Traveling broadens the mind, but at what cost?

Credits: Czech TV

If you are living in central Prague, we hope you either keep your ear plugs by your nightstand or, like a true New Yorker, can’t sleep without noise. Over 15 million tourists visited the Czech Republic last year, and numbers have been increasing. Prague alone received  around 7 million people. But if you think that the implications of this mass tourism are only on the locals, think again. Recent studies have shown that the impacts of tourism can carry major environmental consequences. And cups on the floor and after hours noise are just the tip of the iceberg.

It is assured that the capital of the Czech Republic is a paradise for party lovers who seek cheap beer and tobacco. But even the non-smokers that arrive can be damaged with the quality of the air. The European Federation for Transport & Environment’s study on air pollution in 2018 concluded that visiting Prague for four days is equivalent to smoking four cigarettes. Along with Istanbul, this Bohemian city came across as the worst of all 10 cities in the study, with striking contrast, for instance, to Barcelona and Dublin. Here, a 4 day stay is the equivalent to consuming only one cigarette. Regarding this issue tourism plays a wild factor: Air reports show that, during high season, the number of people that arrive is double the amount, and that doesn’t come without a cost. The demand for transports by air, road, and rail rises, and with it the demand for local and natural resources. The results are clear as day: bigger air emissions, noise, land degradation, an increase of solid waste. And although changing this situation might be in everyone’s best interests the Czech Republic is running late, having already been sanctioned by the EU on this subject.

And who is to deal with all of it? The people that work and live here for more than just a “four day stay”. It’s now our job as foreign correspondents to ask the local people how do they cope with this mass tourism phenomenon. Gentrification might have its upsides: different people, different values, different businesses. However, this concept can sometimes carry displacement. Do locals feel like their city is slipping through their fingers?

“The long street is really busy and there are many tourists mainly after dark, which is discomforting for the people who are trying to sleep and go to work in the morning”, we were told by Anna Kulhánková, a 61 year old woman who lives in Prague 1: “If a person just sleeps and is drunk they can be passed over, but when they’re still aggressive and start shouting something at me, it really is a very unpleasant situation”.

When asked if she’d ever considered moving further away from central Prague due to its increase in tourism, she said that even though she feels too old to move, she’s solved the problem by buying a cottage outside of Prague, where life is quiet: “I have to admit that I already thought I was moving, but it is hard to let go of the memories I have.”

In the end, the real question is: How can the government balance these migrations in a more sustainable way for both the people’s health and, in the long run, the planet’s, especially when it represents such a source of wealth? In the Czech Republic, progress is being made. Last year, after long debates, smoking in bars, restaurants, cafes, and many other public places was prohibited countrywide. According to Anna, the police are trying to keep the streets a little more patrolled, and they’ve even installed noise meters, so things might be looking up. It is now up to each and everyone of us to measure our actions, and the consequences that they bring.


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