Prague sees significant dip in tourist numbers
Prague’s reputation as a tourist hotspot has been viewed as a given for years. But now, new statistics reveal a serious slump in visitor numbers. The reasons are the strong crown and apparently poor services. Can Prague reverse this trend? Or are there serious troubles ahead?
Tomio Okamara is a member of the presidium and spokesman for the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic. He explained to me his take on just what was causing a slump in visitor numbers:
“The strong exchange rate of the Czech crown is not the main reason. In Europe, there are a lot of cities where price levels are much higher than in Prague – for example, London, Paris and Rome. But the problem with Prague is that we cannot give to visitors a service that corresponds to the price levels we charge. So we became a deluxe, expensive destination, but our level of service is not deluxe!”
Indeed, as soon as Prague became popular, there emerged a kind of shadow industry designed to rip-off what were viewed as rich Western tourists. Outrageous prices which were still cheap for foreigners were imposed in an almost arbitrary fashion – whatever they are willing to pay, became the attitude. Now, it seems that this practice, which has certainly lessened since the early days, has finally caught up with Prague. But not only that, Prague also appears to be suffering from something of an image crisis. Tomio Okamara explains:
But providing such a boost to Prague may prove difficult. Developing a multi-faceted strategy to improve services and clamp down on fraudulent practices will take political will, and that is something that many believe is lacking in the often deadlocked Czech political process – particularly when it too is often accused of being as riddled with fraud and corruption as the aforementioned “rip-off” taxi-driver or exchange booth operator. Tomio Okamura again:
“We are still talking with the politicians; we are still trying to push them to do something but it is a problem because they totally ignore our ideas. They have the money to make a difference; they have secretaries and hundreds of staff working in the city hall. So they should be able to create and promote the Czech Republic as a safe, kind destination and if they are unable to do that, then they should simply resign their positions.”
Of course, such measures would require real pressure. But as the math becomes impossible to ignore, and tourist numbers continue to fall, Czech politicians may begin to feel that inaction could soon become very costly.