Tired of an image as a haven for scams and intimidation, senior Latvian police and foreign ministry officials unveiled plans to make the nation's capital, Riga, a more welcoming destination, dpa reported.
Under pressure from foreign embassies to tackle incidents in which visitors have reported being massively overcharged for drinks or intimidated by security staff in the city's bars and nightclubs, foreign ministry official Alda Vanaga and head of the Riga criminal police department, Ints Kuzis, outlined proposals aimed at making it easier for foreigners to lodge an official complaint.
"There have been cases of fraud against foreign tourists and the ministry is keen to address these issues," said Vanaga.
According to the new proposals, police patrols operating in Riga will be given access to a 24-hour translation hotline to help them liaise with tourists. It will be possible for tourists with a grievance to lodge their complaint in English or German rather than Latvian.
Police chief Kuzis said the problems first occurred in 2005. Then, police staged a successful concerted action to protect foreign tourists from extortion and physical assault.
"But at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, this phenomenon has returned to the city," Kuzis said, adding that around 180 criminal proceedings had been launched.
Kuzis described a typical scam in which a "hostess" lures clients into a club where they are invited to buy a drink - or several - and then presented with a large bill.
"The client is not really aware that this is some kind of paid service and what price this drink will cost," he said.
Kuzis advised that when ordering drinks such as champagne, customers should specify which champagne they want, thus avoiding buying a bottle worth 800 lats (1400 dollars) when they might have preferred one for 30 lats (50 dollars).
He told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that organized crime did not play a significant role in systematically defrauding tourists.
"We advise people to pay in cash and pay for each round of drinks separately," Kuzis said.