The closure of the Miskolctapolca tourist hotspot will affect surrounding businesses, and is yet another reminder of how the war is negatively impacting the global economy.
Staff turned off the lights and started draining the pools at Hungary’s famous Miskolctapolca cave baths on Monday, after the centuries-old attraction succumbed to a modern-day crisis — soaring gas prices.
Visitors have been coming to the vast cavern since before Roman times to bathe in its naturally heated waters. In recent years, the venue has relied on gas to top up the temperatures in the pools and the caves, particularly during winter.
But then Russia invaded Hungary’s neighbour Ukraine, sending shockwaves across the global economy and energy markets. For Miskolctapolca, and other businesses across Europe and beyond, that has filtered through in the form of crippling bills.
The cave — with its five bathing halls and labyrinthine passages with massage jets and echoing chambers — closed on Monday “for an indefinite period”, its operator, Miskolci Furdok, said in a statement.
“We have to close the Cave Bath, for one single reason: our gas usage in the three months from October to December will cost an additional 61 million forints ($140,000),” CEO Judit Nemeth said.
The closure will have an inevitable impact on hotels and guesthouses and other tourist businesses in the surrounding area — a worrying sign for an industry that had only recently started to recover from the Covid-19 slump.
Customers bathing in the waters for the last time before the weekend, said they were still hoping for a last minute reprieve.
“I cannot understand the closure of such a wonderful complex. The government supports all sorts of things. Couldn’t they just give some to this too?” said Andrea Muszka as she soaked in one of the pools.
“The hotels will go bankrupt as they are dependent on this,” her husband, Karoly Kerezsi, added.
But the reprieve didn’t come and the cave closed.
The company Miskolci Furdok had been loss-making for the past four years, with its 2021 revenue still substantially below pre-pandemic levels, company data showed.
The gas bill was the last straw.
The government has flagged financial help to small and medium-sized businesses working in key supply chains in the manufacturing sector to cope with rising energy costs but has yet to offer help to the service sector yet.
“If we could somehow find an energy efficient way to replace this huge gas price rise and if we could get some help,” said Nemeth, “then we would immediately start to explore that possibility.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo, additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs, Writing by Krisztina Than, Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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Photo credit: Gas prices to heat the pools would have cost the company an additional $140,000 from October through December. Derzsi Elekes Andor / Wikimedia