Local Economic Power of settlements is an important indicator in the Lake Balaton region showing the economic development levels of local communities. The indicator is based on re-calculating county level GDP data to municipal level. Taking into account nominal absolute values, the regional economy continually developed until 2008 (although there were signs of slowing down in 2005-2006). Then there was a sharp decline in 2009 mainly due to the global economic crisis. In line with international and national trends, in the recent years there has not been considerable economic growth in the region either.
The per capita income of the region shows a unique course of change following the “political transition” (change of the political and economic system from socialism to capitalism) started in 1989. The period of crisis was shorter and the depression was less serious in the region due to the smaller share of heavy industries in the regional economy and due to the higher than average entrepreneurial activity. In this way, in the initial period of changes, the region was in a more favourable competitive position as compared to other regions and could secure this position up to the end of the 1990s.
The number of registered business operating in the region is more than 53,000. The vast majority of them (40,000) are private enterprise. In the 2000s, the number of registered businesses per 1,000 inhabitants in the Lake Balaton Region exceeded the national and Hungarian rural averages, but in the middle of the decade it got closer to the national average due to the economic decline. Nevertheless, business density in the region is still high above the national level. This well represents the power of the widespread service sector and the diversity of tourism and regional economy, which provide livelihood for many businesses indirectly.
In case of analysing the economic structure of the region according to the main branches of the national economy, it can be concluded that services sector is absolute dominant in the area. Being a Lake Balaton-specific sector, the ratio of enterprises related to accommodation services, hospitality, real estate and commerce is significant. About 32% of the businesses are directly related to tourism, which is a good indicator for showing the strength of tourism sector in the regional economy.
Lake Balaton’s local economy is based on tourism activities. The Lake Balaton tourism play important role in the national economy too: about one third of tourism related revenues of the country are generated in the area.
Most important tourism attractions of the region are the following:
• Fresh water lake suited for bathing,
• Areas of nature and landscape preservation – Balaton Uplands National Park,
• Diverse natural environment,
• Historical wine regions, wine-related culture,
• Thermal water resources,
• Health resorts of particular/national importance,
• National monuments,
• Castles and fortresses,
• Monuments of folk architecture,
• Historical and cultural traditions, craftsmanship,
• Numerous musical, theatrical, gastronomic and sports events and festivals (such as Balaton Swimming Race, “Valley of Arts” Cultural Festival and the Balaton Sound Music Festival).
Tourism attractions of the Lake Balaton Region provide a colourful palette of opportunities for tourists and recreational guests. Following recent trends in demands, developing health tourism, water-related tourism and cycling tourism has become priority for development. Estimated at about 500,000 beds, the majority of accommodations of the country are located in the Lake Balaton Region.
In 2011, there were 576 commercial accommodations in the Lake Balaton region, including 191 hotels (of which 17 are medical and 29 are wellness hotels), 158 family-operated pensions, 128 apartment hotels, 52 campsites and 47 community accommodation facilities (e.g. hostels, etc.).
Due to the construction boom of family holiday houses in the last few decades, private room renting to tourists is an important segment of accommodation services. Private accommodations provide around 118,000 beds for guests. The majority of accommodations (95%) are situated at lake-side settlements. Similarly to the case of commercial accommodations, private room renting is also more important at coastline communities than in the background settlements.
Lake Balaton Region is the second most important tourism destination in Hungary (following the capital city of Budapest). In 2012, 4.4 million guest nights were registered in the area, which shows a 2.5% increase compared to the previous year. 20% of guest nights registered in the country were listed in the region. 39% of the guest nights registered in the region were spent by foreign guests, while 61% by domestic tourists.
In recent years, nearly 1,300,000 guests stayed at commercial accommodation facilities in the Lake Balaton Region, which number is supplemented with some hundreds of thousands of visitors, choosing to stay at private accommodations. During the last decade, the number of domestic tourists has grown by 60%, which shows the increasing role of the lake and its surroundings in domestic tourism.
Tourism of Lake Balaton is highly concentrated. The majority of accommodations are located at coastline or near-by settlements. Moreover, they are situated at bigger communities. Actually 4 settlements dominates the accommodation facilities in the region (namely Hévíz, Siófok, Zalakaros and Balatonfüred), which are giving nearly 50% of total guest nights registered in the region.
Tourism in the Lake Balaton region shows the following characteristics:
• the actual high season is limited to 4 to 6 weeks in July and August (depending on the weather);
• the average stay is 3 to 5 days (the so-called long-weekends are preferred);
• the average per capita spending of tourists is well below the EU average,
• instead of organized tours, tourists come independently,
• the number of foreign holiday home owners has increased, thereby decreasing the demand for commercial accommodation;
• solvency of tourists has decreased, thereby more people are using various discounts, coupons and vouchers.