Despite a rash of tourist robberies, police say Slovakia remains a safe destination.
The police tracked down the thieves a week after the case was reported. According to Peter Ondruško, Poprad regional police spokesman, two young men from the nearby village of Pohorelá were arrested and have already admitted to the July robbery.
The two young men, a 20 year-old and a 17 year-old, face jail sentences of 5 to 12 years if convicted of armed robbery. Charges have not yet been laid against the third culprit for lack of evidence.
The case, combined with other reports this summer of tourist robberies, have led some in Slovakia's fledgling tourist industry to fear that visitor numbers might drop further after five years of moderate decline. But police maintained that the cases were isolated and no cause for worry.
"Such cases are very rare, and I'd even go so far as to say these [armed robberies] were unique," said Jana Paľová, head of internal affairs with the Poprad police regional headquarters.
Nevertheless, security officers with the Low Tatras National Park said the Andrejcová hostel robbery was the fourth such case they had heard of this year.
"In May, some Czech tourists sent us an e-mail saying that their backpacks had been stolen from the Andrejcová hostel, and told us to watch out and try to prevent such incidents," said Dan Harťanský, chief of Low Tatras security August 3.
Another theft occurred near the beginning of July, again in the same area, reported Low Tatras park head Ľuboš Čillag.
"Some tourists informed us that their backpacks had been stolen from the Ramža hostel near Čertovica Peak," Čillag said.
The last of the four cases, according to Čillag, took place again at Andrejcová hostel on June 18 or 19, when several armed attackers allegedly punched tourists in the face and stole several thousand crowns from them.
"We have at least 10,000 visitors a day," said Jozef Kovalčík, mayor of the north-central Slovak town of Vrbové. "This kind of advertisement will certainly have a negative effect [on visitor numbers]."
But Štefan Omasta, of the criminal police department at the Police Presidium, Slovakia's senior police body, reiterated the thefts were unusual events, and said that foreigners in Slovakia were more often the target of car theft than of such bold robberies. "Foreign cars, especially those with western European licence plates, are attractive for local car thieves," Omasta said. "For them [thieves], a foreign car means a greater likelihood that money or valuables will be found inside the vehicle."
Such was the fate suffered August 8 by a Dutch native of Hoogblokland visiting eastern Slovakia's Prešov. A thief stove in the car's rear window and stole a video-camera, two cameras and $1,000 in cash. The incident cost the Dutchman, who arrived in the country the same day his car was broken into, 263,000 Slovak crowns ($5,260).
What to do if it happens to you
To prevent car theft, police advise tourists to leave no cameras, lap-top computers, expensive clothes, CD players or other valuables visible through car windows.
For those tourists unfortunate enough to be robbed, police advise calling 158 (the local police emergency number) and telling the operator what happened and which street you are on. Operators usually speak basic German or English, but if tourists have difficulty explaining to the operator what happened, they should just say "problem," and repeat the name of the street they are on.
Meanwhile, Ľuboš Čillag, head of the Low Tatras park, advises tourists to plan their walks in the Low Tatras in bigger groups, and not to leave personal belongings in cottages while they go on hikes.