Prague tourism reopens with emphasis on sustainable travel | DW Travel | DW

People from across the European Union and Serbia can travel to the Czech Republic without limits from June 21 if they meet the rules for vaccination or Covid testing, or if they have recovered from the infection during of the last 180 days,

As much as the return of tourists is expected, the coronavirus pandemic puts tourism and culture in the Czech capital into perspective. On the one hand, he showed how much Prague’s economy relies on selling its charms. On the other hand, residents have enjoyed a year enjoying their city, relieved of the crush of millions of visitors.

Before the pandemic, it would have been difficult to find a local willing to navigate the crowds of tourists on Charles Bridge. Over the past year, however, they have enjoyed crossing the Vltava River over the statuary-lined monument, reputedly stuck in the 14th century using hundreds of thousands of eggs.

The pandemic gave locals the chance to walk the 14th-century Charles Bridge without the crowds of tourists

To survive, tourism and cultural businesses have taken much less advantage of the break. The city’s coffers also suffered.

In the first three months of 2021, Prague saw an almost 94.6% drop in tourism compared to 2019. In that year, according to the Czech Chamber of Commerce, across the country the sector injected 130 billion crowns (5.1 billion euros; 6.18 billion dollars) in public budgets and employed some 250,000 people.

So it’s no wonder that with the withdrawal of COVID-19, the city is rushing to encourage a swift reopening. But Hana Trestikova, city councilor for culture and tourism, says visitors are likely to remain wary of travel security and lingering restrictions.

Reopen hopes

Rosta Novak’s eyes shine behind thick red frames. The circus director is excited as he oversees the final dress rehearsal for Cirk La Putyka’s first full show in almost a year.

Prague Circus Director Rosta Novak in front of a performance tent

Circus director Rosta Novak is delighted to be back in front of an audience

As the Prague-based contemporary circus troupe spent the pandemic performing in innovative spaces from open-top buses and pub windows to hospitals – just to keep running, Novak says neither the thrill nor the income provided. by a sold-out show cannot be substituted.

As entry restrictions to the Czech Republic slowly lift, with the focus primarily on neighboring states, including Germany, most expect it to be a few years before the flow of International tourists will return to its pre-pandemic volume, which is estimated to have peaked at 10 million in 2019.

With that in mind, city authorities are doing a decent job of trying to attract locals to help fill the void, suggests Tomas Prouza, president of the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism.

Last summer, the city poured millions of crowns into campaigns to attract domestic tourists. Visitors drawn to Prague’s marketing campaign to use accommodation services can claim vouchers offering entry to a wide range of attractions and cultural performances.

Train and bus operators, restaurants and breweries have also been recruited to expand the network of potential giveaways. The full range of benefits can be managed through the At Home in Prague app.

A new strategy

Amid the rush to reopen, however, it is also hoped that Prague can use the forced break to prevent a return to overtourism. In recent years, the impact of mass tourism on the quality of life in the city has become an increasingly urgent topic as crowds of visitors flooded the center.

Before the pandemic, the crowd of rowdy drunk tourists monopolizing the streets of the old town had gradually forced residents to withdraw in the face of increasingly rude behavior. The tourism trade has helped counter a chronic housing shortage as apartments have been taken off the rental market to serve as Airbnb homes. Shops and services for local residents have evaporated, replaced by tacky souvenir shops, overpriced convenience stores and tourist trap pubs.

The concern remains so palpable that it recently entered the political arena during the campaign for the national elections in the fall. As the lockdown measures were lifted, populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis, in a bizarre rant, insisted: “We don’t want to open bars. We don’t want foreigners from all over Europe coming to drink here.”

More concretely, the Prague city hall hopes to be able to take advantage of the pandemic to implement new strategies to deal with the problems.

“We see the pandemic as an opportunity to revive tourism in a sustainable form,” Tresitkova said. “We are already creating alternative tourist routes outside the historic center, and we want to attract tourists whose reasons for visiting are history, architecture or culture rather than cheap alcohol.”

The pandemic has also brought – at least temporarily – some fundamental changes that authorities hope to maintain.

Prague, soldier in uniform standing guard by a guard post

Prague tries to protect itself from overtourism traps

Reining in Airbnb has been a major target for city council in recent years due to its devastating effect on the housing market. The pandemic had an immediate and dramatic effect on these accommodation services, increasing the availability of long-term rental apartments in the city center and reducing skyrocketing prices in one fell swoop.

Prague is now hoping to ensure that these properties will remain available to local residents through the imposition of conditions and regulatory controls on short-term vacation accommodation services.

The city is also seeking to restrict the operation of shops and services aimed at exploiting tourist crowds. Buskers dressed incongruously as giant pandas have been banned from Gothic and Renaissance-lined streets and squares, and regulations to limit “visual smog” from flashy signs and advertising have been introduced.

Teamwork could be the answer

Prouza, who represents many companies that will have to adapt to such regulation, agrees that overtourism is a serious problem requiring action. But he also warns that the city must be smart.

Prague’s uncompromising approach to hosting services, for example, is only aimed at “killing Airbnb,” he says. He urges the city to try to understand instead how travel has been changed by the pandemic and how these companies could be part of the solution.

“Research shows that people, after the pandemic, want smaller, private and independent accommodation,” Prouza said. Prague, he argues, should learn to form partnerships with such companies to actively help deal with overtourism. These accommodation services can help, for example, by redistributing tourists across the city, he suggests.

Portrait photo of Hana Trestikova, Prague City Councilor for Culture and Tourism

Prague City Councilor for Culture and Tourism Hana Trestikova says pandemic offers “an opportunity to revive tourism in a sustainable form”

Those companies that are now considering the possibility of reopening, however, seem to feel they have enough to do at the moment. While keen to be back in front of an audience, Novak says he’s already been warned behind the scenes that the restrictions could return in the fall.

“It makes it very difficult,” he grimaces. “We’re used to planning shows up to four years in advance, but right now we don’t know what will happen in four months.”

Trestiokova is equally cautious, noting that although there is a little sense of relief at the reopening of tourism, “we are not out of the woods yet”.

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