The 2008 summer holidays have proven fatal for 56 Czech tourists traveling abroad. So far, this tourist season has seen more fatalities compared with the 52 as of the end of July 2007 and could prove the deadliest on record. “These growing numbers are really alarming and we are already thinking about better prevention,” said Jiří Beneš, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The majority of accidents happened in Croatia, where 13 people have died so far, closely followed by Slovakia with 10 fatalities. Only four people have so far failed to return from Germany, which in 2006 saw the most Czech tourist deaths abroad.
There are many different causes of death. One Czech mountaineer died in Switzerland while on his way to the summit of the Matterhorn. An entire family died in a car crash in Croatia, while two Czechs went missing in Croatia in June and have been unaccounted for since.However, most of the incidents have one common denominator: recklessness. “People often do not pay attention to local dangers such as extreme weather conditions,” Beneš said. “They often ignore warnings and consider themselves immune to danger because they are on holiday and having fun. Tourists should know their limits, whether they are on the beach, hiking through mountains or just driving a car.”The Foreign Affairs Ministry is trying to improve services for Czech citizens abroad by sending additional employees to existing consulates and establishing temporary offices in the most frequented countries.
“Even though Czechs can now call on any EU consulate in case of need, we established three extra offices in the former Yugoslavia, as that still is the most popular tourist destination among Czechs, and several others throughout Europe,” Beneš said.
Death in the family
Even though consulates deal with many issues like passport loss or car accidents, a death abroad is the most difficult issue to manage. “Issuing a temporary passport is easy, but when dealing with fatalities there is much more work. We have to handle the bereaved as well as arrange for the repatriation of lonely tourists.
When someone dies abroad, relatives often have no idea what to do, and it is up to us to provide them with relevant information and give all assistance,” Beneš said.In light of the growing number of deaths abroad, the Foreign Affairs Ministry is considering a campaign that would remind Czechs to be more careful and clearly present the dangers awaiting tourists.
Carelessness might not be the only cause of death among Czech tourists. The rising death toll should serve as a warning to everyone, but statistics show that, in 2006, Czechs went on 3.9 million foreign holidays, while in 2007 this rose to 4.5 million holidays.
“It is only logical for more people to die abroad if more time is spent traveling,” explained Tomio Okamura, spokesman of the Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents of the Czech Republic.
Okamura expects the number of deaths to rise even more in the future. As wages go up in the Czech Republic and the crown grows stronger, more people will be able to afford vacations abroad. “We will also see more pensioners traveling. In the Czech Republic, 10 percent of holidays are sold to older people, while in the EU it is 18 percent. In the near future, the Czech Republic will rise to the European standard. However, that will also mean more deaths abroad,” Okamura explained.
Okamura also warned Czech tourists to be more careful. “Many people travel abroad without a travel agency and do not realize the risks,” he said. While travel agencies provide their customers with all the relevant information such as necessary vaccinations, availability of drinking water and local customs, independent travelers have to fend for themselves. “Each year someone sets out to sea on a floating mattress and gets carried away by strong winds. If you go with a travel agent, he should provide you with weather warnings and oversee your safety,” Okamura said.There has also been a rise in more active vacations where people want to go diving or mountain climbing, and these activities carry more risk.
However, Czechs are not easily daunted and want to enjoy their vacations as much as possible. “When Kenya was struggling with civil war, Czechs were the only nation that still traveled there. This is probably because, until 1989, they used to think that ‘It will sort itself out’ or ‘We’ll see what happens,’ ” Okamura said. “Once Czechs have paid for their vacations, they want to get their money’s worth and very rarely cancel trips for any reason, unlike richer American or Japanese tourists,” Okamura added.