Although interest among Czechs in going on holiday to the Mediterranean has fallen as a result of the crisis, more and more Czech tourists are heading to the United States. Last year around 45,000 people travelled to America from the Czech Republic. This year, the number could be as high as 70,000, according to estimates by the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic (AČCKA).
“The number of individual travellers will double. When it comes to people travelling as part of package tours, I expect an increase of around 50%,” said Tomio Okamura of AČCKA.
The number of visitors travelling independently is significantly higher than the number of those on tours.
“Last year we sent around 1,200 clients to the United States, and this year we count on 2,000,” said Tomáš Cikán, co-owner of ESO travel, which belongs among the leaders when it comes to this destination. Its competitor, America Tours, is also counting on selling 2,000 package tours this year. From its current offer, almost all of the available June tours have been sold.
“Right before the start of the peak season, we already have 1,700 tours sold,” said Cikán. “While Mediterranean tours have gone down, tours to the US should help our company grow by 20% this year, and the number of our clients should increase by one third,” he said.
He sees several reasons behind this trend: the weak dollar and the fact that tourists travelling to the US do not belong among those social groups that have been too affected by the crisis. But the most important factor, according to Cikán, is the possibility of visa free travel: “Based on talking to many wealthy clients, I have found out that in the past many of them were deterred because of the humiliating procedure of obtaining a visa.”
Radim Jančura, head of Student Agency, confirms this. “Interest in travelling to the United States has grown by a quarter compared to last year,” he said. Besides the weak dollar and the abolished visa requirement, Czechs are also drawn to the new, friendlier face of the United States, Barack Obama. “We offer, for instance, an eight-day package tour to Florida, which costs CZK 24,000, including car rental and petrol. That’s peanuts,” he said.
“The US is actually a cheap destination. Accommodation and car travel costs less than in France or in Croatia,” said Dan Plovajko, spokesman of the Fischer travel agency. That is also one of the reasons why more Czechs are travelling to the US. Plovajko says this trend could continue well into autumn, especially since the weather at that time of year continues to be pleasant in Florida.