Only last December, the Czech capital had many residents griping about overtourism. The pandemic has since crushed tourism, prompting local businesses to tempt visitors back with cheaper prices. Hopefully a balance can be struck.
From Czech-speaking tour guides on the Charles Bridge to cheaper beer at Old Town Square pubs and traditional fried cauliflower on the menu, Prague businesses that rely on tourism are looking local to survive the summer season.
Take Jan Valenta and his wife Zuzi, who spent 9 years building a food tour company catering mainly to foreigners. Their business vanished with the coronavirus crisis that shut borders worldwide and stranded tourists at home.
“We built this for nine years and now we have nothing,” said Valenta, who now offers his “Taste of Prague” tours in Czech and focuses on local neighborhoods rather than Czech culture.
“You don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone.”
In 2019, Prague hosted more than 9 million visitors, making it the fourth-most visited city in Europe behind London, Paris and Rome, according to Euromonitor data.
But with cobblestone streets and Baroque churches empty of the usual swarms of foreign tourists, restaurants, pubs, cafes and others are rethinking their approach and prices.
“Before we wouldn’t drink in a place like this because of the tourist atmosphere and high prices,” said Petr Kopas, 56, while sipping a Pilsner at an empty Old Town Square pub that now charges four times less for a beer.
The state agency CzechTourism is also pitching in with a 350 million crown ($14.76 million) plan that includes a marketing campaign to spur domestic tourism and attract visitors from neighboring countries.
Tourism accounts for about 3 percent of the economy of the nation of 10.7 million and contributes nearly 60 percent to Prague’s overall income, leaving a big gap to fill without foreign visitors.
CzechTourism estimates the country’s tourism revenues would fall by about half in 2020 from 300 billion Czech crowns ($12.65 billion) in 2019. For Prague, tourism stands to plummet around 60 percent to 64 billion Czech crowns ($2.70 billion).
“This year’s goal is to survive,” CzechTourism Director Jan Herget told Reuters.
Restaurants and pubs have sought to stay afloat with steps such as re-jigging menus to include affordable offerings for Czechs, who on average earn far less than foreign visitors.
Ambiente Group tweaked the concept at most of its 26 eateries to make menus more appealing to locals, including ditching caviar for a more traditional fried cauliflower appetizer at the popular Cafe Savoy in Prague, said Jana Bilikova, the group’s creative chef.
“We tried to simplify the offer but keep the experience,” she said, citing a new three-course tasting menu for around 900 Czech crowns ($37.95) at its Michelin-star La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise. A pre-pandemic 10-course menu would have cost 3,000 Czech crowns ($126.51).
Prague officials also plan to spend 121 million Czech crowns ($5.10 million) on vouchers redeemable at places like museums, galleries and zoos for Czechs and visitors from neighboring countries such as Slovakia, Poland and Germany.
($1 = 23.7140 Czech crowns) (Additional reporting by Robert Mueller, Editing by Mike Collett-White)
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Photo credit: An image of the Charles River flowing through Prague, Czech Republic. JumpStory