Weed, cheap beer, legal prostitution: pick a better combination for an inexpensive trip to get rowdy with the boys. Nicknamed “the Amsterdam of the East,” Prague earned its reputation through lax marijuana laws and a favorable exchange rate for visitors. A growing concern for Prague residents is the influx of low-grade alcotourism. Prague is already a well-worn hotspot for stag and hen parties. Anyone who has taken a Friday evening Ryanair flight from another European city to Prague knows exactly what “Destination Drinking” looks like.
Prague has had a respite from foreign guests in recent months due to the COVID-19 border shutdown. The city has breathing room this spring and summer to plan a sustainable tourism model. Officials have also been investigating how to best manage the oversaturation of full-time AirBnb rentals after landlords flooded the rental market in March. Tackling the short-term rental market is highly important and it points to a deeper issue: overtourism.
Expat Hub had the chance to collaborate with Jennifer Parker, a Prague expat with a BA in Anthropological Archaeology and an MS Hospitality & Tourism Management. She was an archaeologist for California State Parks and retired to travel the world on her Vespa.
“When I moved to Prague 5 years ago, I fell in love with this city. Prague is full of magic and mystery, its beauty can be seen with every turn of the head. The layers of history Prague has witnessed and its importance in the development of the western world have been overshadowed by the alcotourism. As Prague gets ready to reopen to tourists, my innermost heart only dreams that we will see a new type of tourism emerge.”Jennifer Parker, MS in Hospitality and Tourism Management
Negative Impacts of Alcotourism in Prague
Alcohol and the Czech Republic: pick a more well-known combination. Staropramen, Pilsner Urquell, Moravian wine, Becherovka, Borovička, Burčák, and Slivovice all have roots here. Alcohol has its place in Czech culture and can be used to encourage a better class of tourism focused on the history and significance of alcohol. On the other hand, alcotourism refers to the tourists using Prague as their own personal pub for the weekend. These destination drinkers choose the city based solely on the low price of alcohol. Out-of-control drinking and poor behavior by visitors are a plight on Old Town.
Local communities feel an impact on their quality of life from cheap forms of tourism. Stores selling handmade crafts switch out local inventory for foreign-made souvenirs. Entire areas of the city can become uninhabitable for long-term residents. Nighttime noise levels and lack of affordable housing are among top complaints for Prague 1 residents. The biggest headache for residents are the huge stag parties meandering and shouting obscenities at all hours of the night.
Parker believes “implementing a well thought out cultural heritage sustainable tourism plan would guide the city towards a common vision of responsible tourism for the future rather than reacting to newfangled ideas of buskers and other creative entrepreneurs that flood our streets with giant pandas, lime scooters, and brightly colored animals.” She also cites the importance of economic diversification. Strip clubs, night clubs, and bars attract disrespectful stag parties, but highlighting other industries can bring in a more wholesome and diverse crowd. While buskers were banned from Old Town recently, the city still has a ways to go in enhancing the tourism experience for all.
Let Them In, Just Make Them Pay
A tourism tax is one method cities use to curb the effects of overtourism. Cities charge a nominal fee, in Prague it is about 0.50 euros, per guest per night. Sometimes fees are added to tickets for historical sites and tours. The fees ensure enough funding is set aside for environmental and historical restoration. Relying on tourism taxes has its drawbacks. The current model of a small fee per person relies on large numbers of tourists buying tickets and hotel rooms. The more people come, the more funding the city has. For some sites, the only path to preservation is limiting traffic. All the funding a city has to offer cannot save fragile ecosystems or ancient structures if they are constantly overused.
For many, the time has come to diversify investments in tourism. Prague’s decision makers have made great strides in their ban of buskers in Old Town, but there is always room for improvement. The biggest weakness in Prague’s current model is the “[lack of] living history and educational tourism” according to Parker. A push to encourage tourists to visit areas of the Czech Republic outside of Prague is among other suggestions that have worked for other cities. Prague has a lot to offer tourists besides the cheap alcohol and nightclubs, and the current global situation is the perfect time to reexamine our current path.
American by birth and Praguer by choice, Caroline can be found enjoying Pho Bo at one of the city’s many Vietnamese restaurants or finding the best way to promote public transportation.