Last year was a record year for Czech tourism, with over 6.4 million tourists visiting the Czech Republic. So far this year, visitor figures have been down by ten percent on last, prompting speculation that tourism in the Czech Republic has reached its peak. But Tomio Okamura, spokesperson for the Association of Czech Travel Agencies, has a different view. He believes that the potential for tourism here has been left largely unrealised, and last week launched a blistering attack on those who, he said, were watching Czech visitor numbers fall and doing nothing about it. Rosie Johnston has the story:
You wouldn't think it trying to elbow your way through the hundreds of tour-groups that fill central Prague at the moment, but visitor numbers to the Czech capital are in fact down on last year, by a remarkable ten percent. Yesterday, Tomio Okamura, who is responsible for bringing tens of thousands of Japanese tourists to the Czech Republic every year, issued a warning that this trend would continue if Czechs did not pull their socks up.
"The current situation is not so good. The main reason is that most people who might potentially visit the Czech Republic have already visited. The big question is how to get these people coming back for a second visit. We have stiff competition from Austria, which doesn't have the problems that the Czech Republic has with pick-pockets, and with bad behaviour."
The "bad behaviour" tourists complain about most often takes the form of those dastardly pick-pockets and rogue taxi drivers. Okamura says that the Czech government has known about these problems for a long time, and still it pour its money into administration, rather than tackling these problems on the ground.
What's more, tourists are turning away from the Czech Republic, because they no longer perceive it as a cheap place to go. But, according to Okamura, it need not be all doom and gloom. Most visitors only ever visit Prague on a trip to the Czech Republic, and if the rest of the country were to develop different sorts of tourism to attract visitors elsewhere, then this might well pull visitor numbers up. But again there's a catch:
"There is a total shortage of big international hotels in the Czech Republic's historical towns and countryside. And so we have the very problematic situation of local businessmen not wanting to build new hotels because there are no tourists, but travel agencies are unable to send their tourists there because there are no big hotels. And so it is necessary to give some incentives."
Czech Tourism (who promote the Czech Republic as a place to visit) respond that they have been doing all they can with the money that they have. According to them, they have spent 98% of the 238 million crowns they were given by the EU to attract foreign visitors Czech-wards. Their budget has gone on targeted advertising campaigns, with posters saying "Mozart visited Prague 5 times, what about you?" in Austria, and "The Czech Republic: A sea of possibilities in the heart of Europe" featuring on Italian billboards.
Another big initiative has been encouraging Czechs to holiday in their own country, and this seems to have been bearing fruit. With 57% of Czechs packing their suitcases and heading somewhere else in the republic on holiday, maybe they know something that we don't?
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