Gentri-Touristification

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?

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3 Responses to “Gentri-Touristification”


  1. 1 pam December 11, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Sorry, Daily Transit, that’s globalization for you. We were in Waikiki a few weeks ago and it was more like the mall at the beach than the Waikiki of my Elvis fantasies. The elegant old hotels are swallowed by high rises, every inch of waterfront is developed, traffic is a disaster and there are famous brand stores on every corner. Why would you sacrifice Waikiki’s historic beach culture to make it a place where you can buy a Prada bag and to eat at the Olive Garden? Here’s why…

    Tourism developers see the potential of Prague’s (or Waikiki’s) popularity and think, hey, if the backpackers dig it, why not the over 30somethings with cash and a 10 day vacation? Ka-ching! I can’t speak for the locals, but who’s to say they’re not thinking the same thing? Sick of being stiffed by cheapskates for tips at local bars, why wouldn’t they want to work the stylish hotel bars? (I asked staff at hotels on my recent trip to Hawaii about this. They said things like, “I have a family to feed. This pays way better than bagging groceries at the supermarket.”)

    Okay, when the price of local real estate skyrockets because it’s all been purchased by offshore companies, that’s a big problem for the locals…but that’s a whole ‘nother problem. Tourism has never catered to the adventurous. So your gentritouristification sucks for hobby anthropologists and street photographers and gonzos, but for the industry and for plenty of travelers, a comfy hotel with familiar food and an English speaking staff is exactly the ticket. Gonzos will find the new Prague long before you read about it in the NYT.

    And now, I’ve broken blog rules by rambling too long. Stepping down.

  2. 2 Laura December 21, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    That makes me so mad. Since I decided I want to backpack through Europe as soon as possible, Prague was always at the top of my list (partly due to my admiration for Franz Kafka). I had always thought I had found in Prague a stop in my trip that would be free of tourists, and about how lucky i had been that the place i most wanted to visit was one place that wasn’t congested by tourists and large hotels. I hope I am able to visit Prague before this “gentri-touristification” completely takes over.

  3. 3 Travel Guy March 30, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Having visited Prague recently I have a different opinion. There are tourists, yes, but Prague is still uniquely Prague and day trips out of the city will put you right back into the un-touristy Czech you picture during the Soviet era. After a few days of that, I was ready for a luxury hotel.


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