Visit Czech Republic to Explore a World of Beautiful Surprises

Located in the Eastern Europe, The Czech Republic is a beautiful country with a rich history and unique natural landscapes. The Czech Republic came into being in 1993 after peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. With its significant contribution, tourism is one of the leading sectors of the Country’s economy. Prague, the capital of the country, is one of the most visited cities in Europe. The city boasts of a number of excellent attractions. In an Exclusive interview to TnH, H.E. Mr. MILAN HOVORKA, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka spoke about the vast tourism potential of his country. He informed that an increasing number of Indians are visiting the country for leisure. Of late, Prague has emerged as an MICE destination among Indians. “We wish to position Prague as an allinclusive MICE destination to the world,” says H.E. Mr. Hovorka.

Q. What is extraordinary about Czech Republic as a tourist destination?
The Czech Republic is a modern and dynamic destination with a rich history and unique natural beauty. It’s an easy country to get around, particularly for those planning to spend the bulk of their time exploring the nation’s beautiful capital, Prague. Yet while Prague boasts an inordinate number of excellent attractions, there are enough out-of-the-way attractions to warrant exploring by car. Highlights of a trip to the Czech countryside include many excellent national parks and conservation areas, one of the most popular being the aptly named Bohemian Paradise, an area of outstanding natural beauty characterized by numerous splendid rock formations and many fine old castles (another area worth visiting is Podyjí National Park in Moravia with its large unspoiled forests). Along the way, you’ll stumble across numerous old villages and towns, many unchanged since medieval times and home to fine old churches, palaces, and public squares, all of them worth a visit.

Q. Why do you think that Czech Republic is good destination for Indian visitors?
Prague is reinventing itself as an emerging Leisure and MICE destination to the world. Travel from India to Prague started flourishing from 2011. We are seeing more and more Indians coming to the country predominantly for Leisure. India discovered Prague as a MICE destination one or two years ago. We expect the business to grow further. The challenge however is that there is no direct channel between India and Czech Republic. We wish to position Prague as an all-inclusive MICE destination to the world. We are aware about the importance of Indian market for Cedok and efforts are being made in the direction to engage Indian travel trade to promote Prague as a MICE and Leisure destination in India. Prague has enjoyed a worldwide representation as a happening city. And it certainly is. There are always new bars and restaurants opening up and festivals going on. Shopping, small boutiques and vintage clothing outlets are popping up here and there to keep travellers completely involved with the country.

Q. How competitive is your country as tourist destination?
55 thousand Indians were accommodated in the Czech Republic for at least one night in 2015 according to the statistics provided by the Czech Tourism Agency. This is much more than number of visas our Embassy in New Delhi issued. In 2015, the Embassy received around 13 thousand visa applications which is almost 30 per cent growth as compared to 2014. It means that more than 40 thousand people in 2015 were traveling also to another Schengen country like Austria or Germany and obtained Schengen Visa from the Embassy of such country. This is a really big benefit for Indian tourists that once they have Schengen Visa they can travel to other Schengen country and not only to their primary country which issued Visa to them. From this point of view we can see that the Czech Republic has become very popular destination for Indians. In a new development, recently VFS Global has launched Czech Visa Application centre in Bangalore and will soon be starting centres for Czech Republic in Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, thereby enabling intended travellers to apply from six different locations within India including Mumbai and Delhi. Prague, the capital of Czech Republic has been a popular destination for the Indian travellers and also Bollywood. Many films have been shot in Prague in recent years, which have given a boost to tourism in this European nation. Also, our nation has certain niche products to offer like the golf tourism, spa and wellness. We have world-class spa therapies and also thermal spas in Czech Republic. I feel extremely delighted to inform that we have over 80 golf courses in the country which is again a segment we are exploring. In addition, we are keen on tapping the students segment for which a programme called, ‘Study in Prague’ has been launched too.

Q. How simple is the visa process of Czech Republic for Indian travellers?
Indeed, we have harmonized policies regarding visas regulated by Visa Code and it is our earnest effort to continuously harmonize the visa processes and its requirement such as supporting documentation; processing time etc. It is always recommendable to arrange the appointment at least 15 days prior to your departure since that is the estimated time needed for the visa applications to process at the Embassy. The Embassy of Czech Republic does its best to facilitate visa applications by issuing visas as soon as possible. As explained, already we provide a high quality visa service in India. But with the VFS Visa Application centres in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and upcoming ones in Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, our services will be excellent. The new visa facilities demonstrate continuous commitment of the Czech authorities to improve quality of service for visa applicants.” Our attempt is to simplify the visa process to greater extent and ensure maximum footfall from India to experience our enriching culture and heritage. Furthermore, we have made possible for applicants to avail for mobile services through our partner VFS, where officers from VFS shall visit location of applicant’s choice for collection of documents and biometrics which is a mandatory requirement since November 2015.

