The rise and rise of the budget airline changes the face of Prague

17-02-2005

A million Britons are set to visit the Czech Republic in the coming year, with well over half of them holidaying in Prague. The rise and rise of the 'budget airline' has given Brits a feasible - and cheap - alternative to a weekend at Butlins, or in the Yorkshire dales. But British tourists are gaining a certain notoriety here in the capital, with the number of visiting British stag parties also on the rise. Rosie Johnston looks at the positive and negative effects of the low cost flight.

Prague airport RuzynePrague airport Ruzyne I'm here in Prague airport, trying to decipher the English announcements over the tannoy. And I'm not alone. This year well over half a million fellow Brits will pass through the airport, straining their ears for news of their gate and departure. They have been attracted to the Czech Republic by the boom in low cost flights available from the U.K. Anna Korikova works for the Czech airport authority. She describes the type of passengers that use low cost airlines:

"The first type of people that fly budget airlines are those who work in Prague and go home at weekends, thanks to low cost flights they can now do so weekly, as opposed to monthly or once every two months. Then you have people that don't want to spend a lot of money on plane tickets, so they choose these 'low-cost' airlines over so called traditional airlines. But the majority of passengers on these 'low-cost' flights are tourists, namely young people, who want a fun weekend in Prague."

The explosion in cheap flights being offered from the U.K is changing the nature of the Prague tourist industry - and changing the face of Prague. At weekends the town centre is a hubbub of English speakers, who find that a trip to Prague costs less than a break somewhere in the British Isles. An abundance of businesses catering for these British tourists are popping up too. Prague can now boast of its first fish & chip shop, and a branch of the department store Debenhams. Robbie Norton set up an Irish Pub in the city some four years ago. He talks about how his clientele has changed over this time:

"Well I think that the significant change happened with the on come of the cheap airfares, which is positive and negative. What happened was that after the terrible events of September the 11th Prague suffered very badly with floods. The end result of these two disasters was a lot of the American tourists stopped coming, a lot of the Jewish tourists stopped coming, the long haul tourists became afraid to travel, and really a lot of the bars and restaurants and hotels were suffering very badly because traditionally these had been they groups that they had relied on. The on come of the cheap airfares made Prague far more accessible and available to English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh people."

Brits may be attracted to Prague by the cheap flights and cheap beer, but still plan on spending a lot of money during their stay in the city. Another publican told me that the average member of a 'stag' or 'bachelor' party brings around $1000 with them for a weekend's stay. With budget flights bringing half a million Brits into Prague this year, the money they are set to spend here really must seem like 'pennies from heaven'.

17-02-2005