Prague showcases its new venue investments

Hilton Prague
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Czech Republic and its own 10th anniversary, the Prague Convention Bureau invited ITCM to the Czech capital city. Jan Erik reports
Following my first visit to The Czech Republic I can confirm that its capital, Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Its wealth of historical architecture is impressive and romantic. One of Prague’s experienced transport companies, Transfers365, moved me speedily from venue to venue, but I also took the opportunity to spend some time walking around the city centre. I was intoxicated by the extremely well-preserved architectural styles ranging from the 9thC up to modern times. I was entranced by Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and creative contemporary architecture, sometimes with various styles from different epochs within the same building.

However, despite being a historical city, Prague has modern facilities for MICE events and there are now a number of significant developments in the MICE sector, including refurbishments, extensions and new venues. The airport is also expanding rapidly, increasing connectivity with countries and cities around the globe. Prague is becoming ever more popular as a destination for MICE events, rising from eleventh to eighth in the latest ICCA ranking.

Major special-purpose venue developments
Roman Muska, Managing Director of the Prague Convention Bureau, is confident that significant new developments will give Prague a larger role in the international congress and meetings market. They include O2 Universum, Cubex, and the Congress Centre Perhaps the most significant new development is the O2 Universum, a large new conference and multifunctional venue, due to be completed in summer 2019.

Universum is being built as an extension to the O2 Arena, the largest in the Czech Republic and probably the fifth largest in the world, located 10km from the city centre. Opened in 2004, the Arena has 5,400sqm of floor space, can seat 15,000 people for corporate events and has 20 additional halls and rooms.

Universum will add 21 halls and meeting rooms of different sizes, for up to 10,000 people. Three halls will have a capacity of over 1,000, with the largest hall holding 4,500 and the smallest meeting room 60 persons theatre-style. The smaller rooms, corridors and foyers will have natural daylight. In addition, there will be exhibition space of up to 13,000sqm, wheelchair access and thirteen bars and restaurants.

It will be possible to combine Universum and Arena, providing total seating for 28,000 and parking for 1,500 cars. The Clarion Congress Hotel, about 1km away, has 550 rooms. Prague as a whole, boasts 42,000 rooms in 787 hotels, offering around 91,000 beds. An underground station a hundred metres away from the O2 gives access to the city centre in ten minutes and there is a large shopping centre just next door. The next project on-site will be a 4-star hotel with 300 rooms, connected to the Arena. It is due to be finished mid-2020.

Prague’s existing major conference venue, opened in 1981, is the Congress Centre, which has hosted events for the IMF, World Bank and the European Union. Summer 2017 saw the remodelling of much of the centre, including the main hall. Stages 2 and 3 of the remodelling are still to come. The CEO, Roman Ray Straub, says that to improve its competitive position, the venue will continue to make significant investment in IT and in converting to sustainable, greener energy, utilising renewable energy sources and energy control systems.

The Congress Centre provides capacity for up to 10,000 delegates in more than 20 halls and 50 meeting rooms. The largest space is the Congress Hall with up to 3,000 seats, with air-conditioning in the back of every seat. The stage is more than 600sqm in area and has a 20mx12m screen. There is 13,000sqm of exhibition space and parking for over 1,000 cars. A new exhibition hall is planned for 2022, adding an extra 5,000sqm, connected on the second floor to the main conference area. The centre is decorated with Czech glass artworks and chandeliers and has large windows that offer beautiful views of Prague.

Next to the centre are two hotels with a total of 800 rooms, the Holiday Inn and Corinthia, with a further 17,000 rooms only 20 minutes away. Wenceslas Square in the city centre is two metro stops away.

The Holiday Inn is connected to the Congress Centre by an underground corridor. Opened in 1999, the hotel refurbished its 251 rooms two months ago. There are 193 standard, 58 executive and 2 disabled rooms, as well as six meeting rooms, all with natural light, able to host a total of 230 people. The hotel is situated in a quiet, green part of Prague and has its own garden.

An entirely new conference venue is Cubex, opening on 20th June 2018. Cubex is an architectural reference to the Czech cubism art style, known for its sharp angles. Located in one of Prague’s business areas, the new venue is an extension of the City Conference Centre next door and together they comprise 3,700sqm of conference and exhibition area, with a capacity of 1,700 people. The City Conference Centre holds up to 500 in three halls, with 5 sections. Cubex can accommodate 1,200 people in a main hall and two smaller meeting rooms, divisible into eight smaller meeting spaces.

