Lack of tourists leads to 24% drop in overall Czech alcohol consumption

The closed borders provided a chance to examine Czech alcohol use without the addition of tourists and cross-border sales
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Figures for Czech per capita alcohol consumption seem to have been greatly inflated by tourism.

Compared to the same time last year, sales of pure alcohol decreased by 24 percent in March, when measures against the spread of coronavirus were introduced in the Czech Republic. According to the Czech Union of Liquor Importers and Distillers (UVDL), the decline is mainly due to the absence of tourists as well as many foreign workers in the Czech Republic.

Statistics on alcohol consumption are calculated by estimating the amount of pure alcohol consumed, based on the alcohol percentage by volume of the various beverages, and dividing that by the total population of a country. This, however, ignores the fact that a lot of alcohol is consumed by tourists on vacation, and some bottled alcohol is purchased near the border and taken out of the country.

It has been difficult to isolate how much alcohol is consumed by Czechs and how much foreigners. Analysts say that preliminary estimates for Czech consumption can be made due to the closure of the borders and the almost complete collapse of tourism.

Retail alcohol sales rose 14 percent in March, but fell significantly in the HoReCa (hotel, restaurant and cafe) segment, where only delivery or take out was allowed, UVDL said, citing figures from market research agency Nielsen.

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“We assume that during the coronavirus crisis, most people did not change their alcohol consumption significantly compared to before the crisis. People who used to go to a restaurant or bar just had to to stay at home. Nevertheless, sales of alcoholic beverages, when converted to units of pure alcohol, fell by 24%,” UVDL executive director Vladimír Darebník said in a press release.

Brewery revenues in the Czech Republic fell by 40 percent as a result of the epidemic, with mini-breweries falling more than 80 percent, according to UVDL. The reason for the drop in production is not only the closure of restaurants, but also lower exports.

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“Incoming tourists, and foreign workers employed in Czech factories and agriculture are also large consumers of alcoholic beverages,” Darebník said.

In addition to the lack of consumption by tourists, there was also an end to cross-border sales. “A lot of alcohol was bought in our country by Germans and Austrians, who used to come to our cross-border shops for cost-effective shopping, just as our citizens went to them for food and clothes,” Darebník added.

Czechs should stop calling themselves one of the largest consumers of alcohol in the world, as current sales are closer to the EU average, he asserted.

According to figures from the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released at the end of 2019, the Czech Republic was in fourth place on their list of countries in alcohol consumption per capita, with people consuming11.6 liters of pure alcohol per year. The leader was Lithuania, where a person over 15 drinks 12.3 liters of pure ethanol per year, followed by Austria and France.

Alcohol consumption in the Czech Republic has been relatively stable in recent years, according to the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ), which uses a different methodology. They count the whole volume of the beverages, and not the estimated alcohol content. In 2018 per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages was 172.5 liters with wine accounting for 20.4 liters per person and beer 145.2 liters. The rest was made up of spirits and other alcohol.

In 1948 the average Czech drank only 84.4 liters of alcoholic beverages, but it rose sharply under communism. It reached a peak in 1983, when the average Czech drank 6.3 liters of 40% spirits, 13.7 liters of wine and 161.9 liters of beer.

The Czech Republic has long led the world in beer consumption. Based on annual figures released at the end of 2019 by Japanese brewer Kirin, beer consumption in the Czech Republic per capita was 191.0 liters, up 13.6 liter per capita from the previous ranking. Austria was second with 107.6 liters per capita.

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