Only vaccinated allowed into Budapest's Christmas markets
Linda Kennedy in Budapest
Budapest's Christmas markets opened on Friday, requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative PCR test from shoppers before entry.
The markets opened a day before wearing masks indoors became compulsory in Hungary. The mask rule was announced after a sharp rise in cases, with 11,289 infections recorded on Friday, the highest daily total so far in the fourth wave.
Tourists have been back in Budapest for months now. Budapest-based Wizz Air returned to 2019 levels, flying 10 million passengers at 98 percent capacity in August.
But the run up to Christmas and New Year's Eve is crucial to Budapest, as January and February traditionally bring a decline in tourism. Then, holidaymakers' plans in the main turn to skiing. Hungary is not a ski destination.
From the start of December up to New Year's Eve, a normal year would see Budapest's deluxe hotels full. Thursday's announcement mandating masks indoors is causing anxiety.
Istvan Szelei, director of sales at Multigo, a company that runs tours and events, said: "Before the mask-wearing, things were very good. I mean, 80 or 90 percent of New Year's Eve was fully booked. I spoke with several hotels, they said it was looking good, but I spoke with them yesterday, just after the news and they were a little worried."
Outside the Christmas market at Budapest's world-famous St Stephen's Basilica, tourists appeared unworried about the requirement to wear a mask indoors.
One man from Spain, visiting with his Colombian partner, said: "We are not reluctant to travel. If there are more rules, we will have to implement them for ourselves but not gladly from my point of view."
A woman from Portugal said: "In shops, you need to wear a mask, in the supermarket, you need to wear a mask but in the street, no. So, Budapest has a lot of tourists now."
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory against going to Hungary because of "a very high level" of COVID-19 in the country.
Gabor Miko, whose company Orient Travel runs cruises on the Danube, is remaining optimistic this travel advisory won't affect boat trips for American tourists already in place for 2022.
"We have good hopes for the next year because we have a lot of bookings from the U.S. and other destinations as well, so we hope it will not be affected by the virus."