Reinventing the typical Czech Gov't hopes to change image held by tourists By Peter Kononczuk Staff Writer, The Prague Post July 14, 2005 Czechs are a nation of simple, melancholic villagers. They seem to have no ambition or initiative. They live in a rural backwater. And do they even have mobile phones? A government-sponsored survey of how foreigners see the Czech Republic — which only four in 10 Frenchmen can place on a map — found that the national image leaves much to be desired. For a country in hot competition with neighbors such as Poland and Hungary to attract tourists and foreign investment, that comes as bad news. The Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, says it will take action. By the end of the year, it wants a new marketing image that presents the Czech Republic as modern, developed and sophisticated. The strategy represents the first of its kind, according to Pavla Škachová, deputy director of the foreign promotion department at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. "After 1989, our governments were solving the big problems, such as restructuring industry," Škachová said. "This 'soft' issue was kind of put aside, or underestimated maybe." Škachová said that until now, the Czech Republic has appeared as a land of folk songs and beer, of crystal, castles and historic monuments. "These have to do with our tradition and history, but there is a lack of [an image of] contemporary, modern things, of the progress in the last 15 years," Škachová added. As part of its efforts to change the country's image, the Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered a survey of attitudes toward Czechs in Britain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, the United States, Canada and Japan. POOR RELATIONS Foreigners see Czechs as: - Simple, conservative villagers - Lacking initiative and ambition - Honest, hospitable but melancholic - Toil-worn farmers with lined faces Source: Survey by the GfK agency for the Foreign Affairs Ministry The poll questioned middle- and upper-middle-class people who travel abroad on business at least once a year. Its conclusions were presented at the end of 2003 but only hit press headlines this July. The survey found that apart from Prague, respondents viewed this country as untouched by civilization and populated by toil-worn farmers with weather-beaten faces. Škachová said the survey asked people if they might come to the Czech Republic on vacation. "The respondents said, 'Well not especially. Is it possible to pay with credit cards over there? Are there mobile phone operators?'" Miloslav Knepr from the Mark BBDO advertising agency, which helped the government analyze the poll results, said he became puzzled at first as to why many foreigners viewed Czechs as producers of clocks and sunflower oil. "Then we realized this must be because of the pretty images they see of Czech landscapes," he said. "Blues skies, green hills and yellow fields with sunflowers." Knepr said that when some foreigners see pictures of the famed astronomical clock in Prague's Old Town Square, they think it must be a typical Czech product. That conclusion made some tourists laugh. Standing under the clock, Mirek, a 45-year-old tourist from Poland who did not want his second name published, said, "Americans, for instance, may not know history and could think something like that." As to his opinion about Czechs, he said, "They are less open than Poles, who are warm and hospitable." His wife Lila, 43, with whom he spent three days in Prague, said she had noticed that Czechs don't smile much. Park Suk Won, 20, a biology student from South Korea, thought some Czechs he had encountered were cold and distant. "When you ask something, they don't answer, and go away," said the student, who came to Prague after taking in France, England, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. "They don't speak English very well. When I toured other countries, nobody moves away like that." "When you ask something, they don´t answer, and go away." Park Suk Won, South Korean biology student Keen to boost the country's image, the Foreign Affairs Ministry plans a new logo and promotional materials and a complete redesign of the ministry's Internet guide to the country (www.czech.cz), Škachová said. The government also wants to increase cooperation among ministries and agencies such as CzechTourism and CzechInvest, the group responsible for promoting the country to foreign investors. "The goal of the exercise is to make sure that one agency does not do something that would really be in direct contradiction with what another agency tries to achieve," said René Samek, director of the London office of CzechInvest. He said one exhibition of Czech culture in London some time ago featured posters of an old woman from a village wearing a headscarf and sitting on a Jawa motorcycle from the 1960s. Projecting that image "was good for the cultural exhibition. I think it would be OK for CzechTourism, for example, but not something CzechInvest would want," Samek said.