There is a boardroom for twenty people, two bars and four foyers, with 1,200sqm of exhibition area. The main hall holds 1,000 theatre style and can be divided into three sections, with soundproofing up to 85 decibels in the walls and ceiling. It has round corners, allowing for 360-deg panoramic projection onto the walls. There are 120 access points in the floor for internet and electricity, with 66 rigging points in the ceiling, which can hold 1.5 tonnes, enabling a car to be suspended. The LED strip ceiling can change the colour and strength of the lights in different sections, bathing the area in full white light or ambient coloured light. They call this ‘the chameleon concept’.

Vit Gilanik, the Sales Manager, describes Cubex as a multifunctional venue, with an industrial feel, state-of-the-art technology and a spartan, basic design. The aim is to provide a modern venue which can be customised to a high degree for each event. The lift capacity is 4.5 tonnes, capable of carrying a car. The floor in the complex is strong enough to have cars anywhere. One of the foyers has a 102sqm white projection wall and there are many screens throughout the building, which is mostly illuminated by daylight. The smaller meeting rooms have glass walls. Behind Cubex is the Panorama hotel with 800 beds and meeting rooms. Nearby is another hotel, the Occidental.

Hotel investments for events
Roman Muska also emphasised that a number of Prague hotels are investing in major refurbishments of their rooms and meeting spaces. ‘They will make a significant contribution to upgrading the city’s meetings and incentive facilities’, he told me.

The Hilton, which, along with the Clarion Congress, is one of the two main meeting hotels in Prague has renovated all its food and beverage outlets in recent years and this summer is renovating meeting rooms and the space on its mezzanine floor.

The Hilton’s unique selling point is its size, according to Patrik Kabrhel, the Sales Manager for MICE. It has 791 rooms, 38 meeting rooms, a Congress Hall and a Grand Ballroom, providing a total of 4,500sqm of meeting space, with 1,178sqm of exhibition space.

The Congress Hall can seat up to 1,500 people. It has a seven-metre-high ceiling, eight translation booths and can be divided into three sections. Sixteen buses can park in the adjacent parking lot and there is a dedicated group reception desk, with a foyer for exhibitions. Loading direct from the car park is easy.

The second biggest meeting space in the hotel is the Grand Ballroom which can seat 540 theatre style and has a six-metre-high ceiling. It leads to a terrace by the Vltava river that can cater for 1,000.

The Hilton’s lobby is huge. It features a high glass ceiling and can host a dinner for 1,000 guests, with video mapping, and has a stage for awards. Two cars can be placed in the lobby and as many as 26 cars in the congress hall.

Standard rooms at the Hilton are 28sqm. All guest rooms are the same size and design, with views outside or to the lobby. There are 285 twin rooms, the most in the city, according to Patrik. The hotel’s Presidential Suite has accommodated actual presidents, such as Obama, Clinton, Bush and Xi Jinping, so the hotel is accustomed to providing top level security.

The Hilton is centrally located between the Old Town and the business district, on the banks of the Vltava river. It has been voted the leading hotel in the Czech Republic for the last three years in the World Travel Awards. The rooftop Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge, recently renovated, has won the award for the best hotel bar in the Czech Republic for the last four years. It boasts stunning views of Prague and has two terraces. The corridor leading to it lights up as you walk along, like an airport runway. Fireworks launched upwards from the terrace below come right up to the bar’s windows, giving the sensation of being in the middle of the display. The hotel also has a Mezzanine restaurant that is open 24/7, with a full menu, possibly the only one in Prague, suggests Patrik. The fitness and spa areas cover 2,000sqm and include a squash court.

Patrik notes that The Hilton is now getting increasing levels of business from India and China, as well as the Middle East, for which it provides a special cuisine, staff who speak the guests’ language and dedicated tv channels in the guests’ language. Groups can even rent out one of the six kitchens and bring their own chef.

I am grateful to another popular conference hotel for hosting me during my stay in Prague. The Vienna House Diplomat, located, naturally, in Prague’s diplomatic district, was the venue for a summit of European presidents in 1997. The hotel is about fifteen minutes from the airport and close to Prague Castle. The nearest underground station is 100 metres away and three stops into the city centre. The hotel has twenty-five meeting rooms for up to 1,260 people in 2,218sqm of conference and event area. There are four foyers and 80 parking spaces.

The largest meeting room is the Prague, which holds 500 for cocktails and divides into four sections. All rooms except for Prague have natural light. The conference floor has separate entrances for different events. The three meeting rooms on the ninth floor have access to a roof terrace and views of Prague castle.

The Diplomat has 398 rooms and suites. It is currently renovating its rooms and expects to finish by year end or the first quarter of 2019.

‘The new rooms will be in 1930s Great Gatsby style, but with modern technology, history meets state-of-the-art design and technology’, states Marketa Englova, Marketing and Communication Manager. The Loreta restaurant seats 260 for group lunches and dinners. Its breakfast buffet has an Asian station. It is directly connected to the conference area on the same level. The restaurant can be extended to the neighbouring room to create an extra 40 places. As one would expect, the hotel has a spa and fitness studio.

