The Dangers of Patriotic Tourism
Arvamus 21 Aug 2016  EWR
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Central Europeans are often spending their holidays at home these days – good for the local economy, but not for the local mentality.

Martin Ehl, 18 August 2016
A friend of mine acted almost guilty when explaining that he and his family had bought a 10-day vacation package on the seaside in Bulgaria. “We usually travel around the Czech mountains but this year I felt the need to lay down in the sun somewhere,” he explained, when we happened to be speaking in the middle of the summer season about the rest of our vacation plans.

His behavior might partly have been tied to the realization that more and more of his countrymen are proudly staying home during their holidays – a new phenomenon across Central Europe this year. With the political situation in formerly popular destinations such as Egypt or Turkey so shaky, with the need to travel as far as possible already saturated during the past 25 years, and with the cost-benefit analysis of spending hours in traffic jams on highways to Croatia or Italy, many Central Europeans are experiencing a summer of patriotic tourism.

Czech travel agencies specialized in domestic tourism were already warning in June that the capacity in many favorite places was almost full. I personally still found some possibilities to purchase a nice week at a small pension in the Sumava Mountains (in southwest Bohemia) in mid-June, but I can confirm that the selection was limited.

Central Europeans have been used to traveling to cheap, warm places in the tens of thousands. But the last couple of years limited these possibilities, and a bit more expensive places in Spain, Italy, and Greece have forced them to think twice about their holidays.
Already in 2015 people were thinking more about security and destinations closer to home. Slovakia, for example, ended in first place as a holiday target for Czechs with traditionally popular Croatia only second.

Such trends have apparently accelerated. The Polish weekly Polityka recently reported that by the end of July there had been a 7 percent decline in foreign trips made by Poles in comparison with last year. According to one poll about 12.6 million planned to spend their vacations in Poland – 1.8 million more than last year. Similarly, research done by eCall in Slovakia revealed that half of the respondents wanted to spend their vacations in their home country.

The domestic tourism boom has a significant political dimension as well. Simply put, even though there are very few immigrants and refugees in post-communist Central Europe, people feel threatened. And some domestic travel agencies have even cleverly managed their campaigns since the winter to show that the only safe place to have a vacation is one’s home country.

Politicians play that game too, as Slovak President Andrej Kiska pointed out in a recent interview with the daily SME. “Fear is the easiest way how to gain popularity,” he said. It was a critique aimed at local politicians who have raised the specter of refugees but the charge is also valid for the tourism industry.

With a Eurobarometer poll showing that 28 percent of Europeans wanted to change the destination for this year’s summer holiday, there is a significant chance for this patriotic tourism to have larger, societal consequences. While the positive side is that our money will stay in our economies, the negative impact is that since we remain within our borders, the fortress mentality – characterized by increased feelings of danger from the outside world and calls for all kinds of fences along the borders – could strengthen. Vacationing at home could thus be harmful, limiting the opportunities to see the exaggerated claims of a (supposedly imminent) wave of refugees massed outside Central Europe and the successes of countries that have managed to integrate their immigrants.

As for my choice of vacation I have a clear conscious that I have not completely contributed to the patriotic tourism fad. My family at least went for a couple of days to London this year, but before the Brexit referendum – the greatest expression of another kind of “patriotism” in Europe.

Martin Ehl is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny. He tweets at @MartinCZV4EU.
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