Does Prague still belong to the people of Prague?
That is a big question. The number of tourists in Prague has been increasing for a long time. And currently it can be said that Prague is one of the largest tourists visited cities. In the world at all.
More than, for example, Venice?
It is so. In terms of the number of tourists, it is even more than in Venice. The problem with Prague is that the ratio of population to number of tourists is five times higher in favor of tourists.
So your answer to the question of whether Prague belongs to Praguers would be what?
Prague still belongs to the people of Prague. At the same time, however, Praguers are beginning to notice that in some respects and in some places, the city is moving away from them.
Is it even worse on holidays?
Holidays are one of the highlights of the tourist season, especially for foreign tourists. The large influx of tourists in the Czech Republic takes place especially around Easter. Then, of course, in July and August, when usually the number of tourists in Prague is the largest. There, however, it is a bit balanced by the fact that in the Prague environment there is an outflow of inhabitants during the holidays. And then, of course, before Christmas, when everyone stays in Prague.
If almost 600,000 people are poured into Prague during the holidays, which is roughly half of the population of Prague, what will it do to the city?
Different things. It is necessary to look at it from the point of view of the quality of life of the inhabitants and, in fact, of tourists. The city is overcrowded. Tourism is trying to grow in the long run, every year. And the main impacts are overcrowding in public transport, overcrowding in the streets. At the same time there are long-term effects, which is the impact on the real estate market, the impact mainly on rental housing. Which we can observe in such an overflow between rental housing and those apartments that are rented on the so-called digital platforms of short-term accommodation, such as Airbnb et al.
Urban anthropologist from the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague. He specializes in the development of post-socialist cities. It deals with the issue of housing estates, which is interested in the relationship of residents to the public space of these residential units. He works as a community coordinator for the Černý most housing estate. He writes about urbanism on the a2larm.cz website.
In any case, the influence of tourists is most known in the center. How has it changed?
The center is changing in the long run. Sometime around 1989, about 600,000 tourists came to Prague. And those numbers have been rising for a long time and then they show very strong, just in the last 6, 7 years. From this you can read various tendencies that relate to the functioning of Prague Airport. After the crisis in 2008, it showed a decrease in flights and connections that arrive in Prague. And of course, they began to rise slowly again during the boom, but they never rose again to the value that was sometime around 2008. At the same time, despite this degress, the number of tourists has increased in recent years. This means that the least arrives otherwise or the flights are more crowded. Many claim that Prague Airport does not have enough capacity.
Mr. Premi Andrej Babiš wants to pour 50 billion crowns into the expansion of Prague Airport. So you think that’s a bad idea?
For me, in terms of climate change, for example, this is not a completely good idea. The ecological stop of the airport is essential, drastic, it affects the environment throughout the city.
From the point of view of tourism, this is also to be considered, because the city is currently confirmed by a situation where further increase in tourism can cause it really fundamental problems. In terms of infrastructure, in terms of the functioning of the city, in terms of the daily functioning of the working population.
How to imagine the fundamental problems? Can’t we fit on the subway?
We can’t take the subway. It was a lot to see around Christmas. I will tell you an anecdotal story that happened to me recently before New Year’s Eve. I rode the tram and a sufficiently large group of foreign tourists boarded it. Their guide started marking about 80 tickets at once in the marker on the tram. And I was sitting where the marker was, and I finally realized that it kind of blew me away. Then, when I thought about it as an anthropologist, I realized that this is exactly the situation when, as the inhabitants of the city, they realize to themselves that something is changing here, that it is a thing that affects my comfort in that city. Although it is banality.
Such anger at tourists that them “they occupy their city “, do you think most Praguers feel?
I don’t want to generalize it like annoyance, it’s more of a sharpening. The professional literature speaks of it as a symbolic displacement. This means that these people stop feeling at home in their place of residence or at least their perception of home changes. They can move away from the locality where they live, because the traffic is changing, not only the inhabitants are changing, but other people are appearing in that locality. In the inner parts of the city, where due to mass tourism, the population has been declining for a long time, and it is currently increasing. This is precisely due to these short-term accommodations in the manner of Airbnb. And local communities have to deal with the very burning problems that arise from the tourist traffic, which is fundamentally changing from the daily productive life in the city.
Do you mean, for example, disturbance at night, noise?
It can be a disturbance of the night’s rest. Some houses become passers-by, those houses are open, people are constantly changing there. This leads to some clutter in the common requirements of buildings. And at the same time it is reflected in the public space. Prague lives 24 hours a day because the night clubs and bars in the center are open.
“Good” tourists cannot be separated from others
However, according to their words, the current leadership of Prague wants to target decent and good tourists. That is, those with which there are no problems associated with, for example, noise, alcohol, disturbing the night’s peace. Is it working?
I’m not entirely sure it would work. But at the same time, I probably wouldn’t distinguish between decent and good tourists.
So it is impossible to say: Do we only want those who go to exhibitions and concerts in Prague, do we not want those who come here to get drunk?
I can’t imagine a simple tool to separate one group from another. But of course, some group activities that result from tourism and have some negative effects can be regulated in some way. We know examples from all over the world. Currently, a lot of cities – Amsterdam, such as Venice, Barcelona – are actually trying to regulate tourism in a certain way. At the same time, they try to launch various campaigns on social networks to inform tourists about how to behave.
