“I’m the spokesman and Vice-President of the Association of Travel Agencies and Tour Operators in the Czech Republic. I’ve been in the business since 1991, when I established Marco Polo, and before I was a theater director, which is a completely different position, but tourism is also a little bit like theater.”
I’m curious since you started in 1991 – how has travel changed? I know under the Croatian regime became a very popular destination, how did that come to be?
“Croatia was the only destination that was open to Czech inhabitants during the communist period. You need special permission, but if you got it, you can go to Croatia. We weren’t ready to go to other Western countries at that time, so there are a lot of traditions for Czechs to go to Croatia for beach holidays.
“I think Bulgaria is the only other place similar in popularity to Croatia, but it’s not as easy to get to by car – you can go to Croatia by car. Right after 1989 when the communist period was over, everyone wanted to go to Croatia.
“Another point is that we understand each other, there isn’t a language barrier. Czechs love the mentality of Croatian people, and it’s easy for people to go there.
“In the summertime, Czechs are very conservative, if they love a place, they will keep coming back. Greece and Croatia have many Czech clients, and many people go year after year, they started going when they were kids and went back year after year.
“This year, maybe 900,000 Czechs will go to Croatia, that’s nearly 10% of the population. It may come as a surprise, but even though we can go anywhere now, some people still prefer to go to Croatia.”
I suppose, if it’s very intergenerational to travel to Croatia, people become quite loyal to the place?
“Yes, they are very loyal. Only Greece and Croatia have such loyal clients. Before COVID, it was also Slovakia, but during COVID Slovakia closed its borders to Czechs. The mentality of Czechs after this was that we cannot go to Slovakia, even though it’s a big part of our heart, because we used to be one country.
“When Slovakia closed the border to Czechs, we said ‘okay, we won’t go there anymore’. It will take many years for Czechs to go back to Slovakia.”
So it was very personal when Slovakia closed the border to Czechs?
“Yes, it was very personal since they were open to some other destinations but closed to Czechs. They said that Czech people were dangerous, which Czechs really felt bad about. Especially since there are families who are partly in Czechia and partly in Slovakia, and they could not meet each other.
“It was a big mistake from the Slovak government – not from hotel owners or the people, but the government’s decision. Sometimes governments make decisions that aren’t really popular among the people, so it will take time to fix this.”
Czechs are starting to go to newer destinations that are a bit further away like Egypt that are outside the EU, can you tell me about these trends?
“We actually don’t count Egypt as an ‘exotic’ destination, Egypt is the number one for flight destinations because it’s a year round destination.
“For Czechs it’s quite cheap, and thousands of people, more than 200,000 people a year are going to Egypt. But we don’t consider it an exotic destination, for us exotic places are the Far East and Latin America.
“We don’t even consider Dubai or Oman as an exotic destination. If the destinations are five to six hours away by plane, they are quite normal. If the flight length is within that time range, most of the population can afford this. But if you are going far away, only part of the population can afford this, so people are limited by price.”
Do you think that Czechs as a people are becoming well-traveled?
“Definitely. Before COVID, more than 50,000 Czechs were going to Thailand. This year until now, we have around 20,000 Czechs going to Thailand. Part of the Czech population is really running around the world. Sometimes I’m surprised when I meet our people in Myanmar and in Bolivia, destinations that are not really popular.
“Especially the very young population and the population over 50. These two groups are traveling to farther destinations. Young people like to visit places with some spices, and people over 50 were part of the generation who were closed to the world during the communist period, and they wanted to see the world, what they were dreaming about during that time.”
That’s interesting, because those are two age groups who may not have much in common, but if they both have these experiences traveling around the world, they might be able to find some more common ground together?
“It’s true. My company organizes these expeditions to Africa, and these two generations are together, and they cook together and build their tents together.
“Middle aged people, people around 35 to 45 are limited with their kids and mainly go to the beach, but over the last six or seven years, there’s a new trend that families are going for longer trips. Those who have money want to show their kids the world and go to Africa, Latin America, and Asia – to show their kids that the world is not only Europe.”
What are you noticing this year in terms of travel trends? Inflation has been tough in the country, has it impacted travel?
“Surprisingly, inflation has not affected travel this year. First of all, people bought their holiday before inflation came, so people don’t want to stop their holiday dreams because of inflation. The second thing is that the crown is strong.
“The inflation here is not the same as the prices outside if you have strong currency. It means that for people, going on holiday looks a bit cheaper than staying in Czechia. We have more clients than last year, and it shows us that inflation is not having an effect on the travel industry. We will see what will happen in the winter and next year, but for this year there has been no effect.”
For those who want to book a holiday this year but might be operating on a tighter budget, what are some places you would recommend?
“I think that people are starting to think about the costs outside, and are going to destinations like Albania and Bulgaria. Of course people have been going to Bulgaria for a long time, but more are thinking of Bulgaria as a destination they really want to visit.
“Of course if you have more time, you can go somewhere like Thailand or Indonesia where the local costs are very cheap, if you have the money for the flight ticket.
“The Czech mentality is a little bit different, if we are going for a holiday we don’t count the money we spend there. After the trip it might be a bit of a headache, but if we have money in our pocket – we spend it.”