Mirjana Sebek-Heroldova of Czech Tourism with John Stephenson of the European Travel Commission
Jitka Klimova, travel advisor with Czech Tourism
Harold Ho of Royal Scenic with Mirjana
The Toronto skyline twinkled from the 15th floor of the downtown skyscraper, home to CzechTourism in Canada â€“ but not as brightly as the conversation. Some 50 friends and admirers of the Czech Republic had gathered as our hostess, Mirjana Sebek-Heroldova, director for the tourism authority for Canada, recalled the past decade with pride and not a little emotion.
â€œIf you had told me how quickly 10 years would fly by, I never would have believed it,â€ a beaming Mirjana said. She brought a smile to the crowd as she recalled visiting the local rep for Czech Airlines in 1999 to see about getting a good price for flights associated with her import-export business between Canada and the Czech Republic. Instead, he instantly offered her a job promoting the Republic and 12 hours later, there she was on a dizzying learning curve, dealing with travel agents, promotions, tour operators and marketing.
And it seems that Canadians are warming to this â€œStunningly Different Destinationâ€ with our visits growing from some 20,000 overnights 10 years ago to almost 90,000 in 2008.
Mirjana was careful to single out her colleague Jitka Klimova (â€œMy right hand, my hat, my big helperâ€), who was clearly also very proud to be there.
And with Christmas approaching, who better to talk about the festive season than Czechs, home to Good King Wenceslas?Â (â€œActually, he was a duke,â€ Jitka told me, although singing Good Duke Wenceslas just wouldnâ€™t sound right.) Outdoor Christmas markets are a huge deal there, from late November through to January 1 and feature folk traditions, festive music, traditional edible goodies â€“ and not a Walmart in sight.
Not surprisingly, Mirjanaâ€™s wish to Santa is that he restore direct air service to Canada (the last flight was October 13) â€“ but she didnâ€™t want to dwell on that bit of sad news. As the appreciative guests enjoyed piping hot goulash and other Czech food, she graciously told us â€œItâ€™s not our night, itâ€™s your night!â€
Na zdravi, Mirjana and Jitka (or as we say, cheers!). To the next 10 years!