The Vienna House group has two further hotels in Prague, Andel’s and Angelo, which stand next to each other. They derive their names from the Smíchov business district in which they are located. It is known locally as Andel, the Czech for Angel.

Together they offer 20 conference rooms, holding 1,105 people. Andel’s has 15 function rooms for up to 627, with ceiling-to-floor windows. There is a glass room, Crystal, with a view of the piazza. The hotel is also linked to the neighbouring cinema, which can be hired.

Andel’s has 290 rooms, including 51 apartments, with kitchenette, and eight suites. The new business lounge opened in April 2018. The Delight restaurant, reserved for groups, holds up to 350 with the foyer. Nearby is a big shopping mall.

The two hotels differ in design. Andel’s is all business with sharp edges, whilst Angelo claims to be the first design hotel in Prague, its 163 rooms styled in yellow and black or red and black. Angelo has five conference rooms totalling 334sqm, with a total capacity of 478. All boast natural light and there is a terrace with sunbeds, where participants can also take part in fitness sessions during breaks.

The 5-star Marriott hotel in the city centre refurbished its 293 bedrooms in 2016 and William Boulton Smith, General Manager, says they expect to expand their offering over the next two years to possibly 400 rooms. All are 27sqm and the artwork in the rooms is reflective of Prague, so guests are well aware which city they are in.

This summer the Marriott will modernise its meetings floor, which covers 1,000sqm and has eleven event rooms, the largest holding 319 theatre style.

Event organisers co-ordinate their Marriott event with the hotel conference staff using an app. If you ask for something and do not get an answer within a certain timeframe, the system escalates the matter automatically to more senior hotel management.

William points out that about 40% of the Marriott’s conference business is repeat. ‘As Prague is so experienced in MICE, organisers can be confident when holding their events here.’ The hotel’s Midtown Grill restaurant is worthy of note. It serves a selection of delicious steaks from the US.

Visitor attractions and incentive ideas
A major advantage of holding events in Prague, according to William Boulton Smith, is that it has an unrivalled range of historic buildings that can be hired.

Probably the most prestigious venue in the Czech Republic is the Spanish Hall a beautiful room within Prague Castle. It is used for ceremonial gatherings and Presidential receptions and is ordinarily closed to the public, but it can be hired for events for up to 770 people.

Any programme should include Prague Castle, the largest medieval complex in Europe and the seat of Czech kings through the ages. It comprises many buildings, including the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague’s most recognisable landmark as well as the Royal Palace.

Another venue within the is the Lobkowicz Palace, which also houses a museum and has panoramic views of Prague from its heated, outdoor terrace.

Zofin Palace on Slavonic island in the Vltava river was built in New Renaissance style in 1884-86 as a venue for balls and concerts. The famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak held his first concert here. In 1994 the palace was renovated, maintaining its original form.

The majestic Large Hall is used for state events, such as the Chinese and Czech Presidents’ signing ceremony. The stage can be resited or removed and the hall can host a gala dinner for 800, using its side hall and balcony. Cars can also be exhibited in the room.

The palace also has a Small Hall, which can accommodate 192 for a gala dinner, Knight’s Hall (110 for dinner) and the Lord Mayor’s Parlour for 100, which can be connected to the Large Hall. The upstairs area covers 1000sqm, including side halls, while the entire indoor area is around 1400sqm. Additionally, there are two terraces with views to the river. The venue is accessible by bus and has a cloakroom for 1200 guests. Up to 900 visitors can have welcome drinks on the lawn. Renting the whole palace costs around 14,500 Euros plus 21% tax.

Dating from the same period and in similar style, the National House of Vinohrady was also intended for social events. Close to Wenceslas Square, it has a total capacity of 1,200, with three historic, decorated halls, the largest of seating 773. Four break-out rooms seat from 30 to 60. The Social hall, for 240, links to Rais hall for 320 and to the foyer. All are on one floor and have natural light. There are modern technical facilities and two restaurants on the ground floor offering Czech and Belgian fare.

Prague’s Lesser Town has many small boutique hotels. The Old Post Residence, which opened in December 2015, dates back to the 14thC, but in the 18thC was the Royal Post Office. The rooms are inspired by Czech historic figures and each apartment is a unique design by a Czech designer. There are 26 apartments, which cost around 100 Euros per night. They are a mix of studios plus two rooftop apartments with terrace. The hotel serves breakfast with food from its own organic farm.

Also in the Lesser Town is the Mandarin Oriental hotel, a former 14thC monastery with original frescoes and vaulted ceilings. The hotel comprises three wings, representing Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture.

