Economic downturn could make Czech Republic more attractive to American visitors, says head of CzechTourism in US

With thousands of Americans visiting the Czech Republic every year, the United States is one of the most important markets for CzechTourism. How does the state tourist board go about attracting US tourists? And after the boom of the 1990s, can it persuade Americans to keep coming back? At her New York office, I discussed those questions and more with Michaela Pálková-Claudino, director of CzechTourism in the US.

Michaela Pálková-Claudino
“The CzechTourism office was established about ten years ago as part of the Czech Centre. Our main goal it to promote tourism to the Czech Republic. Basically, we’re trying to get as many Americans as possible to come to the Czech Republic.

“We work with the trade, we work with the general public and we also work with the press.”

How do you, in concrete terms, go about trying to attract Americans to the Czech Republic?

“As I said we work with the travel trade and with the press. These are the two main areas where we try to promote the Czech Republic.

“Unfortunately our funds are not big enough to promote heavily among the general public, so we do it through the trade and the press. Through the trade we organise several seminars, we train travel agents to be specialists, to sell the Czech Republic.

“We do only a few events geared towards the general public, it’s mostly geared towards the trade.

“When it comes to press, we organise press trips, we work with independent freelance journalists, we try to help then set itineraries. We help TV crews to set itineraries and to go to the Czech Republic. So these are the ways we try to promote the Czech Republic here.”

I come from Ireland myself and I think every Irish person has already been to the Czech Republic. I presume most of the people that you’re working with have already been there as well. Is it hard – given the fact that Prague and the Czech Republic had a boom in the 1990s – to keep it attractive, to keep people interested?

“It certainly is hard. Given the amount of holidays that Americans have, which is only two weeks, they look for new things when they travel to Europe.

“Most of the Americans who come usually do the Prague-Vienna-Budapest triangle, they try to combine destinations. If they go back they would stay in one particular country – in the Czech Republic, let’s say – and they stay a little bit longer and travel a little bit more.

“It is hard to convince them to come back again. Most Americans go once and that’s it, then they go to a different European country.

“Maybe with the economic situation nowadays we might have a better chance to attract more Americans than we had a few years ago, when London, Paris and other European capitals were really on top of the list. Now with those cities becoming more expensive maybe people will turn to central and eastern Europe.”

Do you target any particular segment of the American public?

“We definitely try to target baby-boomers, which is a large group here – they are 55 and over, people who have time to travel and have the money to travel. That’s definitely one group that we target.

“We also try to target young travellers, and present the Czech Republic as a cool, hip destination.”

Can a body like yours in any way measure its success?

“That’s a difficult question. How do you measure success? I think the standard answer would be by the numbers of visitors, by the number of Americans who come.

“I will be very humble and I wouldn’t say the numbers only depend on the work of the Czech Tourist Authority here in the US. It’s definitely the work of the tour operators, it’s the work of the airlines promotions, etc, etc.

What about the name of the country? A few years ago I visited the CzechTourism office in London – they had tried and failed to introduce the name Czechia. Have you had any experience with that, have you tried using Czechia?

“I personally haven’t tried using Czechia, because it’s very tricky. Czechia can be confused very often with Chechnya here, so Czech Republic is the name that we…continue promoting here.

“I have to say that Prague is sometimes more well known than the Czech Republic itself. So Prague has a very good name on the US market and our goal is to promote parts of the Czech Republic beyond Prague, and we’re trying to do that. But the Czech Republic it is, not Czechia.”