Czech History National Heritage Institute seeks to attract more visitors to Czech castles and chateaus
The Czech Republic is sometimes called the land of castles and chateaus. For historic reasons, many of those monuments, including some of the most popular ones such as Lednice, Český Krumlov and Karlštejn, are owned by the state and run by the National Heritage Institute. To attract more visitors to these sits, the institute this week opened an information office in Prague. Radio Prague spoke to Tomáš Brabec from the National Heritage Institute, and asked him what information visitors can find in the new facility.
“The new information centre which the National Heritage Institute opened a few days ago in the very centre of Prague, serves two purposes: first, it should provide visitors and people who like national heritage, mainly castles and chateaus, up-to-date information about cultural programmes we have at the more 90 historic buildings around the country. People can also find there books and other items related to what we do.”
Will the new centre be foreign-friendly? In which languages will its services be available?
“We picked new staff for the centre and we have now covered the largest language groups that come to Prague – German and English-speaking visitors. It’s a new activity for us and our organization has very little experience with such services, but in the future we would also like to provide our services for Russian-speaking visitors who come in increasingly large numbers. I’m rather sceptical about Asian languages because we have to admit one thing: less than 10 percent of visitors to our castles are foreigners. So we still mainly focus on local clients.”
Why is the institute doing this? Do you feel people don’t have enough information about castles and chateaus?
“The main reason is that the National Heritage Institute is in charge, as I said, of more than 90 historic objects which are spread all around the country, and what we have been missing is a place where people would have complete access to our activities in the capital. In Prague, we only run one site – the historic gardens at Prague Castle – but there is no better location where people can find relevant information about our activities.
“The other thing is that in the past, we had no tool to directly address foreign visitors. In this field, we cooperate with the state agency Czech Tourism which promotes the country abroad. But the National Heritage Institute itself had very limited possibilities of addressing these people directly. And that’s what we hope should work better.”
Do you have an idea what impact – perhaps in the numbers of visitors – the new centre should have?
“That’s a difficult question. At the moment, the centre is running in a testing mode and during the summer, we should figure out what the expectations of our clients should be, and what kind of other strategies we can use to reach foreign visitors.”
You said less than 10 percent of visitors to castles and chateaus are foreigners. Why do you think that is?
“That’s simple. When you look at the map of the Czech Republic, you’ll see how these historic sites are distributed around the country. If you take into consideration some factors such as the popularity of regional destinations besides Prague, you will find that there are not that many. It’s hard to get foreign visitors to travel east of Prague for instance, and we believe that this should help.”
What can people see when they come to a castle? Is it a life-style exhibition of what the former owners lived like?
“This is the exact moment that we can say is one of the greatest comparative advantages of Czech national heritage compared to other European countries. If you look at the castles we are talking about, what makes them special and unique is the fact that they still equipped with the original furnishings that were there when the private owners used the places as permanent homes or summer retreats. That’s what visitors can experience; it’s like stepping back in time. We present these places as if the people who lived there left an hour before you came.”
Well, the owners did not leave an hour before the visitors came but they did leave – in many cases, after the end of WWII, due to political circumstances. Do you have a general policy in place to explain how these places came to be owned by the state?
“Our position of our institute which runs these places – the state is the owner – is very open, we don’t hide how the state took over. We explain to visitors how it happened and what the historic circumstances were. Also, it often happened before the war. These are things that happened and for us, it’s just one phase in the history of the place which is often three hundred years long and more.”
In 2011, the numbers of visitors to your sites dropped slightly, however the revenues were higher. But are you considering any new ways of raising money? In Spain, for example, some of the monuments serve as hotels and are run by the state – would that be a way to go for you?
“Probably not. This is not our role, and we would not like to substitute the private sector which run hotels and provide other commercial services.”
Among the top most visited monuments are Lednice, Český Krumlov and Karlštejn but what do you think would be the most underrated site? Which monument would you recommend people to see?
“If you’d like to stay in Central Bohemia, there is for instance the chateau in Mníšek pod Brdy which is one of the best preserved buildings in the collection of the National Heritage Institute and it offers a lot of visitors from different age groups including children and people with families. It’s one of the good examples but it’s not the only one.
“If you look at northern Bohemia, which is a kind of black sheep of the family of Czech regions in terms of tourism, there are also many interesting buildings that are completely ignored, such as chateau Duchcov.”