Key meetings industry leaders in the Czech Republic have addressed their government with an urgent call for action to support the sector, before it is devastated.
The Covid-19 pandemic has paralysed the meetings and event industries throughout the Czech Republic, like many other countries, with the latest Economic Impact study conducted for the CzechTourism agency and the Czech Event Association in summer 2020 predicting a drop of more than 71% in consumption associated with holding events.
According to the study, total consumption in the sector could be as low as CZK27.1bn (US$1.21bn) for 2020. Under normal circumstances the annual figure would be expected to come in around CZK99bn.
There is a corresponding huge drop in revenues for public budgets for an industry that, in standard circumstances, would be generating around 160,000 full-time jobs a year. Over two-thirds of them are now at risk.
The lack of conferences brings with it a lack of scientific know-how and it is the local community – citizens of the Czech Republic – that is hurting most, being the chief beneficiary of the obtained know-how, whether in the form of new technologies, medical procedures or legislative changes.
The Prague Convention Bureau is not expecting the return of international events to the capital this year, noting all congresses and conferences originally planned for 2020 in Prague, including autumn dates, have been rescheduled to 2021 or later, or even cancelled without compensation.
Despite the government easing the restrictions, concerns remain about travel and larger gatherings, and corporates are still applying travel bans to their employees.
Now, an industry alliance consisting of key Czech industry players, namely the Czech Event Association, Prague Convention Bureau, Community of Organisers of Tradefairs and Exhibition Events, the Czech Alliance of Professional Congress Organisers, Tradefairs Brno, O2 universum, and Prague Congress Centre, has called the Czech government to act on proposals for immediate support measures.
The alliance is asking for compensation for costs of preparing for events that have not taken place and of introducing safety and hygiene measures for events.
They are also calling for a special fund for financial incentives for the meetings industry, reducing VAT rebate on registration fees, support for conference bids and marketing support.
The Czech Republic conference industry has been on the rise in recent years. According to data from the Czech Statistical Office, in 2019, there was a record of 14,726 events attended by almost 1.5m people. “Therefore, our common goal is primarily to support the demand for events in the Czech Republic and at the same time to maintain the long-term position of the destination in international competition,” says Roman Muška, managing director of the Prague Convention Bureau.
“Congress tourism brings solvent international clientele to the Czech Republic, and at the same time it contributes to the development of international scientific co-operation. The average daily expenditure of a foreign participant in Prague is estimated at CZK5,756, roughly twice the total average expenditure of an ordinary tourist,” notes Jan Herget, MD of CzechTourism, adding: “Mass events have been cancelled as one of the first, due to the spread of coronavirus, and are among the last to start taking place again. Public budgets will thus lose up to CZK37bn this year alone.”
Lenka Žlebková, CEO of the Prague Congress Centre, adds: “Inaction will result not only in a temporary decline of the industry but also a significant long-term loss of position on the international market and the absence of prestigious professional events over the next decade.”
“The fact that the tradefairs and meetings sectors have been put on hold for six months is economically intolerable. The epidemiological measures currently in place are completely inadequate and impracticable for tradefairs and meetings,” says Jiří Kuliš, CEO & vice-chairman of the Board of Tradefairs Brno.
“Mass events were banned by the first government measure in March and have not yet been permitted. We do not know when we will be able to start. It takes at least a year to prepare an event with a large number of participants, and which of us has the reserves to cover the revenue shortfall for almost two years? If the state should be able to help, it should be primarily in this area,” believes Robert Schaffer, CEO of Bestsport, which operates the O2 universum venue.
“The existence of thousands of businesses, tens of thousands of workers and billions of investments is under threat. We lack dialogue with state power about the deployment of smart measures to help get the industry back on track and about state investments in the industry, which has for many years been bringing above-standard multiplications, as evidenced by the analysis published,” says Vít Rozehnal, chairman of the Czech Event Association.
“Meeting at a tradefair is far less dangerous than visiting a shopping centre, which according to statistics is visited by about 50,000 people daily. I propose to exclude tradefairs from the category of mass events or to increase the number of participants present in an area sector,” concludes Tomáš Kotrč, chairman of the SOVA Association.