Low on vacation time, Americans want the highlights when they visit Czechia, says marketer Jiří Dužár

Jiří Dužár, photo: Michal Guzi

Visit Czech Republic posts wonderful photos on social media aimed at lovers of the country and potential first-time travellers to this part of the world. In North America, Visit@CZ – which is run by state agency CzechTourism – is represented by digital and social marketer Jiří Dužár. When we chatted in New York, topics included the images of the Czech Republic that do best on social media, the importance of travel bloggers, Dužár’s own work as a photographer and a lot more.

Jiří Dužár,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Prague,  photo: Marta Guzmán
I’m sure CzechTourism and the Czech tourism industry in general would prefer if more people travelled outside Prague. Is that something you’re pushing with Visit Czech Republic?

“Well, that’s the main challenge – the main challenge for CzechTourism is to make people inspired about other parts of the Czech Republic beyond Prague.

“Especially here in the US, and Canada, it’s a big challenge, because Prague is usually the first thing that comes to people’s minds.

“When we look at the statistics, we see that 85 percent of Americans and Canadians stay in Prague only.

“Tour operators developed itineraries 10 or 15 years ago that combine Prague with Vienna and Budapest and even after 10 or 15 years those packages sell incredibly.”

“So most of our efforts and campaigns are spreading the good word about the Czech regions.

“Yeah, the majority of content on those [social media] channels is definitely more than 50 percent other places than Prague.”

I guess tour operators play a big role in this. Is there anything CzechTourism can do to encourage them to bring people outside Prague more?

“Working with tour operators is another part of our job.

“We are a member of the US Tour Operators Association and every year we meet with the big shots, with the big names that bring thousands and thousands of people to Europe.

“But we have found the hard way that these businesses are really hard to work with.

Kutná Hora,  photo: JIří Trnka,  Czech Radio
“Because they developed itineraries 10 or 15 years ago that combine Prague with Vienna and Budapest and even after 10 or 15 years those packages sell incredibly.

“So we keep meeting them and pushing them, saying, Can you add, like, one destination here, one destination there.

“And they are, like, Yeah, sure, we’ll think about it.

“They will maybe add Český Krumlov or Kutná Hora, which is great, but they often do it only as a day-trip, so the visitors don’t stay there overnight.

“So I think our main focus is to inspire solo travellers, as we call them in our industry FIT, free individual travellers, or independent travellers that want to see something else than just the capital.”

Český Krumlov,  photo: Asahiko CC BY 4.0
I presume hotels must also be an issue, especially for American travellers who may be used to a particular level of hotel that they wouldn’t find in every Czech town?

“That is true. Americans are very… I don’t want to say spoiled, but they definitely have some sort of standard for accommodation.

“Our research shows that more than 42 percent of Americans stay in five-star hotels while in the Czech Republic.

“So there are 500,000 Americans and more than 40 percent stay in five-star hotels.

“That’s one of the reasons they choose Prague, because they also have the international brands they know from here; they have the Four Seasons of the world, and Hiltons, Mandarin Orientals and others.

“So they maybe feel more comfortable with them.

“Also Americans are obsessed with collecting hotel points – that’s why they choose international chains.

“Tour operators developed itineraries 10 or 15 years ago that combine Prague with Vienna and Budapest and even after 10 or 15 years those packages sell incredibly.”

“But you’d be surprised, there are more Americans that will tell you, I would rather stay in a boutique hotel that is locally owned.”

It could be locally owned but not very boutique, if they go to some small town.

“That is true. But, you know, in the Czech Republic we have more than 80 five-star hotels.

“Fifty of them are in Prague and the rest are spread… for instance in West Bohemia, Karlovy Vary, which has the spa tradition and is used to welcoming guests that need luxury.

“But these days people also look for unique accommodation, like off the beaten path.

“They want to find to escape the daily hustle and bustle of the cities they come from, so some of them will venture out to the Czech countryside, find a cottage and stay there for a day or two.”

Jiří Dužár,  photo: Michal Guzi
In terms of the content of your social media output, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, what kind of stuff tends to be a hit? What gets a big reaction?

“That comes back to the popularity of Prague we discussed earlier.

“If we post a picture of Prague, we know immediately it’s going to be a hit.

“But sometimes we show places like other UNESCO sites, and people can never believe that we have 12 UNESCO sites, for a country that is as big as, I don’t know, Massachusetts.

“So I think historical buildings, castles – everything that shows history and age is exciting for people.

“And then, surprisingly, winter photos work really well.

“When there is snow in Prague or Český Krumlov, or if we show a picture of a castle that is covered in snow, people are just wowed.”

