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Czech tourists make last-minute dash to Vienna for Canadian visa
15-07-2009  Rob Cameron

We’ve heard about the diplomatic fallout from Canada’s decision to reintroduce visas for Czechs, but what about the effect it’s having on Czech tourists – 30,000 of whom visit the country each year? Well, it’s inconvenient to say the least; hundreds of Czech travellers are now heading for Vienna – the nearest place they can obtain a Canadian visa at short notice.

Canadian Embassy in Vienna, photo: CTK Canada’s decision to reintroduce visas for Czechs and Mexicans in response to what it says is widespread abuse of its asylum system is causing problems for the hundreds of Czechs with plane tickets to Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.

At midnight Eastern Time – or six am Thursday morning here in Europe - Czechs and Mexicans will be refused entry to Canada unless they have a valid tourist visa. For Czechs travelling in the next few days, that’s a problem – the Canadian embassy in Prague recently closed its consular section, and they have to go to Vienna – 300km away – instead, although officials promise it will be issued on the same day.

This has caused considerable inconvenience, not to mention anger, for Czech tourists as well as the travel agents and tour groups that organise their holidays. Tomio Okamura is the head of the Association of Czech Tour Operators:

Tomio Okamura, photo: “Hundreds of Czechs already have flight tickets or tours, so they all have to go to Vienna to get a visa. The problem is that it is possible to apply by post or by courier, but the Canadian Embassy in Vienna says it will take three working days. So the only possibility for the hundreds of Czechs who are supposed to leave for Canada from tomorrow [Thursday 16th] until approximately the middle of next week is they must physically go to Vienna first and obtain a visa.”

The Canadian Embassy in Prague now has a counter with consular staff at the city’s Ruzyne Airport to make sure passengers have all the relevant information before they board their flights. Until midnight Thursday Czech passengers can still obtain a visa on arrival in Toronto – after that date, they’ll need to obtain one here in Europe.

Tour operators say the move came at the worst possible moment – at the height of the tourist season, when 4,000 Czechs visit Canada each month. But there’s also the tricky issue of compensation for those who bought plane tickets but couldn’t get a visa in time. According to Tomio Okamura, the tour operators can’t be held legally responsible, and the only avenue left open seems to be suing the government. The problem is, it’s not clear which one.

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