World's oldest profession, too, feels crisis
Only a few years ago, the town of Dubi, in the Czech Republic, drew 1,000 sex tourists a day. The more than three dozen brothels in the town were winnowed down to four.
PRAGUE: On a recent night at Big Sister, which calls itself the world's biggest Internet brothel, a middle-aged man selected a prostitute from an electronic menu on a flat-screen television, pressing his index finger against it to review the age, hair color, weight and languages spoken by the women on offer.
Once he had chosen an 18-year-old brunette, he put on a mandatory burgundy terry cloth robe and proceeded to one of the brothel's luridly-lit theme rooms, an Alpine suite decorated with foam rubber mountains covered with fake snow.
Nearby, in the brothel's cramped control room, two young technicians used joysticks to control the dozens of hidden cameras that would film his performance and stream it, live, on Big Sister's Internet site.
Sex is free at Big Sister, but that is not cheap enough for some men. Customers get the cut rate in return for signing a release form that allows the brothel to film their sexual exploits.
Even with this financial incentive, Big Sister's marketing manager, Carl Borowitz, 26, a Moravian computer engineer, lamented that the global financial crisis had diminished the number of sex tourists in Prague.
"Sex is a steady demand, because everyone needs it, and it used to be taboo, which made a service like ours all the more attractive," said Borowitz, who looks more like Harry Potter than a Czech Larry Flynt. "But the problem today is that there is too much competition, too many free pornography sites and people are thinking twice before making impulse purchases, including paying for sex."
Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world's oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say belt-tightening caused by the global financial crisis is undermining a once-lucrative industry.
Egbert Krumeich, manager of Artemis, the largest brothel in Berlin, said that the recession had helped dent revenue by 20 percent in November, which is usually peak season for the sex trade. Meanwhile, in Reno, Nevada, the multimillion-dollar Mustang Ranch recently laid off 30 percent of its staff, citing a decline in high-spending clients.
Big Sister is not struggling as much as some of its more traditional rivals; its revenue is largely derived from the â‚¬30, or $40 monthly fee each of the company's 10,000 clients pay to gain access to its Web site.
But Borowitz said Big Sister hoped to offset a 15 percent drop in revenue over the past quarter by expanding into the United States. Big Sister also produces cable TV shows that air on Sky Italia and Television X in Britain, as well as DVDs like "World Cup Love Truck" and "Extremely Perverted."
Ester, an 18-year-old prostitute at Big Sister who declined to give her last name, said that big-spending clients had diminished, but noted that she was still earning nearly â‚¬3,000 a month, enough to pay rent and to pay for her favorite Louis Vuitton purses.
"The reason I do this is for the money," she said, after gyrating half-naked around a pole. Being filmed, she added, made her feel more like an actress than a sex object.
In the Czech Republic, where prostitution operates in a gray zone but is largely tolerated, the sex industry is big business, generating nearly â‚¬400 million in annual revenues, 60 percent of which is derived from foreign visitors, according to Mag Consulting, a tourism research company in Prague that also studies the sex industry.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has become a major transit and destination country for women and girls trafficked from countries farther east, including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova, the police say. Czechs and those transiting the country are most often sent to Western Europe or the United States.
Since 1989, tens of thousands of sex tourists have streamed into Prague, the pristinely beautiful Czech capital, drawn by inexpensive erotic services, an atmosphere of anonymity for customers and a liberal population tolerant of adultery.
Mag Consulting said 14 percent of Czech men admit to having had sex with prostitutes, compared with an EU-wide average of 10 percent.
Dozens of cheap flights to Prague have also ensured a steady flow of bachelor parties from across Europe. In 2005, an average of 30 flights arrived in Prague every day from Britain alone, a figure that analysts said has dropped by a third.
Jaromir Beranek, the director of Mag, said that when Germany and Britain - the two countries that send the most tourists to Prague - began to stagnate, sexual tourism suffered too.
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World's oldest profession, too, feels crisis - International Herald Tribune