CzechTourism releases tourism forecast for 2006

Welcome to Spotlight, Radio Prague's travel programme taking you on a continuing journey through the Czech lands. In today's edition, though, not a destination but a look at trends in tourism. This week, the state-run agency CzechTourism, together with the private Association of Czech Travel Agencies, released tourism statistics for 2005 as well as the forecast for 2006. According to the survey, the outlook for the Czech tourist industry this year will once again be favourable.

Last year the country hosted a record 6.4 million visitors - 6 percent more than in 2004, and that number is expected to grow again in 2006. Visiting tourists are expected to spend around 110 billion crowns - the equivalent of 4.6 billion dollars US. On Tuesday, CzechTourism's director Rostislav Vondruska described some of the factors that he felt had had a positive influence in attracting foreign visitors:

"I think that overall it is the safety of our region, not only the Czech Republic, but Central and Eastern Europe; then we have to count on what I think is a very good ratio between price and the quality of services, and I would say it was also a consequence of communication with other parties responsible for the growth of tourism abroad."

Traditionally, the greatest number of visitors comes from neighbouring Germany and 2005 was no exception: some 1.6 million German tourists came to the Czech Republic last year. The Germans were followed by visitors from Great Britain - estimated at around 696,000, followed by the Italians and the Dutch. According to CzechTourism, ad campaigns in Germany and across Europe went a long way in attracting tourist interest. Even Poland, where interest had sagged, was successfully targeted in 2005. Ladislav Havel is the head of the Association for Czech Travel Agencies:

"It was a very humorous ad that showed Polish tourists stopped by a supposedly threatening Czech cop. He smiles and says 'Just a second, you can't leave, you haven't seen that castle yet.'"

CzechTourism also shifted gears from a highly-criticised ad from two years ago - featuring slowing down on golf courses and a snail - to a far more vibrant campaign featuring a couple on a whirlwind mini-break in Prague. The idea: to promote the capital as a city of culture where nothing should be missed. The slogan suggested visitors could "sleep when they got home". The hipsters live it up and when it comes time to leave, leave with dark rings under their eyes. CzechTourism director Rostislav Vondruska suggests the new campaign was almost certainly more apt:

"The so-called 'snail campaign' was focused on presenting the Czech Republic as a very safe and relaxing country. Which made sense from the point-of-view of tourism, but was less acceptable when it came to investment and trade and culture. The trend is presenting the Czech Republic abroad as a set of different activities. From this point of view, the snail campaign was not good. The 'sleep when you get home' campaign, on the other hand, is of course very different. You may like it, you might not like it, but for Prague it was a very good one, certainly presenting Prague as a 'destination'. "

Not surprisingly, last year around 60 percent of all of those who visited the Czech Republic visited Prague. Other areas included the famous west Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, and the wine region of southern Moravia. When it comes to Prague, it is difficult for other areas in the Czech Republic to compete. Six years ago, the Czech Republic was reorganised into fourteen regions, and local bureaux have taken to promoting the country along those lines. Some tourism-oriented DVDs have gone to great lengths to promote the geographical and historical diversity of the Czech Republic. But, CzechTourism's Rostislav Vondruska remains unconvinced that promotion of regions as regions always work. For foreign visitors coming to the country for the first time, the formal division of "regions" rarely means much.

Photo: Archive of Radio Prague
"I think, unfortunately, that the tourist regions they are not perceived as such from abroad. Many times. The Czech Republic is seen as very small country with only 10 million people. Prague serves as an icon for foreigners and I don't think there's anything wrong with presenting Prague as the main attraction, and having regions as a 'second step'. If you travel to Romania or Hungary, you definitely want to see Bucharest and Budapest, and only then, the rest. It's unrealistic to think that we will bring people to regions without having them visit Prague first. "

However, Ladislav Havel, of the Association for Czech Travel Agencies, stresses that specific regions can and do tailor campaigns on their merits and says that CzechTourism and the Association for Czech Travel Agencies cooperate specifically in this area to get information out.

"We encourage all regions to show us what they have to offer, we work hard with together with CzechTourism to get this information across. Material is distributed at information centres both in the Czech Republic and abroad. An effective example, is Southern Bohemia. There, they've put together a project called 'Otavska Plavba' - Boating on the Otava River, which maps the historic development of the river and surrounding areas in historic towns like Susice and Pisek. That has been a success, aimed at our Austrian and Bavarian neighbours."

According to CzechTourism's survey in 2006 the Czech Republic will see a continued rise in the umber of foreign visitors of around 4 percent - the equivalent of two to three hundred thousand more than last year. Factors having a positive impact include: improved local services prompting return visits, more direct flights to Prague than ever; and the continued low-relative cost of a Czech vacation. Even the fact that this summer Germany is holding a world-class event, the football World Cup next door, could have an impact

"We hope Prague will be more than a transit country. People can visit after going to the World Cup. You know, they may see a game or two, and if they come from afar, we hope they'll take the opportunity to visit countries like the Czech Republic then. "