Floods: a heavy blow for Czech tourist industry

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The recent devastating floods have had a serious impact on all of the Czech economy. One of the industries to be affected as a whole is the incoming tourist industry. Normally, this is one of the most productive branches bringing a substantial revenue to the state coffers with little costs. Now, after the floods, people in the travel business expect a serious dropout in sales.

Prague, Charles bridge, Photo: CTK
Can we expect a long-lasting decline in incoming tourism? Definitely not. The afflicted towns have been quickly recovering from the disaster to welcome visitors again. Yet walking the streets of Prague's Old Town, normally swarming with foreigners at this time of year, feels somewhat different than usual these days. All the shops, cafes and restaurants are open, but their cosy gardens, are half empty. At first sight the floods did not affect the Old Town in any way - only here and there you can hear the hum of a dryer engine or spot a heap of damp wood and rusty metal piled up in front of a house - long-forgotten items that have been brought to the sunlight after many years of confinement in gothic and renaissance cellars.

One sunny afternoon earlier this week, in a café near the Old Town Square, I talked to Vladimir Dolejs, a member of the board of directors of the Czech Association of Travel Agencies and the general manager of DC Service, one of the biggest Czech incoming tour operators. I him asked first about the immediate impact of the floods on incoming tourism:

"The immediate impact was very big because a lot of tourists, groups and charters cancelled. The situation is going to be better but at the beginning of the floods, it was really terrible because I think I can say about 60 or 70 percent of the people planning to go to Prague cancelled their trips."

Can you estimate the financial losses of Czech travel agencies due to the floods?

"I am sorry but not yet because we have to check it. I think we need about one month for that. I can tell you later, but not yet."

Do tourists get their money back if they cancelled their trips to the Czech republic due to the floods?

"Of course. I think it has to be because we are a serious agency and I am sure the other agencies do it, too, because it's not the fault of the people, the problem is the flood, so all people will receive their money back."

Are foreign tourists coming to the Czech Republic facing any substantial limitations as to what places they can visit, where they can go?

"As far as I know, the situation is going to be better every day or every hour because Karlovy Vary is open for tourists, Cesky Krumlov is going to be open, and in Prague, you can see the situation - all the places except for Kampa, all the places in the historic parts of Prague are open and I think they are very good for tourists because there are not so many people here and everything is open, everything is in sunshine... I am sure people can come and spend very nice holidays here in Prague."

What about hotels? Have accommodation facilities in the Czech Republic been affected?

"Not so many. It could be about ten percent of hotel that are closed now after the floods. The other hotels are working as before. There is no difference between the time before the floods and now."

After the terrorist attack on the United States in September last year, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani invited tourists to the city, to spend their money there and help it recover from the disaster. Do you think Czech officials should do the same?

"It could be very helpful for the tourist business here in Prague, it would be very nice if someone from the ministry or maybe the minister himself said the situation here in Prague and other parts of the Czech Republic, I mean the tourist destinations, are open and offering all the services as before. As far as I know, we have one memorandum from the ministry of tourism here in the Czech Republic but this memorandum is only on the website of the Czech tourist authority and also for example on our website, but if somebody from the government says the situation here is good for tourists I am sure it would be very helpful."

Can you comment on the fact that some Czech embassies advised tourists not to come to the Czech Republic?

"I agree or I agreed at the beginning of the floods because the Czech Republic was not a country to spend a holiday in. But I think the situation changed now and I am sure the embassies will inform potential clients or visitors to Prague, to the Czech Republic, that everything is OK."

How fast do you think the Czech tourist industry will recover from what happened?

"You know, we in the tourist business we say that there is the so-called yo-yo effect in the tourist business: it can go very quickly down but very quickly up again. I think if everything goes well, the tourist business can come to the same level as before the floods maybe in one month."