Is the Czech EU Council Presidency Helping the Meetings Industry Restart?
Governmental meetings: a very specific type of meetings, characterized not only by their organizational complexity, e.g. in terms of interpreting services, compliance with protocol rules, but above all by the safety of individual participants requirements.
Meetings Prague is not a newcomer in this specific field. Two events at the turn of millennium could certainly be counted among some of the most significant international meetings ever held in the Czech capital. In September 2000, the 55th annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank was held here, opened on 26 September by the then-President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel. A total of 182 ministers and governors of central banks of the member countries attended the meeting itself. Some 40 parallel seminars were held during the meeting and, in addition to the ministers already mentioned, some 18,000 official guests also attended.
Two years later, Prague welcomed another prestigious event, the Prague Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO for short), which took place from 21 to 22 November 2002. One of the highlights of the meeting agenda was the invitation of seven more countries to join NATO. The Prague NATO Summit, attended by almost 50 statesmen, was undoubtedly the biggest of global events ever hosted by the Czech Republic.
The tradition of holding government summits continues in 2022 by the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Prague has already had the honour of hosting the Presidency once, in 2009. However, unlike the above-mentioned summits, this is a long-term event. The Presidency, which the Czech Republic took over from France, lasts six months and involves a great quantity of official and associated conferences and other side events.
The Presidency itself began in July with a gala opening ceremony in Litomyšl. Part of the official programme then moved to Prague, in particular to the Prague Congress Centre (PCC). In the first three months of the Presidency, more than 30 conferences of eight ministries out of the planned sixty were held at the PCC alone. Aleš Pejsar from C-IN, the company that organises official meetings during the Presidency, also comments on the difficulty of organising such a large number of events: "Imagine that to the 40 to 50 meetings that C-IN has planned for 2022, other 77 more events will be added suddenly during the Czech Presidency! Nine people from our company are working intensely on the events, which is a truly admirable performance for such a huge event."
The highlight of the Czech Presidency was undoubtedly the first ever meeting of the broader format of European countries, the so-called European Political Community, also known as the Prague Summit. It took place from 6 to 7 October in the representative premises of Prague Castle, with the second day devoted to an informal meeting of the 27 members of the European Council. The organisational preparations for both events took about a month and a half. In the end, the format of the Prague summit was so positively evaluated by the delegates that it will be held in the framework of the next presidencies in 2023.
For the first time in history, leaders from 43 countries met on 6 October to discuss key issues affecting the European continent. In addition to the 26 countries of the European Union, representatives from countries such as Britain, Turkey and Ukraine accepted the invitation, with the President of Ukraine joining remotely. It was the hybrid format of some of the meetings, which required delegates and interpreters to be connected remotely, posing an additional challenge for the organisers and audiovisual service providers. The COSAC meeting at the O2 universum, which was interpreted into 24 world languages, was, among others, a stress test in this respect.
However, the Czech Presidency does not consist only of official governmental, ministerial, or municipal events. "According to the information available to us, around 150 events of conference type are expected to be organised during the Presidency in Prague alone. These are both smaller size events for 20 people and events for several hundred participants," comments Roman Muška, director of the Prague Convention Bureau, an organisation representing the Prague meetings industry. Such a large number of events, however, does not only entail costs, but also represents a significant financial gain and other benefits. „The summit alone was attended by a number of accompanying persons within delegations who used accommodation in at least 15 Prague hotels. The benefits for Prague must be seen not only in terms of immediate economic impact, but especially in terms of the extensive media coverage that such prestigious events bring. For example, the summit was attended by over 1,200 journalists, including 150 TV stations and 57 global agencies," says Roman Muška.
Holding events during the Presidency certainly helped meetings industry in Prague in the second half of the year. However, it is important to note that these events represent a smaller part of the total number of events that will take place in Prague in the second half of the year. "In our meetings calendar alone, we record 126 conference events in the second half of the year, and these are only publicly presented events. We see the positive impact of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU mainly in the media coverage that these events bring and the associated presentation of the Czech Republic and the City of Prague," concludes Roman Muška.
Thanks to the Presidency and the attention that has been focused on the Czech Republic and Prague, it has also been possible to communicate very effectively the modernisation that Prague has undergone in recent years and topics such as sustainability. In the context of the Presidency and its media image, Prague also launched a new website, international.praha.eu, which serves as a platform for presenting Prague as an important player in the field of international relations. The website will remain active after the Presidency and will continue to serve as a showcase of Prague as an innovative destination in many fields - from artificial intelligence to space technology to cultural and creative industries.
The article was originally created for the "Feel the Change" magazine of the Prague Congress Centre. You can download the entire issue here.