New York University offers special courses
Tourists in Prague are a fact of life. The summer months seem to swell with massive amounts of people crowding Old Town Square, Prague Castle, the transport system and bars and restaurants.
Not everyone this past summer was here only for fun, though. A group of American university students spent two weeks studying Czech tourism — from an educational viewpoint.
Professor Sharr Prohaska from the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University brought nine students here in late June for an intensive two weeks of cultural heritage and special interest tourism studies. This is the program’s third year, hosted in conjunction with NYU’s study abroad site in Prague.
So, of all the places in the world to study tourism, why Prague? Prohaska said she visited the school’s London and Paris study abroad sites as well but chose Prague for a variety of reasons.
“I wanted to be able to have undergraduate and graduate students participating, and [NYU Prague Director Jiří Pehe] is extremely willing,” she explains. “I’ve been here seven times since 1990. I’ve seen immense changes — how cultural tourism has evolved, the country coming out of communism. It’s a wonderful place for a case study.”
Prohaska says NYU has one of the largest study abroad programs among U.S. universities. The school has 12 centers around the world. Prague’s NYU center offers study abroad programs for the spring, fall and summer semesters. Prohaska says most students only stay for a semester, but some do stay for a full year.
The summer-session group started preparing for their trip back in New York, meeting with the Czech tourism manager in the United States, as well as taking a two-hour Czech language lesson.
Once here, they hit the ground running and saw an impressive amount of the country. They toured the Old Town, Prague Castle and Malá Strana, Vyšehrad, Karlštejn, Český Krumlov, Holašovice, Terezín, Liberec and Ještěd Mountain, Kutná Hora, Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně.
They weren’t just looking at these sites through their camera lenses but with a more critical eye.
“In Kutná Hora, we met with a man from the city’s planning council who showed us parts of the city normal tourists wouldn’t get to see,” Prohaska says. “We also had a guest lecturer from the country’s monument program who talked about the UNESCO and world heritage site criteria, the politics of listing a site, the sites that are listed in the Czech Republic and challenges for tourism.”
The students also had their own projects to work on, ranging from Jewish heritage sites to eco-tourism to meetings and event management to the way the country reconstructs some of its historic buildings into luxury hotels.
Ryan Farias, a graduate student, is looking at art tourism and the concept of art for locals versus art for tourists.
“The Czech national art scene seems to be more for the locals, while there are the concerts in the churchs targeted only at tourists,” he says. “But most companies who run the church concerts won’t talk to me. I did tour the National Theater, though.”
Another graduate student, Chris Achacoso, is exploring another possible approach to special interest tourism — socialist heritage.
“Is it viable to do in the Czech Republic [taking into consideration] the attitudes of the Czech people … their recent history and whether it’s worth preserving,” he explains. “You can compare it to Berlin, where [the country’s socialist past] is very apparent.”
But it’s not just Prague the students are examining. Chi Lo, a graduate student as well, is studying adventure tourism here and how it is different from the rest of Central Europe, while Karen Zigelstein is looking into the Greenways trail system, its ongoing development and the cultural benefits for both locals and tourists.
Like Prohaska says, there are numerous tourism directions to take all over the country.
“In the times I’ve been here since 1990, regarding tourism, people were trying to figure out how it was going to happen,” she says. “For students, I tell them the city has been at this for about 10 years, identifying and protecting monuments, the castles, chateaux and villages. I can’t imagine any other country that has [this kind of] an opportunities to introduce new things.”
This is one area Prohaska thinks the country’s tourism sector may be lacking.
“Many companies have the same tourist offerings,” she says. “There’s an endless list of possibilities — tours of wineries, breweries, architecture, Jewish sites. You can get out of the city and into the rural areas, if the rural areas want the tourism.”
Three of the students had been to Prague before, and most would come back. They sited watching the Euro Championship soccer matches on a big screen in Old Town Square and seeing views of the city at night as being especially magical. Food, of course, is also important. They all seemed to love Czech ice cream, with Prohaska accusing them of eating it for breakfast.