Marcus Bradshaw is the founder of the Naked Tour Guide, an independent walking tour company founded in 2013. It specializes in small group walking tours, private tours, and educational tours for universities. He recently spoke to us about how the government restrictions on tourism have affected his business:
The closure of the borders has been a total wipeout for our business. It hit us like a tsunami on March 13, as soon as the state of emergency was declared. We provided full refunds for tickets for tours that could not take place due to the State of Emergency. Every reservation we had for private tours, including university groups and groups from travel agencies, has also been canceled. Not only have we had to make dozens of refunds, but all promised future income has also disappeared.
We are a team of four guides. The only government assistance we could apply for individual guides who hold a zivnotenský list was the once-off payment for OSVČ. But a single payment of 25,000kč is not enough to live on for the months to come, especially as we face into a massive global recession. However, the guides who work on dohoda o provedení práce are not eligible for this support. Unfortunately, this means that some of our guides have no state support available to them.
In the absence of government support, a group of art spaces in Prague came up with the idea of NIC 2020 — a Festival of Nothing — whereby patrons could buy a ticket for a show or an exhibition or a movie that wouldn’t take place on May 1, as a way of generating much-needed revenue for galleries, theatres, and cinemas.
This inspired us to create something similar, the Tour of Nowhere, to help our guides pay their bills. We’re selling tickets for a “tour of nowhere” that won’t take place at 11 am on May 1. The response has been very positive. We’ve seen lots of past customers and friends buy tickets and send us good wishes for our survival.
I’m not actively searching for alternative employment at the moment. I’ve always been self-employed (I started Naked Tour Guide while I was still a student, during an exchange year in Prague) and I’m reluctant to turn my back on my company. I’m open to the possibility of a change of career, but it’s hard to think about it right now when so much of society is shut down at the moment. It seems strange to think about a career in something that isn’t happening at the moment.
I think that the calamity is going to change the face of tourism in Europe forever. It’s my belief that the era of the cheap flight and “weekend away” tourism has ended. I would not be surprised to see airlines collapse over the months ahead, and I expect that when planes start flying again, that flights will be less frequent and more expensive. I think that the higher end of the market will rebound faster, so our plan is to concentrate on that market segment, which means we will focus more on private tours. I think also that there is a possibility that US study aboard programs will bounce back again, and we’ve had some wonderful experiences running tours for university groups in Prague, so I hope that we’ll be able to do more of this in the future.
I think that the calamity is going to change the face of tourism in Europe forever.
I’ve been very lucky with my quarantine. I love to cook, and my boyfriend loves to eat. A trip to the supermarket is a highlight of the week, as I look at what’s available and imagine meals for the days ahead. I’ve noticed that as we’re eating at home all the time, that there’s very little food waste — things don’t go bad in the fridge. I also managed to source some yeast (which I’m willing to trade for toilet paper!) so I’ve been trying my hand at yeast breads and fresh pizza dough.
Cooking aside, my Czech language course which has now moved online, and I’m taking part in Stanford’s Code in Place course, so I’ve daily doses of zoom-based learning. The most difficult thing for me is the closed-border policy. It’s heartbreaking to think that my family and friends are in Ireland, and I have no idea when or if, I will be able to travel to see them.
There are several positives to the situation. Firstly, Prague’s cancerous short-term-letting industry has been shut down overnight. Hopefully, the city would actually do something to regulate the situation now, while the shutdown continues, rather than letting them start back up again. Given the collapse in tourist numbers, and the abundance of hotel accommodation (hotels have planning permission, provide employment, meet fire safety standards and pay taxes, unlike Airbnbs), it’s hard to see the argument for the reintroduction of Airbnb. The return of former Airbnbs to the housing stock will also make city center accommodation available to locals once more, and give Prague back to its people.
Secondly, global pollution has plummeted, and I think that the Green movement has a real moment of opportunity now. It seems that now is the time to promote a green future, while the oil-driven industry is in hiatus. It would be a pity if, once the pandemic passes, we resume polluting as normal. Finally, and most importantly, this situation gives the city an opportunity to think about how it wants to address tourism in the future.
Now is the time for an engaged conversation about the future of tourism in Prague. There was a blanket assumption that the 8 million visitors that came to Prague last year were a good thing for the city as they brought money. However, the money they brought was not distributed to the citizens of the city as a whole but rather concentrated into very few pockets. The city center that was ever more congested with tourists, and local shops and residents disappeared to be replaced by candy stores, trdelnik stalls, and short term rentals. The net result for most people living in Prague was that rents soared and life became less and less affordable to the average Czech citizen. Do we really want a return to that?
For tour guides, our worst-case scenario has already taken place, and the best that we can hope to do is hibernate until this has passed. I think life is going to become difficult for the people who used to work in the tourism sector once restrictions are lifted and other people go back to work. It isn’t so bad when everyone is quarantined, but when other people go back to jobs, start eating in restaurants again, going for nights out, and returning to their pre-pandemic lives, I think that the realization of lost livelihoods will really hit home.
The calamity has exposed inequalities in societies around the world and that is true also in Prague. The tourism industry in Prague was fuelled by foreign tourists who saw Prague as a cheap destination — a view that a local would never share. Mr. Babiš’ recent comments that the tourist industry’s focus should now switch to domestic tourism, ignores the discrepancy in income between Czechs and foreign visitors.
To support the Naked Tour Guide buy a ticket for its Tour of Nowhere here: www.nakedtourguideprague.com.
Are you a small business that has been impacted by the corona-virus related shutdown? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.