“We got back to the 2019 record numbers”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
The CzechTourism Agency is a state-funded organization, established by the Ministry for Regional Development of the Czech Republic with the primary objective of promoting the country as a tourism destination – both at home and abroad. We talked to the head of the CzechTourism, Jan Herget, about the activities of the agency under his leadership, including emerging markets, digitization, and his future plans.
You have been acting as the CEO of the CzechTourism Agency for almost five years. How do you perceive your role?
I’m one of the few privileged people allowed to build the brand of my own country. Creating the image of Czechia as the most amazing destination in the world is not only my work, but also my passion. Naturally, a very important part of my job is to inspire and lead the great team that is my colleagues. But most of the time I spend with the stakeholders. I negotiate with my own ministry, other ministers, members of parliament, and most importantly all regions and business associations.
How many countries is CzechTourism active in?
Based on our strategy, we split the markets into four groups. “Neighboring countries” like Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Poland, where we also add the Netherlands and Denmark. The tourists there very often travel by car and visit different regions. On average, they spend a little bit less than other foreign tourists, but they are very important as we see them all around Czechia, and they visit even lesser known places. The second group is the “city-break countries”: Italy, France, the UK, Spain, and Scandinavia. The tourists there mostly visit Prague, and we try to inspire them to do at least a one-day trip outside the capital. A very important group is the so-called “long-haul markets”: USA, Japan, South Korea, China, and Latin America. They mostly visit only the highlight destinations, but have the highest spending per person and per day. In all of these countries we have our own directors and run foreign offices. Finally, there is a group we call “emerging markets” – countries with a big potential to grow, and where a high average spending is common. This group includes India, Israel, and the whole region of the Middle East. We cover 360 marketing communications. Due to the low budget, our focus is on digital, but we still do B2B activities with travel partners like airlines and tour operators, provide information to journalists, cooperate with influencers, and run digital campaigns. Lots of our efforts go into our own media – our web page visitczechia.com, and our accounts on social media.
What about the activities here in the domestic market?
The domestic market is the most important market for Czechia. We even just broke our record number of domestic travellers from 2012. Our core activity is also to provide information to media, continuous daily updates of the great portal Kudyznudy.cz, social media, and the app. Through our own media, we reach hundreds of thousands of Czech travelers on a daily basis, and provide them with inspiration for their weekend and holiday travel plans. We also cooperate with Czech TV, and produce travel documents in coordination with all 14 regions.
How have you progressed with the digitization of the tourism industry?
COVID-19 changed the whole world. Nowadays, even small companies have digitized their products. Czech travel startups like Smartguide, Daytrip, and MyStay are competing on a global scale. I hope that the state will also help with the digitization. I see two main areas of focus in this respect – business administration and product distribution. In business administration, we are still not fully digital but are well on our way towards it with projects like citizen portal, bankID, and tax return online. I hope that the project e-Turista will be ready soon, currently only 20% of all municipalities are collecting the tourist tax. Digital product distribution faces a few challenges. We are not able to find a way of combining private and public money in destination management organizations, we are still afraid of public aid, which creates a huge barrier to a more efficient destination management.
What do you consider the most difficult task in promoting the Czech Republic?
I am not sure if it is the most difficult, but what’s challenging is to find the right balance between the hotspots and the unknown places. We have one power brand – Prague – it is possibly even stronger than the brand of the entire country. We have places like Karlovy Vary, Český Krumlov, Olomouc, Mikulov, and Lednice which are beautiful, but it is not possible to fit all tourists into these few places. For this reason, we do not concentrate only on the average spend of our foreign tourists, but also on the regional disparities. Slovaks or Poles spend less than Saudis or Americans, but they visit only Zoo Lešná in Zlín, DOV in Ostrava, or Tiské Skály near Děčín, it is very important for the local economy to spread tourism throughout whole country evenly.
You are showing people that it is a good idea to spend their holidays in Czechia. What do you do in your free time?
I love travelling and sports. And the best free time is to do both activities together. I have three kids, and I love going surfing, skiing, and climbing with them, and recently even ski-touring. Another amazing combination is travelling and culture. With my wife, we love visiting Český Krumlov and its International Music Festival.
A few years ago, you said in an interview that you were “coming in with a clear vision in the marketing of the Czech Republic and the agency’s strategic activities”. Did you fulfil your vision?
I did my best. I worked hard, but, to be honest, it was not an easy time for the tourism industry. Two years of COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the following energy crises and huge inflation destroyed the stability of the tourism sector. Everything changed. On the other hand, it allowed me to concentrate on digitization. I am proud of kudyznudy.cz, the spa vouchers project, and many other activities that we carried out. When we look at the numbers from the 2nd quarter of 2023, we got back to the 2019 record numbers. That doesn’t mean that the job is done. We need to attract more long-haul direct flights, find a substitute for the Russian tourists in the Czech spa resorts, introduce a sustainable tourism strategy, and work on product quality, as well as a way of explaining how tourism is crucial for the local economy and export.
After almost five years, you are now leaving CzechTourism. What is your next destination?
I’m searching for a new challenge. I am open to any interesting opportunity, even outside the tourism industry. I will continue to teach destination management at the University of Economics, but this is only two hours a week. The good news is that I do not need to hurry, as in the past I have invested in two interesting sports projects in Prague. Beachklub Ladví is the biggest beach volleyball venue in Central Europe. With 18 beach volleyball and 8 tennis courts, a sauna, a yoga room, a restaurant, and a conference hall it is a great venue for company events and off-site meetings. Kayak Beach Bar is a venue floating on river Vltava, near Railway Bridge (Železniční most). A beach volleyball court, kayaks, paddleboards, and a winter sauna and whirlpool with a unique view of Prague Castle and Vyšehrad Castle. To me, Kayak Beach Bar represents one of the coolest places in Prague.