With its inviting turquoise waters, white sandy banks, picturesque mountainous landscapes and resort towns, Hungary's Lake Balaton has plenty for tourists to write home about.
Already popular under communism, visitors still flock in increasing numbers to central Europe's largest lake to soak up its warm summer climate and enjoy the beaches, bars and eateries, as well as locally produced wines.
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But that's proving a headache for restaurant and hotel owners, who struggle to find workers, as unemployment in Hungary is historically low at 3.6 percent, while nationalist firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orban is strongly against immigration.
"It's impossible to find a gardener, or a waitress or a cook," said Balazs Banlaki, the owner of Kali-Kapocs, a restaurant nestled in the hills of Mindszentkalla on the northern shore of the lake, which lies about 80 kilometres southwest of the capital, Budapest.
One of the lake's harbours. (Photo: iStock)
Banlaki usually needs about 10 employees to run his restaurant, which he only opens during the summer months, but he has to do more and more himself.
"Before each new season, we repaint the restaurant, but even for that kind of work, it's me who takes up the brush now," he told AFP.
Banlaki recalled how last year he could only offer drinks, coffee and sandwiches because he could not find a cook.
After raising salaries, he is glad to have at least a handful of workers this year.
On the other side of the lake - known also for its big beach parties and discotheques - the high-end Plazs Siofok beach complex that can hold close to 10,000 people faces similar challenges.
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Due to its trendy image - with numerous restaurants, an outdoor gym, beach bars and a concert stage drawing Hungary's best DJs and singers - Plazs Siofok can attract student workers, Mazula said.
"They are certainly not professionals, but we train them before the season starts. Being involved and friendly and smiling is more important than knowing how to make complicated cocktails," she told AFP.
"But even with this system, you can see there are not enough waiters and waitresses to serve our clients."
At Siofok, mother-of-two Petra Lisztes, 39, said they spent several weeks at the lake every year and she had noticed that many of the small food and drinks stands had remained shut this time and that service in restaurants was slower.
The problem extends far beyond Lake Balaton.
Seen as a relatively cheap holiday destination, the number of tourists to Hungary has climbed 7% this year so far, according to official data released by the KSH Hungarian Central Statistical Office, after already reaching a record 29.5 million hotel overnight stays last year.
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To compensate for a lack of workers, several Budapest hotels have started to simplify reception services inspired by airline companies' online check-in systems.
But the problem is hard to solve for jobs that require expertise, such as cooks, head waiters and waitresses or managers.
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