While in past years the surge of Russian tourists visiting the Czech Republic seemed to outpace all competition, this year has seen a 40% downfall in their numbers. However, the country’s rising popularity among Chinese and Korean visitors has managed to prevent losses for the tourist industry although it’s not clear whether they will be able to compensate for the strong Russian tourist base over the long term.
Large groups of Russian tourists have been a common sight on Prague streets over the past years, making up the largest group of foreigners visiting the capital second only to Germans. However, diplomatic tensions, hard visa regulations and the decrease in the strength of the Russian rouble seem to have left their mark, with numbers this year falling for the first time since 2009.
Viliam Sivek, head of the Association of Czech Travel Agents, says complicated procedures to acquire Czech entry visas are partly to blame. “Russians haven’t stopped traveling; they are simply going to other countries. Visits to Italy or Spain have grown by forty percent. You can get a visa to Greece or Spain in two or three weeks. In the Czech Republic this time frame would only allow you to get an express visa, which is much more costly,” Mr Sivek told the news website echo24.cz.
The loss of Russian clientele could be particularly bad for businesses given the fact that they tend to be the biggest spenders out of all visitors. A recent study by tax free shopping company Global Blue shows that Russians generally spend around 4,000 crowns a day and are responsible for more than fifty percent of tourist purchases in the Czech Republic.
Another concern voiced by business owners is that the coming introduction of biometric visas next April could put many Russians off visiting the Czech Republic even more. “It will no longer be possible for travel agencies to handle these visas. Every potential visitor will have to pick it up personally. Given the great distances in Russia, this means that traveling to Prague on last minute offers, which are particularly popular among the Russian clientele, can be forgotten.”, president of the Czech Association of Hotels and Restaurants, Václav Stárek said.
Despite this, the overall number of foreign tourists visiting the country has year increased by 2.3 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to data released by travel consultancy Mag Consulting. This is particularly due to an increase in the numbers of Chinese and Korean tourists, another group whose numbers have been rising fast in the past five years.
What also helps make the loss of Russian visitors less painful to dependent businesses is the fact that Asian tourists are among the biggest spenders. However, some hotel owners and market analysts fear that numbers of tourists could start stagnating by the end of this year.