Jan Herget: “The pandemic has accelerated my main goal – the digitalisation of CzechTourism.”
World tourism is going through perhaps the most difficult times in the past decade. Many countries are trying to minimise losses, support their service providers and are optimistic about the recovery of tourist exchanges.
On this topic, we decided to talk with Jan Herget, Managing Director of CzechTourism, who took the pandemic period as a personal challenge.
An active, highly qualified specialist with extensive experience in various fields of activity, it seems that he knows how to take the ship of the CzechTourism from the stormy sea of the pandemic to a calm harbour for travellers.
It has been two years since you returned to CzechTourism as Managing Director. Can you tell us about that period?
JH: These two years have been very dynamic. In the first half, I focused on changing the Agency’s operations to better reflect the requirements of entrepreneurs, regions and professional associations. COVID-19 entered the second part very dynamically, speeding up and turning everything upside down. Where we thought we had a lot of time, we suddenly had to make on the spot changes from one day to the next and vice versa. We worked a bit like a start-up.
COVID-19 also accelerated my main goal – to digitalise. All employees are able to work from anywhere and attend meetings via Microsoft Teams. We organise on-line workshops, seminars and conferences for partners. Last November, we presented our strategy for the next five-year period in the form of a virtual television studio. Several thousand people watched the broadcast on various platforms. We are not just talking about digitisation now, but we have just moved into it.
Of course, we also direct all our advertising or content efforts to the digital environment. Only there are we able to respond to such minute to minute changes, where within one week, borders close and reopen again. If we wanted to plan this out in paper/ brochure form, we would have absolutely no chance.
How do you see the future? What conclusions can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic, what consequences will this have for the development of tourism?
JH: First of all, there are the brutal economic consequences. We have all seen the numbers. In the Czech Republic alone, tourism consumption fell by more than half last year due to COVID-19, and the sector lost about two hundred thousand jobs.
I personally see changes in two areas. Previously very interesting and profitable congress tourism, from which, among other things, Prague, which is one of the ten best MICE destinations in Europe, benefited, has gradually moved to virtual studios and electronic platforms due to epidemic measures. The question is whether it will be possible to kick start it to such dimensions as those in which it had until recently existed. I see the future in hybrid events that will combine both on-line and real forms of meetings. We now offer help to the affected congress sector in the form of on-line workshops and trade fairs on the Eventtia virtual platform. Volunteers doing business in the MICE industry can participate for free. We launched the series last autumn and virtually toured the United States and Canada, Latin America, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, Scandinavia, Austria, Germany, and France.
The second area is us, regular people, who travel for relaxation and entertainment. I suspect that most of us who love to travel have been affected by the current times. We had to cancel tickets and holidays and we no longer want to invest more money in future holidays. That is why I think a huge change will come about in this area as well. We will book last minute tickets and accommodation, we will not plan ahead because it is currently simply not possible. I also think that the security of a country and its health system will be important factors that will become significantly more important in tourism. We will want some certainty that if we go somewhere, we will be taken care of there in case of illness. Here we will direct our help to flexible on-line campaigns and to the visibility of the offer of regional destinations and entrepreneurs in the on-line space at home and abroad. Key aids are our internet portals kudyznudy.cz for nationwide travel, and visitczechrepublic.com for the incoming. At the same time, we will support projects that will help regions with effective destination management. For example, the e-Turista project, which should ensure a unified system of registration of visitors in our country.
In one of the interviews, you mentioned that your goal is to promote the concept of the traveller, not the tourist. Please tell us more.
JH: The idea was based mainly on the pre- COVID-19 period, when most of the attractive destinations, and it does not matter whether it was Prague, Barcelona or Vienna, already suffered under the strain of tourists. The purpose of the concept is to appeal to and attract those tourists who are interested in architecture, for example, are able to distinguish Gothic from Baroque, and appreciate that in our country they have the entire history of modern Europe in a few square kilometres. Those who are interested in depth and are able to appreciate either traditional cuisine, history or beautiful nature. The opposite is true for tourists, who arrive for three hours, get off the bus and take a picture on a selfie stick, and then quickly disappear again.
Can you tell us three facts about the Czech Republic that visitors may not know about?
JH: I’ll try. The Czech Republic has long been one of the safest countries in the world. We regularly rank among the TOP 10 safest countries in the world, which is especially important in today’s times. Today, safety is one of the key factors we use to choose a destination.
Those who have already visited the Czech Republic may know that they are among the countries with the largest number of UNESCO monuments per square kilometre. If you take into account the small area of the Czech Republic, then when travelling around the Czech Republic you have almost no problem encountering something exceptional. Whether it is a historic castle, château, church or beautiful natural landscape, you will enjoy it at almost every step. And if you walk your own way, you can use another world rarity – the Czech system of three coloured tourist signs, which will reliably guide you through the most beautiful corners of the Czech Republic.
Your career is impressive, from a Public Relations Representative in tourism and marketing to a University Professor and running your own business. Do you think that such diversity in your career helps you in your current job?
JH: I believe it does. But at the same time I have to say that the current times are really difficult, everything is changing in the blink of an eye. We cannot determine what will happen in half a year, let alone a year and beyond. Although likely no one was ready for such a dramatic change, I believe experience is a valuable teacher and is of help to us. I can also better empathise with the feelings of small and medium-sized enterprises, who are experiencing the worst time now, and I am looking for ways to help them at least a little.
One of your social media profiles says “Never give up.” Is that your motto?
JH: I think it is, yes. I don’t like to lose, but I don’t mind a partial failure, on the contrary, I always learn something new from it. Basically, I’m trying to see a long-term goal ahead of me, and so far I’m going. I like long-term plans. I have no problem setting a goal for 10 years to come, gradually preparing for it and finally winning. I’m used to it from sports and I try to do it in normal life or work.
You have spent many years abroad during your career. Where do you like to go on holiday and how do you spend your free time in Prague?
JH: From a Russian perspective, the Czech Republic is tiny, but last summer my family and I drove around the country with a motorhome. Compared to previous years, we spent much more time at home and discovered many beautiful places we had never been before. In Eastern Moravia, we discovered beautiful nature, the town of Vizovice, which has a wonderful atmosphere. We found, for example, the “Moravian Sea” in the village of Ostrožská, a beautiful lake with waves. By the way, they also have the largest underwater freshwater tunnel with fish, so it’s extremely fun for children.
At the same time, I was extremely impressed by the smaller, district, so-called royal cities. Litoměřice, Klatovy and Sušice. All have a beautiful historic square and at the same time lie in the middle of nature. At the same time, thanks to the ever-increasing level of gastronomic services in the Czech Republic, you can eat very well for a reasonable price. The city of Litoměřice lies on the Elbe River, around which a beautiful bike path leads from the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše) to the city of Hamburg. The city of Klatovy, on the other hand, lies in the middle of the wild Šumava National Park, also known as the Bohemian Forest National Park. We also used the offer of state spa vouchers, the aim of which is to support spa tourism in the Czech Republic, and we visited the Spa in the city of Karlovy Vary. I enjoyed the spa stay for the very first time in my life and I was ecstatic. If COVID-19 had helped anything, it was certainly that Czechs began to rediscover the beauties of the Czech Republic and enjoy holidays and trips spent on domestic soil.