There are 79 individually designed rooms, plus 20 suites, spread over 5 floors, plus wheelchair access and rooms for people with disabilities. The rooms are 39sqm or larger and it is the only city centre hotel with room terraces, according to Kristyna Markova, Group Sales Manager, who notes that the hotel can be booked exclusively for an event.

The Grand Ballroom holds 120 guests, Dominicus Hall 45 and there is a boardroom. The Presidential suite has dining for 10 and a terrace with a close-up view of the castle. There is also a wine cellar, which is used for private dinners and tastings for about 20 delegates.

Another distinctive historic complex that can be used for events is the Strahov Monastery. Its library contains over 900,000 volumes and 300,000 works of expressive art. According to Jakub Skorik, Head of Sales at Maxin Prague, a full-service destination & event management company and professional conference organiser, a private concert can be arranged in the library for up to 100 guests with classical music and monks singing Gregorian chorales.

A walking tour in the Old Town is a must when in Prague. Or a trip round the places of interest can be arranged in a vintage tram for a few hundred Czech crowns per hour. If the weather is good, another attractive outing is a cruise on the river Vltava with a wide range of boats available. For example, Prague Boats has over 20, including the brand new Grand Bohemia, which can board up to 550 passengers.

Jakub Skorik lists some examples of other activities that can be used in an incentive or conference leisure programme. They include a visit to a Czech beer spa, a walking tour of beer breweries, wine tasting in vineyards, a private concert in one of Prague’s churches, dinner in a medieval tavern, with swordsmen, jugglers as well as dancers, or dinner with a folklore show of traditional music and dancing. Then there are excursions to chateaux and castles outside Prague, such as to the Gothic castle of Karlstejn, originally built in 1348 by Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV as a place to keep the royal treasures and since then reconstructed in Gothic style. Groups can visit famous crystal glassworks and even experience a lesson in glassblowing.

Another option for an excursion is the Aqua Palace Hotel 5km from Prague. It has an aqua park of over 9,000sqm, including the longest water slide in the Czech Republic. There is also a spa, 14 saunas and mini golf.

The 4-star hotel has 231 rooms and a 700sqm conference area that accommodates up to 650 people. There are 11 meeting rooms, four lounges and a garden area.

About 20 minutes outside the city is the newly opened Fashion Arena, the first fashion outlet in Prague, with over 200 brands. According to Petr Krivonozka, Business Development Manager, the prices are about 30% cheaper than in the city centre. They offer special programmes for groups, including use of a VIP lounge and extra discounts. Two shuttle buses run to and from the city centre every 20 minutes.

For a totally different experience, groups can participate in a team competition underground at the Old Wastewater plant. The game, run by Quix, a digital events company, involves completing tasks to reach the final prize. Quix also has a table-mapping restaurant in the Zofin Palace.

Travelling to Prague
There are currently flights connecting Prague with 157 destinations and its international airport is growing by about 2m passengers annually, according to Roman Muska. There are now regular flights to the Middle East and several cities in China, with Hong Kong a possible new route next year. New routes are also being added to US cities, such as Philadelphia. Roman explains that there are major plans for the future, including enlarging the terminal and building a new runway. The current limit is 20m passengers, but that is expected to double in future.

Another of Prague’s advantages, says Roman, is that, although a capital city, it feels quite small and cosy. ‘Everywhere in Prague is walkable’, according to William Boulton Smith, going on to point out that even at night you can be confident of walking around, as Prague is a safe destination. In the Green Cities Index 2018, published by Dutch holiday agency, Travel Bird, Prague was ranked first out of 50 cities in terms of its percentage of green areas.

Finally, William believes that Prague is still more affordable than London, Paris, Vienna or Amsterdam.

In summary, Roman Muska, Managing Director of the Prague Convention Bureau, lists Prague’s key advantages as a MICE destination: one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, excellent and still improving MICE facilities for congresses, meetings and incentives, access to historic venues, long experience of handling events, good infrastructure, a safe destination, extensive global flight connections, value for money and support for event organisers from the Convention Bureau. Then he pauses briefly, before adding: ‘And the beer, of course.’

New Website
The Prague Convention Bureau has introduced new web pages. The website includes general information about Prague for event organisers, as well as instructions on how to obtain free marketing and financial support for events with the assistance of the Bureau. The site also includes an extensive tool for searching for certified service suppliers operating in the meetings industry. It also allows clients to search for related services, such as accommodation, catering, transport and many others. ‘There are more than 4,000 conferences, congresses or other corporate meetings held annually in Prague’, says Roman Muska, Managing Director of the Prague Convention Bureau. ‘Our primary requirement for the new website was that event organisers would find the answers to their questions in one place and in a comprehensible form’. He adds: ‘With the new website, visitors can download various promotional materials and forms to apply, for example, for the so-called congress transportation passes and to use our destination presentation or video, or simply send us an inquiry.’

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