In most respects 2016 was a good year for tourism not least in the Czech capital, which saw yet another increase in the number of visitors. But there were complications as well, among them heightened security introduced at Prague Castle mid-season which led to unexpected and unprecedented lines, at least for a time. Still, on the whole, Prague offers more and better possibilities than ever, something Radio Prague discussed with the head of Prague City Tourism, Nora Dolanská. We began by asking her first how she rated 2016 overall.
“I must say this year has been very successful. Last year, we had six and a half million tourists in Prague and we expect that this year we should have about 5% more. This is a very very good number and we are very satisfied with it.
“Usually, ranking in numbers, top were German tourists. Around 60 or 70 % of all the tourists are Europeans. The second and third place are the tourists from the USA and from the United Kingdom. This is very good for us because this is good quality and we are satisfied with the quality of the tourists.
“Of course this all is a matter of change. We ost some Russian tourists last year, but in the second half of this year we expect growth again in Russian visitors and in visitors from Eastern Europe. Other tourists are from China, from South Korea, because now we have cooperation with the Asian countries. This is very good, especially with the direct flights to Prague, which are very important for tourism generally.”
Of course and just to follow up, when you talk about German tourists, obviously, a neighbouring country, no surprise there. In terms of the nature of visits these days, do these seem to be short-term, overnight stays or a couple of days, when talking specifically about German visitors?
“We have a lot of tourists, who come to Prague. They do not stay for so long, two or three days maximum. But together with them, we have a lot of tourists who are coming only as visitors. They come in the morning and in the afternoon the same day, they will go home.
“And this is very problematic for a small city like Prague, because we have a small hisotric centre, the streets are all very close, or tight, not like in bigger cities such as Vienna or Paris or London. And for us this is it is very complicated in some times of the year with how full is the city.”
So it is congested you are saying, a lot of the time there are many people here at the same time.
“Yes it is, and of course, most of them are coming in the high season, from April to October. Our target is to have a longer season. We shall prepare some exhibitions and performances in the low season, from November until February.
“We would also like to show other parts of the city to tourists, who remain mostly in the centre. This is a new progress, we must prepare new routes and new trips to other parts of the city. We have a lot of interesting buildings there but it is the matter of showing them, so the tourists stay in the city and have a lovely time in the other parts, not only in the centre.”
Which leads into my next question because obviously, the main sights are not going to change anytime soon, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Malá Strana. Those are the initial draws. Is it fair to say that the kind of quintessential Prague experience that some of us had 15 or 20 years ago that that has changed? It is not just the historic sights now, it is not just the lunch and dinner with the pork and dumplings and beer. Is that changed?
“Yes it is, now we have a lot of other possibilities in gastronomy. We have a lot of restaurants, special bars, night clubs. Also places in other parts of the city, for example Prague 7 or Prague 8. It is a new area for tourists, they have not seen it until now and it is some very good experience there.”
Prague 7 is for example now in the process of reinventing itself as more of a cultural hub.
“Yes, exactly, this is it. And together with them, we have some new wine areas, also a Prague wine tour. It is very new but very interesting for some of them. “
You mentioned the high congestion during the high season which I suppose can detract to a degree from the experience, it can be difficult if tourists have to wait lines. So my next question is, were there any negatives that we saw this year? For example Prague Castle heightened security, which created long lines. Also from the perspective of tourists, how did you view the Segway ban which is now in place?
“For the Prague Castle, I think it is not that different from the rest of Europe, when you are going to expositions. In London in Paris – you have this thing too. With the Castle, it was a special situation, because I must say, it was not well prepared. It was put in place too quickly and in the middle of the season, it was not there for the whole season, information were not issued to the travel agencies before it was installed. I think for the tourists in general it is now not such a big problem.
“The problem with Segways, it is a general problem with Prague, because it is a very tightly-packed city. I think the ban is right, it is very good.”
You used to see these see long lines of ten, twenty Segways heading up to Prague Castle...
„Yes and it was dangerous! I have seen one of them going on the street with cars, it really was a very dangerous situation and with so many people together in the city, it is impossible.”
So in short, visitors coming to Prague can look for other experiences than Segway rides.
Previously, the city has done very well when it came to for example Trip Advisor. How is it ranked at the moment?
“We have now the best Christmas market in the centre of Europe. The Christmas market is very romantic, and generally we can say, that our experience of our tourists is that Prague is altogether very romantic. It is the main slogan for all that we do.”
We just saw the tragedy in Germany, a terrorist attack which claimed 12 lives, including that of a Czech woman: they have heightened security at these key sights that we are talking about. Is that the reality that we have to live with now?
“The reality, in all of Europe I think, is that we must be very flexible, you cannot do anything with this situation. For Berlin, it is a pity I must say. In Prague we have the city police and they must help us take the people who come to Prague and make them safe.”
We are still in the Christmas period, it is obviously not a bad time to visit Prague as you said, Prague is one of the most romantic cities in Europe. What is your advice for anyone heading to Prague in the winter months?
“You should try and get a deeper sense of the city. For next year we want to promte a new term, what we are calling 'slow tourism'. People should not be in a hurry. It is not possible to sit on the bank of the river in winter of course but if you see there is a small cafe somewhere and you can sit there and see and feel the atmosphere of the city. That is the best which you can do in Prague.”
So in some ways, it is the return to the basics, of what tourism really should be.
“Yes, it is important and I think in spring, tourists will come to Prague and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere."