Every summer, at the height of the holiday season, it is sometimes hard to hear Czech spoken on the streets of Prague. This is because the city is so full of visitors coming to look at the glories of the place that was once considered to be a "jewel in the Habsburg crown". Despite, the huge numbers coming to visit this country, however, a professional association has recently announced that the Czech Republic could be doing more to reap the benefits of tourism.
Last year, 4.6 million tourists came to the Czech Republic, and foreign-currency income from tourism generated almost 100 billion CZK. Nevertheless, despite these huge figures, the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism claimed last week that much of the Czech Republic's tourism potential has yet to be exploited. According to the confederation, the country could accommodate twice as many tourists per year and the income they generate could also be doubled. The group also warned that the position of tourism was not as strong as that of other industrial sectors in this country and there was a general lack of awareness of the importance of the industry despite its huge potential. I asked Hana Cermakova, a press officer for the Czech tourist authority, whether anything was being done to address this situation.
"I believe that entrepreneurs are definitely beginning to realise that they can earn good money in this sector and make a very good living out of tourism. We are striving to support this awareness as much as possible. For example, we organised a month-long bike trip to all the regions of the Czech Republic where we meet with community representatives and business associations to discuss the issue of tourism..."
Ms Cermakova, said that the tourist authority was concentrating on marketing the Czech Republic as a holiday destination under several different themes. Besides promoting the splendour of the capital city Prague, they were also focusing on some of the country's other assets such as its potential as a location for recuperative spa holidays or international conferences.
I put it to Ms Cermakova that - because of cheap beer prices - the Czech Republic was also becoming popular as a place for drinking holidays and asked her whether she thought that the increasing visibility of rowdy foreign stag parties on Prague's streets was a cause for concern:
"I think that making sure that there are no disturbances on the streets is a matter for the police. Naturally, our job is to bring as many tourists as possible to the Czech Republic, and to maximise revenues from tourism. Our duty or mission is to attract people to the country. So we genuinely welcome any tourist who wants to come. Ensuring that everything is alright on the streets is the responsibility of another institution."
I also asked Ms Cermakova if she had any comment to make on the growing perception of the Czech Republic in some quarters as a haven for sex tourism:
"As I said, our duty is to promote the Czech Republic as a holiday destination and a place where people can spend their free time. As regards this particular subject, we are preparing certain activities in terms of what we can recommend to reinforce the perception of the Czech Republic as a destination for a pleasant holiday and some sightseeing, but that's an issue to be dealt with at the start of next year."
According to Ms Cermakova, Germany is the country where most tourists come from, but that large numbers arrive from Poland, Italy and Slovakia as well She also added that the advent of cheap flights had contributed to a 15% increase in traffic from Britain and Ireland.
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