Thirty years on from the Velvet Revolution, Simon George visits Prague to find a quiet MICE revolution a work in progress.
Prague Convention Bureau (PCB) has been in existence for around 15 years now but its MD, Roman Muška, says before that there was no real awareness of the MICE industry in the Czech Republic.
Some might say that, today, there is still little awareness of the impact of the MICE industry on the local economy. Yet, after a three-day whistle-stop visit to the Czech capital, comprising site inspections of Prague Congress Centre, two new event venues, a number of renovated hotels targeting the business market, I came away with the impression that there is a new understanding to get things done even if funding may be tight.
The PCB can certainly be proud of the Event Management Course it organises at Prague’s University of Economics, which is now in its fourth year.
Cause for optimism
Economically the Czech Republic is doing well and outperforming the eurozone, with strong domestic-led growth and near full employment.
Ease of doing business in the Czech Republic has seen a marked improvement in recent years and corporate business is increasing. Against this background, major new venues in Prague include O2 universum and Cubex, while renovations have been undertaken at Prague Congress Centre, which is planning to build extra exhibition halls by 2023. Meanwhile, hotels like Vienna House Diplomat, Orea Hotel Pyramida and Radisson Blu have all been refurbishing.
Prague’s successful hosting of the 56th ICCA Congress in 2017 brought conference kudos and the Czech capital is up to ninth in the latest ICCA city rankings. Figures from the Czech Statistical Office (CZSO) for 2018 saw the Czech capital host a record number of events (4,534), 3% up on 2017.
It is worth adding a few caveats, however. There are strategic issues that need watching, such as the lack of awareness of the need to support the MICE industry at a national level, and the threat of overtourism.
The city authorities would like to reduce the number of one-day visitors and encourage longer stays, including conference delegates. A night Mayor has been appointed and there has been an educational campaign to stem the numbers of drunken tourists.
MICE expert from Palacky University of Olomouc, Miroslav Ronczak, tells CMW: “Prague would like to reduce the number of one-day visitors, encourage longer stays and attract MICE but there is no clear vision how to do it, although a new strategy for tourism development could be approved this year.”
Ronczak warns the Czech Tourist Authority could be set to get less money from the Ministry of Regional Development for tourism promotion. “There is one proposal to put all national agencies – CzechInvest, CzechTrade and CzechTourism – under one roof.”
Of course, we can’t forget there is stiff competition for MICE business in Central Europe. Vienna has three convention centres to Prague’s one, and has more airports. The city is also a lot more experienced in the MICE business.
Ronczak notes that the Prague CVB statistics for 2018 pointed to 41 congresses taking place with more than 1,000 delegates, while 74% of all conferences had between 10 and 149 delegates. Main conference topics, he says, are medicine, education and the social sciences and industry and key foreign markets for delegates are the USA, UK and Germany.
Examples of venue infrastructure development include Cubex, which opened in 2018 and can host 1,700 delegates. High-tech with ‘plug and play’ functionality, the venue promotes itself as a blank canvas on which companies can ‘imprint’ their products. As Sales Director Vít Gilánik explains: “We have an identity that I think none of the other venues can provide. The idea is that you can come here and you can do anything you want with the space.”
O2 universum, which opened in September 2019, is interconnected with the 17,000-seater O2 arena and is a multifunctional venue that can host up to 5,000 people for a range of events.