For example, Dubrovnik has limited the number of ships that can be moored in the port of Bruges “self-promotion and the Netherlands is trying to promote destinations other than Amsterdam, for example by advertising: Do you want to visit Amsterdam? And how about looking at Harderwijk instead? Is it an inspiration for Prague?
She could be. In a certain way, this is already happening here, because for the last few years the Czech Republic has been trying to promote places other than Prague. At the same time, we know that there are relatively few mass tourist destinations in the Czech Republic, typically Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov.
And it’s also crowded.
They have similar problems there. The measures may, of course, be different, Amsterdam, for example, took harder forms. Very drastically increased fines for public nuisance. At the same time, they canceled those guided tours of the famous fourth inside Amsterdam, which are known mainly for sex tourism.
What city tax increase is the way?
Increasing city taxes is definitely the way to go. At the same time, we know from the Czech attempt to increase the tourist tax per capita and day, which was associated with Airbnb, that Czech legislation does not allow for a very wide spread. That fee too much failed to increase. And the city’s financial contribution will continue to be very limited.
Is it appropriate to restrict tourism at all? After all, it brings to the treasury not only Prague, but also the entire Czech Republic hundreds of billions a year.
It is necessary to ask what city elects representatives, local governments, residents to help. And tourism, of course, represents this segment of earnings for the city. It is probably out of place to regulate in some way fundamentally, but at the same time it is necessary to constantly think about where the limit is, when it is already too much. And I’m afraid that at the moment in Prague. Given that the regulations have been insufficient in recent years, we get into a situation where we are actually catching up with something that is very difficult to stop at the moment. And it really only offers to read a set of long fundamental regulations, which, on the contrary, have negative effects.
What would you do first?
This is probably not a question for me at all, because I rather watch the phenomena. The solution is more likely to be on elected representatives, perhaps on some urban planners.
What do you think would help?
First of all, I would really try to connect the functioning of the city: locals and tourists. This is exactly what Barcelona is trying to do, for example, which is trying to get people together so that they can have fun.
For example, locals often take certain groups of people together and explain to them how it works in that city. The moment this little personal relationship is set up there, with a guide, an informal guide, we can get people to understand that the cultural background of the city is a little different from the one they come from. And that some things in our context are not decent or appropriate to do.
Airbnb has a major impact on the city
We have mentioned Airbnb several times. A platform for shared housing, which, however, has shifted to a commercial base over the years. According to Deloitte’s analysis, Airbnb accommodation platforms will eventually displace residents of the wider capital city center. But that’s already happening, isn’t it?
Yesterday, for example, I looked at the AirDNA platform, which provides basic statistical information, especially about Airbnb in Prague, but not only about it. And there are a total of some 11,500 offers. When I clicked on them according to the postal codes, approximately 9000 of them are in the wider center, which is the historical core, Karlín, Žižkov, Vinohrady and Smíchov. They are for the most part apartments whole. This means that four-fifths of those apartments are offered in the center. So it really has a major impact on the city. At the same time, it must be said that there are other problems associated with this, which do not fill in the short-term tourism or provide for the globalization of housing. A large part of real estate in the city is currently being converted, often to apartments that have the character of 1 + 1, for example, but they can be the short-term residential apartments that people buy, who already own real estate all over the world, for example.
But how do you want to make sure that the old settlers can stay in the center when they just don’t have it?
This is not possible at the moment without any regulations in the current property structure of the capital city of Prague. Roughly 95 percent of real estate in Prague is actually private, only 5 percent of real estate is owned by the city or city districts. Maybe less than 5 percent, because some privatization is still ongoing. Therefore, the space for active social policy of the city is mostly limited.
Compared to Vienna, for example.
Compared to Vienna and other cities, especially in the West. This is relatively common in post-socialist countries. It is a consequence of the policy after 89, the so-called big bang ride to buy. The jump-based privatization that took place here in the 1990s, in the zero years. In some countries of the Eastern bloc, it took place even more vigorously than in our country.
Well, we have few city apartments, we have a problem with Airbnb. Did the Prague leadership move with the problem?
Not much seems to be at the moment. And Given what the program statement of the coalition was after last year’s municipal elections, when housing with transport was the most important topic, it turns out that after about a year, it did not succeed much. Except that the social policy of housing in the area of social housing and housing for marginalized and vulnerable groups is changing quite fundamentally. In terms of the mainstream, that is, the middle class, rents continue to rise, exceeding the number of tourists, bringing the number of offers precisely through shared platforms.
Didn’t even find out abroad how Airbnb did?
There are, of course, partial solutions that can be bypassed. Berlin has been dealing with this for a long time by capping rents in any location. One can rent a maximum of one extra property if we are talking about those shared apartments. It can only be rented in Amsterdam 30 days a year. But the people, who have to make money on what they own, are, of course, trying to find ways to get around it. Europe-wide, the vast majority of people rent only one extra property. For example, typically in the Netherlands it is about 90 percent of the total users. In the Czech environment, the one leased property is typically a phenomenon for only 70 percent of users. About 7 percent of those providers in Prague offer 5 or more properties.