Floods lead tourists to "Prague's little sister"

  • 2002-08-29
  • Jorgen Johansson

Compared to the mud-clogged streets of Prague, Dresden and Budapest, the Baltic capitals are looking increasingly better to tourists, according to travel agencies.

Tourism in Prague has dropped off drastically in recent weeks as footage of water swirling around city streets and shopkeepers shoveling mud from the cobblestones was broadcast around the world.

A handful of British tour operators are providing travelers with an alternative - the Baltics.

Clive Allard, managing director of London-based Travelers Cities, said his company has booked 20 percent to 25 percent more trips to the Baltics this August than August 2001.

Recently the company began marketing Vilnius, Riga and particularly Tallinn as an alternative to Prague, a city famous for its picturesque old town and throngs of tourists.

With its winding narrow streets and photogenic spires, Tallinn has the same things that draw tourists to the Czech capital.

"We offer Tallinn as the best alternative in the Baltics," said Allard. "Our slogan is 'Prague's little sister.'"

Allard admits that when he offers the Baltics as a destination alternative most people don't know where they are at first.

Andris Klepers, manager of the travel agency Impro in Latvia, said his company had also seen a surge in tourists, which he thinks is likely related to the floods.

"I don't know any real numbers, but judging from the increase of tourists we've had over the last few weeks I think it's safe to assume that the floods in Prague could be an underlying reason," he said.

Officials from other tourism agencies in the region reported similar hunches.

But not all agree.

Irina Jegorova of Riga's Domina Travel said the influx in tourists in August, which was easily visible on the streets of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, was a result of a few years of intense marketing which had prompted a sustained increase in visitors.

"Tourists aren't coming here necessarily because of the floods in Prague," said Jegorova. "They come here because Baltic destinations have been advertised really well."

Jeremy Anderson, a product manager for the London-based Fregata Travel, said the number of travelers booking trips to the Baltics through his company had increased about 50 percent over the last four years.

He added the tourists may not be going to Prague now but they will return.

"Prague has been the crown in the jewel of Europe for decades and it will come back," he said.

In the mean time, Fregata Travel has begun pushing a package tour to the three Baltic capitals. Two nights each in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, including air fare, is going for 729 pounds (1,140 euros).

Tourist agencies in Prague are predicting a 50 percent to 70 percent drop in tourism over the coming months due to the floods.

Many of Prague's top hotels have closed while the cleanup continues.

"Tourism has dropped off significantly in the city," said Tereza Urbankova, the spokeswoman for the Prague Hilton. "I think it's mainly because of reporting by CNN and BBC. It was bad here but the city wasn't destroyed."

Urbankova said the Hilton, which has extensive water damage to its basement and ground floor, closed Aug. 13 and won't reopen until Sept. 30.