Until mid-March, Prague, the capital of Czechia, was dealing with “over tourism”. Now, the numbers of visitors has massively dropped and the country will have to try to restart the industry.
Prague is a popular tourism destination for people in the UK, with East Midlands Airport alone seeing hundreds of flights to the city each year. In 2019, over one million Britons travelled to Prague on holiday, and the UK is third in the list of source countries for Czech inbound tourism. But the city now faces a tough test after losing out on income as the number of people visiting the city falls due to Coronavirus.
Petr Slepička, the CEO of Prague City Tourism, starts the 2019 annual report by saying: “Long gone are the times when our main task was to attract as many visitors to Prague as possible.” Little did he know that this will be the company’s main task for 2020.
For a country as small as the Czech Republic, tourism is crucial for its economy – it makes up 4% of GDP. When the country applied lockdown restrictions in March, not only did restaurants, pubs and bars have to shut, but popular tourist destinations also had to close their gates.
“At the time we had to close, we were hosting our annual exhibition of orchids,” says Klára Hrdá, the spokesperson for Prague Botanical Garden. “It’s one of the most attractive events for the public.” Alongside this was an exhibition of butterflies which couldn’t be launched at all this year because of the pandemic.
According to Hrdá, the only positive thing about this pandemic is that the closures allowed them to do all annual reconstructions and maintenance work without limiting their visitors in any other way.
The garden was closed from March 13 until the beginning of May when the government began allowing outdoor exhibitions. For places like botanical gardens or zoos, spring is the most successful period in terms of the number of visitors.
“Our numbers dropped to one third comparing to last year,” says Hrdá. “Despite that, we won’t plan any pompous events. The pandemic is not over yet and we can’t afford to plan big events that won’t happen.”
We won’t plan any pompous events. The pandemic is not over yet and we can’t afford to plan big events that won’t happen
Although the borders are open again, it is impossible to expect that everything will get back to normal straightaway.
According to Barbora Hrubá, the spokesperson for Prague City Tourism, 80% of tourists in Prague are foreigners, and she doesn’t expect many international visitors until autumn.
“I am afraid people will not be afraid to travel to different countries, therefore it is necessary to focus on our domestic visitors.”
Prague has recently been at its emptiest 30 years, but many tourists from the rest of the country are slowly coming back for day trips. “We certainly hope they will consider staying for more than one day, and in that case our main plan is to make sure that their experience will be as amazing as never before,” says Hrubá. She is aware of how bad the current situation is for the economy but she also sees it as an opportunity for a restart of the Czech tourism.
This is an opportunity for us to restart the tourism but only so much that it won’t be as problematic as before
“Now we have a chance to avoid the over tourism,” says Hrubá. Before 2020, the increasing inbound tourism shaped the city centre to suit visitors’ demands and locals were forced to move out. “As a local, you need to have a supermarket, playground or a school nearby,” explains Mrs Hrubá. “When you are a tourist, your needs are different.”
In order to get it under control, Prague City Tourism has advertised parts beyond the city centre, such as Karlín or Holešovice, in order to lighten the pressure on the heart of the city.