4 days x 100 Euro = 60.000 EURO down the drain

    Big Big fail !

  5. fried toast peter says:

    It’s been yet another absolute disaster for Lithuanian, let down as ever by its corrupt, inept politicians.

    Lithuania really does have so much potential in so many ways, but is hindered utterly by its elite. Why does a country of so many well-educated people accept it?

    Its time the Lithuanians stood up to their idiot, bloodsucking political masters.

  6. Vadimas says:

    S*** happens: But why it happens more often in Lithuania?

  7. Jaay says:

    Lack of experience and expertise in organizing such events resulted in what it had to result in. Let’s just hope the organizers and the governments will have their lesson learnt.

    At least the airport fees are finally down… and they will finally allow a free 15 minute parking near the airport building for those waiting to pick up their friends or family members coming to Vilnius.

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