Chinese tourists
Although the Czech Republic hasn't attracted the same numbers of Chinese tourists as other European destinations have, hotels and shops are making themselves more appealing.

Stores snap up Chinese tourists

Interpreters on hand for visitors from world’s most populous nation

Zlata Chrastinová has no doubt which group of tourists is spending most at the Erpet Bohemia Crystal store she manages near Prague’s Old Town Square.

“The Chinese are definitely No. 1,” she says. “This year [compared] with last year we see [their spending] has increased more than 30 percent. The Chinese, they come and they are big spenders.”

Many shops and hotels in the city are seeing business increase, at least in part, because they are attracting more visitors from the world’s most populous nation.

To cater to them, Erpet Bohemia Crystal now has a Chinese staff member who can converse in their own language, while hotels have interpreters available and accept – or are working toward accepting – Chinese bank cards.

Last year, 108,000 Chinese tourists visited the Czech Republic, a figure expected to reach 120,000 this year, according to Petr Vávra, head of the economic section at the Czech Embassy in Beijing.

“About 15 percent of last year’s visitors will be added this year hopefully,” Vávra said.

Overall visitor numbers to the Czech Republic are also increasing rapidly, helped by a weaker Czech crown.

Figures released by the Czech Statistical Office Nov. 7 showed 10 percent growth in the number of guests in accommodation in the third quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2011, the total reaching 4.9 million.

The number of foreign tourists grew 11.2 percent and they stayed 12.6 percent more nights, the Czech News Agency reported.

Although there are far fewer Chinese visiting the Czech Republic than there are German tourists, 440,000 of whom arrived in the third quarter alone, and Russians, who numbered 184,000 from July to September, outlets are becoming more Chinese-friendly.

At the InterContinental Prague, a freelance interpreter is on call to assist where necessary with Chinese guests, while the Sheraton Prague Charles Square Hotel is among the venues hoping to start accepting cards from UnionPay, China’s sole domestic bank card. Some shops in Prague already take the card, which holds a dominant position in its home market.

“We’re in the process of initiating that,” Richard Šubrt, the hotel’s senior sales manager, said of their moves to accept the card.

Šubrt added there had “definitely” been rapid growth in the number of Chinese visitors at the hotel.

“We’ve noticed a large increase,” he said.

As China’s middle class has become wealthier and their disposable incomes have grown rapidly on the back of years of double-digit economic growth, overseas holidays have become an essential part of their lifestyle, along with luxury cars and apartments.

Their overseas spending is often particularly high compared with other groups of tourists, because hefty sales taxes in China deter them from making purchases at home. Within China, there is also a cachet associated with goods bought abroad.

Europe, with its well-preserved historical cities, is becoming especially popular with Chinese tourists who have already made overseas trips to other parts of Asia and are keen to venture further afield.

Vávra said the Czech authorities were hoping to encourage Chinese visitors to venture outside Prague, with the Czech Republic’s spa towns among the attractions highlighted in promotional campaigns.

“We’re trying to create the idea for Chinese tourists to come back to the Czech Republic, not just to visit once and to see and leave and never come back, but to create a reason for them to come back and enjoy other places in the Czech Republic,” he said.

Globally, China represents one of the fastest-growing markets in the world for outbound tourism, with the numbers of Chinese traveling abroad increasing 22.9 percent to 70.3 million last year. This figure is expected to reach 100 million within three years, reported Chinese state media quoting the China Outbound Tourism Yearbook 2012.

According to Eric Li, a former manager for two tourism agencies in Beijing, Prague is yet to attain a very high profile within China, but this is gradually changing. He said the city was becoming “more and more famous with Chinese people.”

“Not too many Chinese people know it, but it’s growing fast. When people come back, the feedback with people [is that] it’s very nice, it’s a very romantic city,” Li said.

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