Is UNESCO really a factor for people? I had never much heard of UNESCO before I came to the Czech Republic and people there really talk about it a lot. To get on the list is seen as really important. Is it really that important?

Prague,  photo: Marta Guzmán
“I think that for many travellers it is important, because they see it as a staple of quality.

“When Americans travel they want to make the most out of their free time.

“Because they don’t have much of it. Americans are sometimes nicknamed the ‘no-vacation nation’.

“So when they travel they want to see the best things, the highlights, and they want to come back and talk about their experience and basically brag about it in front of their family and friends.

“I think that UNESCO has some sort of a validation, that this is a highlight and I will have a story to tell after I come back.”

“More than 42 percent of Americans stay in five-star hotels while in the Czech Republic. That’s one of the reasons they choose Prague.”

You also work with travel bloggers. Why is it important for you to engage with bloggers?

“We started working with travel bloggers because they are a great source of content.

“So if we want to post on social media on a daily basis, we easily run out of photos that photographers who work for us did.

“Also on social media people want to see more authentic content – not only sunrise shots of a beautiful landscape.

“So I think that one thing is that travel bloggers provide that kind of content, which looks like user-generated content.

“But some of them also add their personality, so people like to follow them and their stories.

“And the second main reason besides content is that through them we are able to target completely different audiences than we do using traditional advertising; even paid digital advertising will not reach the same kind of audience.

Ostrava Vítkovice,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“So I think that people who follow travel bloggers are likely to get inspired and visit a place that they see on someone’s picture or in a video.”

Also I guess they must be relatively adventurous travellers and would go for example to, I don’t know, Ostrava or somewhere like that?

“Yes, that’s for sure. But these days there are maybe too many travel bloggers.

“A lot of them are travel divas that will only stay in five-star hotels.

“But some are not afraid to experiment and to explore some unknown parts, maybe like Ostrava as you mentioned.”

Your content isn’t only aimed at people in North America – Visit Czech Republic is for the whole world, I guess. Why do you need to be based here?

“When I started working on social media here we were primarily targeting people from the US and Canada only.

“But, especially on Twitter and Instagram over the years, we saw that our accounts picked up significant followings from other English-speaking countries as well.

“People can never believe that we have 12 UNESCO sites for a country that is as big as, I don’t know, Massachusetts.”

“Then those accounts became somehow global, though we are still advising the team at headquarters in the Czech Republic, which is now taking over the accounts and making them real global accounts.

“But the reason why I’m sitting here is that I don’t do social media.

“I work with local journalists, I organise events and press conferences, I work with trade, with tour operators and travel agents.

“So it’s not only a digital world that I live in, there’s also day to day office work and event planning.”

As well as working a lot here, you also do other stuff, including working as a photographer. I’ve seen your work and it’s very good. Has living in New York impacted your photography work much?

Jiří Dužár,  photo: Michal Guzi
“Well, New York has many impacts on people who are lucky enough to be here and work here.

“Every New Yorker has two or three jobs, on average. Everyone says if you want to succeed you need to hustle and do a lot of things.

“Photography has always been my passion. I started taking pictures back in 2009, when I went to Turkey for a year for my university exchange programme.

“Then I was taking a lot of travel pictures, travel content. Maybe that also explains why I get along with travel bloggers so much – I can relate to their work.

“But it was just in New York that I kind of realised that I can also sell my work, or that people can take advantage of my creations.”

I see from your Instagram profile that you’ve travelled to 38 countries and 27 states here in the US. Apart from New York, which of those states have made the biggest impression on you?

“I’m based on the East Coast but I really, really love the West Coast of the US.

“California and Oregon are probably the nicest two states I’ve been to.

“I was lucky mainly to cities like LA and San Francisco for business, to meet with local trade or press or media.

“Even paid digital advertising will not reach the same kind of audience as travel bloggers.”

“But I also took a few weeks of vacation during my stay and I did a lot of camping and hiking and photographing.

“So I would say the West Coast is really appealing in terms of the landscape, the weather and everything.

“But I also like the other states that are not so often visited. For example, in May I was in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Our embassy in Washington together with local culture organisations organised a festival called Memphis in May and during that month we presented a lot of things the Czech Republic has to offer.

“For example, Czech chefs went to cook barbecues in Memphis with local chefs. There was a musical exchange.

“When I was there on my business trip I got to see all that. I saw the place where Johnny Cash composed some of his first songs.

“So it’s very inspiring to travel to places like Memphis, in the deep south of the US.

“And also to see how people perceive the Czech Republic and learning that they know about us and they know what the Czech Republic is.”