Q. How does Czech Republic’s visa service remain competitive?
As on date, we aim to open more centres for applicants to conveniently apply their visa applications for Czech Republic. Simultaneously our visa section is working extensively hard to issue visas well in time for people to travel as per their plans. In case of emergencies, we address people proactively and ensure complete guidance to make their travel comfortable. Our visa application processes are very simple and close observance of the requirement does assist us in expediting the cases.

Q. How important is the Indian outbound market for Czech Republic?
How many Indian tourists visited Czech Republic last year? Europe remains the region with the most international arrivals per year, thanks in part to its rich cultural resources, world-class tourism service infrastructure, strong health and hygiene conditions, and— notably with the Schengen Area—high degree of international openness and integration. India is beginning to appear as a strategic market for inbound tourism to Czech Republic. Following the decrease of Russian visitors in last years, Czech Tourism is enhancing its focus on new markets such as East Asia (China, South Korea, Japan) and South Asian countries like India. We expect growth of Indian outbound tourism numbers in the following years and India is definitely of growing importance to us.

Q. Could you please provide some statistics giving an overall inbound scenario to Czech?
The Embassy of the Czech Republic accepted in the first half of this year almost 7,000 visa applications. However, the number of people who would like to visit the Czech Republic together with some neighboring countries is steadily growing. If the last year the number of visa applications were about 13,000 for the whole year, today with this trend we can except that the final statistic data at the end of this year should be substantially higher.

Q. How is the air-connectivity between the two countries?
We are committed to explore the options of resuming direct air connectivity between the two countries. The direct air linkage between Delhi and Prague (run by Air India) was suspended in 1991 but there is an urgent need of putting this service back in place considering the growing bilateral trade exchanges and tourists footfall. The bilateral trade between the two countries presently stands at $1.3 billion but we anticipate a major jump given India’s emphasis on its ambitious “Make in India” programme and our expertise in compiled.

To summarize: Prague is a romantic city of many faces. From gothic cathedrals to superb quality dining experience followed by long lasting culture of Prague cafes – places where famous writers (Franz Kafka), poets, playwrights (Václav Havel), filmmakers (Miloš Forman) and actors spent most of their time discussing their work and world around them, followed by modern Czech design (Dancing house, events like Meet Czech Design, Design Market etc.). Prague is definitely a no. 1 destination to visit when you come to Czech Republic. Pilsen is known as a world’s capital of beer and also European Capital of Culture 2015.

Northern Czech Republic is known for its beautiful natural landscape and is just an hour from Prague (Czech Paradise, Czech Switzerland). It has a unique historical heritage (Kost castle, Trosky castle) and is also the land of famous Czech glassmakers (Preciosa, Moser). Southern Moravia – land of wine, sun drained wine fields, chateauxes (Lednice-Valtice complex), watercanals (Baťa canal) and opportunities of active holidays (cyclo-routes around South Moravia and north-eastern Austria, horse riding etc.) Český Krumlov – so called “jewel of Southern Bohemia”. This fairytale city has unique blend of historical centre (included on UNESCO heritage sites list), narrow medieval streets, opportunities of adventures around (rafting on Vltava river, hiking in the near-by Šumava mountains) and great services. manufacturing. Plus, we are noticing a modest growth in the arrival of Indian tourists – to the tune of 30 percent in the recent year. The timing, therefore, I believe is apt for the re-introduction of a direct flight between the two countries. Over 12,000 Indian visitors are expected to visit the Czech Republic this year which has an annual arrival base of 8 million foreign tourists. Germany, the UK, France and the US are major source markets for the country with South Korea and China being the major contributors from Asia. Recently, a direct flight has also been introduced between the Czech capital Prague and Beijing to provide better accessibility.

For Indian travellers, however, the best stopover options to reach out to Prague are presently provided by Turkish Airlines and Emirates. Our efforts will soon be set afoot to approach concerned authorities and the potential airlines which could initiate direct service but prior to that a critical assessment exercise will be undertaken. We are also part of Schengen countries and, therefore, many visitors might be coming on the common visa which works in the region. We are currently examining the volume of Indian visitors also visiting the Czech Republic on this common visa and then we will have the precise idea of the potential traffic. We will kick off our negotiation exercise for direct connectivity after the data has been compiled.

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