The monthly meeting of the Prague branch of tourism association Skål International took place at the Panorama hotel, with Austrian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Dr.Alexander Grubmayr (picture one the right) as the guest of honor.
Skål Int. is a meeting forum not only the tourism sector but also for politicians and business people, so they can meet as friends and exchange ideas, according to Heinz Reigl, President of Skål Int. Club Prague.
Ambassador Grubmayr stressed the close ties that his country has with the Czech Republic. “It is a great honor to work here since we have very close and good and fruitful relations between the two countries on the political level and also on the economic level. We have more than 1,800 Austrian firms that do business in the Czech Republic. And we have passed the mark of €10 billion in aggregate trade volume, and we have more than €10.6 billion of foreign direct investment in the Czech Republic, and the tourism sector is one of those sectors which also help us to foster bilateral economic relations between our two countries,” he told Prague Monitor.
“I am also proud to be able to help and assist wherever I can Austrian business in the Czech Republic. And the tourism sector also is part of this endeavor,” he said, adding that the dialogues between the two countries have become much more constructive and positive in recent years, despite some areas of disagreement.
Skål’s Reigl said, though, the Czech tourism industry does have some areas where it can improve. “You can compare Prague with Vienna, but you can’t compare the Czech Republic as a whole with Austria because there is a completely different background and history. Austria basically has been for the past 50 years a country of tourism. Austria, of course, has the high mountains and the lakes, etc. The Czech Republic came into tourism basically 25 years ago,” he said.
The situation has improved, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. “But when you look at the tourism areas basically you have Prague and then virtually a big gap, so to speak,” he said, adding that there was some interest in regional cities such as Brno, Český Krumlov and some other cities, but this is largely day tourism.
“So these two countries in tourism are not really comparable as such. But it has improved. Prague is booming at the moment for several reasons. Not only because is it a beautiful city but it is also for security reasons,” said, adding in Austria there is a very similar situation.
One area where Vienna has an edge over Prague is congress tourism. “Vienna has the enormous advantage of this really absolutely superb congress facility,” he said, referring to the Austria Center Vienna, which opened in 1987 and has a capacity of 20,000 people. It and other congress centers in Vienna offer ecological facilities for green meetings, which is increasingly becoming important to large groups.
Austria also has an advantage in winter tourism. “You can speak to almost any Czech who has a little bit of skiing interest, they all go to Austria,” Ambassador Grubmayr said.
Prague as well as Olomouc both draw a lot of tourism based on Mozart having visited the cities. Mozart is also closely connected to Vienna. “We are always happy when a famous composer, artist, writer or painter is promoted abroad, so this is nothing where we would have a bad feeling. We are a small country but we still have some very renowned representatives in culture, and we are very proud of this,” the ambassador said, adding that Mozart’s international fame was also good for Austrian tourism.
Ambassador Grubmayr has traveled through some of the Czech Republic due to business. There is format for cooperation called Two plus Six, which brings the governors of three Czech and three Austrian border regions together along with the two foreign ministers. The group has meetings near the border, usually. This and similar projects have taken him to towns in South Bohemia, South Moravia and Vysočina. “On a private basis I had the chance to see Karlovy Vary which was very nice for me. I also went to Czech Switzerland and also to the east to the area of Broumov, where I have some family … and of course Šumava,” he said, among many other places. “But I still haven’t seen Olomouc, Zlín or Ostrava.”
One thing he misses a bit are the high mountains of Austria. “There are mountains in the Czech Republic but maybe some mountains in the Austria are higher, and I like to go hiking. Maybe I miss them sometimes, but this is not criticism. I am feeling very well here, and very happy to be here,” he said.
About Skål Int. Club
Skål Int.Club Prague Nr.626 was founded in the 18th of October 1995 as the first SKÅL Int. Club in the former communist countries in Central Europe. At present, the Club has around 70 members from all fields of tourism industry, all of them being top professionals of the most important players in the national and international tourism market (hotels, airlines, travel agents, travel media etc.).