CzechTourism head Jan Herget: This year we want to show Czechia through its traditions

Czech glassmaking tradition

Spring is in the air and the country’s tourist industry is preparing for the annual influx of foreign visitors. What are the main tourist attractions this year, is Prague still a magnet for foreign tourists and can the country hope to return to pre-Covid figures? I spoke to Jan Herget, the head of CzechTourism about what Czechia has to offer in 2023.  

Jan Herget | Photo: CzechTourism

“Czechia is full of cultural heritage sites, beautiful landscape, national parks and vibrant dynamic new cities, but also old picturesque small cities like Český Krumlov. Naturally, the main attraction is our capital Prague which attracts tourists from all over the world – the US, Israel, India, France…Prague is definitely our highlight, but we naturally try to attract tourists to all destinations in Czechia, to get them to visit the regions.”

How many tourists come to Czechia annually and have we returned to pre-Covid figures?

“In the pre-Covid days we used to have more than 10 million foreign visitors a year. Last year there were 7.4 million. So there has been a decline in foreign tourists, but domestic tourism – Czechs travelling around Czechia – reached a historical record and we had more tourists from neighbouring Slovakia as well.”

What do foreign tourists generally come to see and what would you like to draw attention to?

“As I already mentioned the main attraction is Prague, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) Český Krumlov, Kutná Hora and other historical cities and spa towns. Foreign tourists appreciate our UNESCO heritage and I would say that Czechia has the highest density of UNESCO heritage sites per square kilometer. But we are trying to promote the whole country – for example Ostrava with its technical heritage, Plzen –the capital of beer, the two Czech candidates for the title European Capital of Culture, Broumov and České Budejovice,one in north and one in south Bohemia, and of course the country’s famous spa resorts Karlovy Vary, Teplice but also Moravian spas.”

Kutná Hora | Photo: Markéta Vejvodová,  Czech Radio

So you are trying to get tourists outside of Prague – but what are the conditions for that? Is the infrastructure adequate, accommodation facilities and language skills?

“Naturally, there are differences. There are destinations which are fully prepared for tourists of all nationalities, such as Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Ceske Budejovice and others. I would say that the small villages in Moravia are prepared for German-speaking  and Slovak-speaking tourists, but the foreign tourists who go to undiscovered destinations are travelers who want to explore and discover. They intentionally avoid the tourist traps, want to discover new places and do not expect everything to be ready for them. The main tourist destinations are, of course, prepared for tourists of all nationalities.”

České Budějovice | Photo: Vít Pohanka,  Czech Radio

What countries do foreign tourists to Czechia mostly come from and what influences their choice?

“That has changed. Nowadays the three top countries are Germany, Poland and Slovakia – all neighbor states. Before Covid we had a lot of Asian tourists – from China, South Korea but also Russia. One of the reasons why it changed was Covid and a lack of long-haul direct flights. So I am very happy to announce that as on March 27 we will have a direct route from Prague to Soul, in June a direct route to Taipei and the direct route to New York will be prolonged from the May-September period to April-November. With Prague’s main international airport we are working to open more direct routes for tourists.

“And it is clear that in the present day and age we have to attract tourists via the digital environment. We try to work with online platforms, influencers, social media. After two years of Covid we also need to go to the biggest travel fairs in London, Berlin and elsewhere. I am really happy to see that everyone wants to reconnect and restart the business because after two years of Covid tourists and business people are ready and eager to travel to countries of the world, including Czechia.”

Prague | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

Is there anything you can do to keep foreign tourists here for longer? Because for most of them Prague is a one-day-stop or two-day-stop on a European tour.

“It is mostly Asian tourists who tour Europe in this manner. I think that what helps are the attractions. Last year Moravia opened the longest hanging bridge in the world, and this year in just a few days we will open Pilsner Urquell: The Original Beer Experience –an interactive beer centre in Prague, and you have UNESCO cultural heritage sites around the country. So the more attractions you have the longer tourists stay. That’s also valid for the Asian tourists who move quickly from place  to place.

“As regards tourists from Germany, Poland, Slovakia and other states close to us – they often come for what we call “active holidays”  which means skiing in the winter and biking or hiking in the summer.  Last year we opened a network of Czech trails around the country. Covering them all would take you more than a year, but people can select certain routes that take 2 or 3 days. People on active holidays regularly stay longer – they spend a week here with the family, their kids.

Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International

“Then there are those who come to our spas. Spa treatment takes at least two weeks on average. If you compare the length of tourists stays in our spa resorts they are clearly above the average.”

I understand you also want to present the country’s success stories, Czechia’s history, its famous personalities, is that right?

Photo: Crystal Valley

“Absolutely. This year we have a campaign called Traditions and we want to show Czechia through its traditions. We want to show traditions that are being maintained and developed into something modern. A nice example is Crystal Valley in northern Bohemia where the country’s famous glass tradition was born, we have the new Glass House in Nový Bor with many nice workshops where tourists can not only buy glass souvenirs, but see how they are produced, and sometimes even try their hand at the craft and produce their own glass “masterpiece”. So there are many, many beautiful, small, hidden places that offer a rich and unexpected experience.”

Prague was long known as a popular destination for stag parties, beer and girls. Have you managed to change that?

Karlín,  Prague 8 | Photo: Olga Vasinkevich,  Radio Prague International

“Together with Prague City Hall we are trying to present Prague as a cultural destination. Prague is full of cultural events – Prague Spring, Prague Autumn, the Signal festival of light, but also music festivals for younger people. So we are definitely working to present the city as a cultural destination – not only highlighting the historic city centre, Prague Castle and Charles Bridge but also the young hipster districts of Prague 7 and Prague 8. I also hope that the planned Vltava Philharmonic Hall in Prague 7 will change the image of that part of Prague. So, yes, our aim and goal is to present Prague as a cultural destination.”

Do you want to attract other kinds of tourists to Czechia or are you happy with the present mix?

Photo: Karolína Rezková,  Czech Radio

“Our priority this year is to attract more tourists from Asia. After Covid the number of tourists from Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan decreased to zero. These tourists are a big portfolio in our tourist industry. They spend money, they like to travel outside of Prague –they go to Český Krumlov, Telč, Lednice, Brno, Olomouc …and that is something that we need to bring back. As I already mentioned we are working on direct flights to South Korea and Taiwan but not only that. So Asian tourists and also tourists from North America are a big priority in the next year or two.”

You have already mentioned some highlights of the tourist season this year – is there anything more that you would like to mention?

“It may be strange to say this in the spring, but some people plan their holidays way ahead, so I will say that the Christmas markets and Christmas experience in Czechia is unique. And, my hope is that we will bring back the international congresses and conferences. Prague used to be one of the top congress cities in Europe. Last year we hosted a big summit during Czechia’s  EU presidency. So that is another goal we want to focus on – to bring back the congresses, conferences and other international events to Czechia – not just to Prague, but also to Brno and Ostrava. We want to attract not only leisure tourists but also congress tourists.”