Twenty-five years since the Czech and Slovak republics split in the Velvet Divorce, both continue to share remarkably close ties. Not surprisingly, tourism plays a key role, with Czech visitors, for example, making up for more than a third of foreign tourists in Slovakia a year. While the Czech Republic may have the edge in the number of castles and chateaux, sites such as the Tatra Mountains or Slovak Paradise remain major draws for Czechs.
“When it comes to Slovakia there is of course a special relationship from our past together, nostalgia also plays a role for some, and there is a fact that some families have relatives across the border. And of course we know many of the destinations from the time when we were one country. Many visitors like to revive old memories as well as to discover new regions.”
Members of the older generation will of course know some of those destinations in Slovakia very well, maybe we could talk about some of those areas first…
“When we talk about popular destination for Czechs and others in Slovakia the two most popular regions are the High Tatras and the capital of Bratislava and surrounding areas. An interesting aspect of tourism in Slovakia is that the ratio of organized to individual tourism favours the latter: it is the kind of country that attracts people who may be a little more adventurous, for example, who want the alpine mountaineering experience in the High Tatras.
“From the perspective of tour agencies and operators, the one service that Czechs seek there is accommodation. It is not far, so many Czechs travel there by car or train, it is accessible for them. Infrastructure there has also improved considerably but that has also seen a rise in price.”
“Two of the most popular regions for Czechs visiting Slovakia are the High Tatras and the capital of Bratislava and surrounding areas.”
When it does come to package vacations, what kind of vacation is popular?
“If we are speaking about package tours there, the most popular segment is ‘Wellness’. But as I said, individual exploration when it comes to the mountains or nature areas like Slovak Paradise National Park dominate, with the one service that Czechs use most being accommodation.”
What are the numbers in fact? Is Slovakia the No. 1 destination for Czechs or does another country take that prize?
“In the last year Croatia was the top destination because of summer vacations but Slovakia was second. Croatia wins out but in 2015 in terms outbound tourism it was Slovakia. We however have different data or metrics by which the number of Czech visitors was measured: the Slovaks still register a rising number in the number of Czech visitors, while data from the Czech Statistical Office suggests that the number dropped.
“Different methodology there has yielded different results. By our measure, there were some 600,000 Czech visitors to Slovakia in 2016.”
“There is no language barrier and that is comfortable for many Czechs. Proximity is another reason as are excellent train, bus and flight connections. Slovakia is a safe country, like the Czech Republic, and it is easily reached.”
So Czech business is important for the Slovak market…
“Absolutely. We would say that we are the No.1 source market for Slovakia, making up more than one-third of tourists who visit annually. The Poles, Hungarians, Austrians and German visitors are of course also very important.”
We mentioned nostalgia at the beginning and because of the anniversary that the relationship between Czechs and Slovaks is better than ever. What about younger Czechs, who won’t remember when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country?
“There is nostalgia, there are family ties, friends across the border, and so on but another factor is proximity and changes in how Czechs vacation. It used to be the case that Czechs took one long vacation a year but that has since changed. The overall summer vacation is shorter now say a week or so, combined with additional shorter vacations or breaks.
“Many Czechs choose Slovakia for active vacations, or even ‘second’ vacations or shorter breaks.”
“Younger Czechs might be inclined to take more exotic vacations once a year but then go to Slovakia to ski. The trend has been towards taking two more holidays per year and because Slovakia is so close it is often the destination for second holidays. Or active vacations. They might be coming back as young adults, also, remembering Slovakia as the very first vacation they had with their parents.
“Finally, as we are very important as we are for the Slovak market, Slovak visitors are also very important for us, certainly in the top five in terms of incoming visitors. While more than 600,000 Czechs go there, the number of Slovak visitors here is roughly the same.”