However distant summer may seem in the bleak days of February, many people have already started planning their summer holidays. And as I found out at last week's huge travel fair in Prague, Czech travel agents, hotels and tour guides are busy preparing for all those foreign tourists that may want to spend their vacation in the Czech Republic.
One of the country's most popular ski-resorts, Harrachov, which has only 1730 inhabitants and is just about five minutes away from the Polish border. Situated some 650 metres above sea level in Northern Bohemia, Harrachov's main profit comes from tourism. There are over ten ski lifts and 8 trails in the area and lit slopes make it possible to ski in the evening. Conditions for both downhill and cross-country skiing are favourable and one can even find ski-jumps, where some World Cups take place.
It's been absolutely freezing here in the Czech Republic for the last week or so, and the weather forecasters say we can expect the sub zero temperatures to last for another month. While just waiting for the tram for ten minutes makes most of us shiver, spare a thought for the poor souls who have to work outside all day in such weather. On Wednesday morning I braved the elements to see what life is like these days for stall-holders on Prague's Charles Bridge.
We all know that Prague is a major international tourist destination, but have you ever wondered where the Czechs go on holiday? While Czech travel agencies advertise tickets and deals for far away places all over the world, the most popular destination for Czechs is a place not so far away. It's somewhere Slavic, and somewhere with a sea. It's Croatia. And every year around a million Czechs holiday there - or one-tenth of the Czech Republic's population.
Analysts say foreign currency revenues from tourism fell by over 10 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2002, mainly due to the strong crown. They said the strong crown was responsible for 95 percent of the fall, while the floods in August could be responsible for a 7 - 8 percent fall in the number of hotel bookings by the end of the year.
Prague authorities have announced the city is safe and as beautiful as ever in order to reassure foreign visitors who might be apprehensive because of the recent flood. According to the city's mayor Igor Nemec foreign media are still presenting what he termed "an apocalyptic image of Prague". The city is suffering major losses in tourism revenues as visitors are cancelling their stays. The city-hall has said the renewal of the flooded areas is progressing fast. On Wednesday Prague's 14th-century Charles Bridge reopened to the public and as of Thursday, boats will be cruising again on the river in the centre of Prague.