I WON’T PRETEND THAT I’ve always been interested in traveling to Eastern Europe. Old Soviet Bloc era imagery dies hard I suppose; until high school I mainly just envisioned the region possessing two elements – cement and cold. But things have changed, and when I stare at the world map taped up to my apartment wall (as I often do) my eyes will drift to Budapest and Prague.
Of course, it is no secret that new generations of tourists and travelers are seeking to escape the high prices of Western Europe by branching out towards the east – apparently Prague’s locals have already caught on to this, driving prices up and muddling authenticity with more profitable kitsch. Now, according to The New York Times, the Czech capital is becoming a luxury destination – and this is supposed to be attractive?
The verdict is in. The Next Prague is … Prague. Stag parties have moved on, bohemians have left for cheaper rents, and youth hostels are being squeezed by luxe hotels. Joining a new Mandarin Oriental next year is the Augustine, converted from a monastery and other buildings into a Rocco Forte hotel, and the just-refurbished Hilton Prague Old Town, with a buzzing restaurant opened by Gordon Ramsay.
(from 53 places to go in 2008)
Perhaps I’m not the target audience of the NYT Travel section, but any way you slice it this kind of gentri-touristification (that’s my new fancy word) seems like a bad thing. Why would anyone want Prague to be anything other than…Prague? Why would anyone travel halfway across the planet only to be greeted by a luxury hotel similar to so many others found around the globe? How is it in any way desirable for affordable travel options to get “squeezed,” while options for rich jet-setters abound?