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CITY FOCUSJuly 2011 Conference+Meetings World 29noticeable such as the 2000 IMF Congress and 2002 Heads of Stats NATO Summit.Ulvrová said: "Prague is still a fairly undiscovered destination with a surprisingly developed infrastructure." Although the city itself is compact (an added bonus when transporting delegates) compared to other European capitals, its meetings capacity does not reflect the same and most has been built in the last decade. Prague Congress Centre, which has a capacity of 9,300 delegates in 20 halls and 50 meeting rooms, is surrounded by over 1,200 hotel rooms in only three hotels. The city's largest hotel, Top Hotel Praha and Congress Centre, has 810 rooms and 4,300sqm of meeting space. Recently, Prague City Council has approved a new incentive for congress organisers in the form of free public transport for events with more than 500 participants. The support is for organisers approved by the council, working on events featuring 20 per cent overseas delegates, spending a minimum of two nights. At the moment, public transport is used by only 10-15 per cent of all congress participants.It is expected to help offset the hotel price increases resulting from the Czech Republic's unification of value added tax (VAT). The rates at 20 per cent could have a negative impact on Czech international events if new proposals are ratified.The act of unifying VAT could push hotel prices to new highs, adding new costs to events held in the country. Longer term, finance raised by the increased rates could be used to help grow the MICE sector.According to Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, the public sector should gain roughly Kc58bn (US$3.36bn) annually from the change in VAT rate.In Prague alone, the international exhibition and congress industry employs more than 4,500 people and generates turnover of Kc10bn every year. "Business tourism is essential for the economic development of the city and the state," said Zlebková. "And if the city wants its economic level of living to reach the world standard, it should support it."Major congress events reinforce the status and image of the city. Large congresses stimulate investment."New beginningsThe PCB was founded in 1994, however, was re-launched in 2008 to strengthen the awareness of the convention destination. Zlebková said it would like to follow the lead of congress destinations Vienna and Paris and offer "welcome receptions, promotional materials, or partially cover the costs of candidacy". The Managing Partner of PCO, Czech-In, Peter de Merlier notes the PCB has become more recognised by policy markers over the past two years and "consequently, co-financing of bids, incentives and subventions became importance elements to be used against competitive bids." She said the city has experienced a shorter average time of stay and decrease in the average number of delegates recently. "However, the number of conferences is on the increase, especially in small events with up to 150 delegates."PCO Prague Event Solutions' Michael Ferreira noticed the medical and pharmaceutical sector business continued throughout the global financial crisis, due to the city's location in the "middle of Europe". He has also experienced new business from South Africa and large incentive groups from Asia. The MD of destination management company Meeting Europe Centrale, Bertrand Caillard, told CMW he has noticed a drop in demand. "However, since this year we are seeing recovery from the French market and new destinations such as the Middle East, following the opening of the daily flight from Dubai to Prague." Zlebková added: "The conference market has become extremely competitive and due to the recession we have witnessed a significant increase in competition, both external and internal."Ferreira said the majority of organisers has overcome any loss in business by focusing efforts on other European markets where the cost of transporting delegates are more reasonable than the US. De Merlier believes Prague's appeal is mostly connected to strategic reasons: the city is a new EU member capital with new corporate markets and related expansion; and has the potential to entice more delegates to new EU countries. He has noticed a "slump" in international association congresses. With the increase of governmental support, international awareness and continual facility upgrades and new developments, this city of hundred spires could once more peer above the crowded meetings skyline. Case Study: Biggest dealer conference in the history of SkodaAfter 2010, the company's most successful sales year in its history, car manufacturer Skoda believed it was on the cusp of a new era and had set itself further ambitious goals, such as doubling its sales by 2018. It employed international event management agency Vok Dams to spread the sense of a new era and its strategic dimensions at a two-day World Dealer Conference in Prague. More than 5,000 car dealers from 100 countries came together in the Czech capital. Vok Dams was the full-service agency who, during a six-month planning phase, developed the "highly-emotional show", which focused on the new brand values and familiarised the 5,000 car dealers with these values. The business meeting and the subsequent evening event took place in the newly-refurbished O2 Arena. As one highlight of the conference, the agency produced the unveiling of the new corporate design, including a modified car logo and a refreshed communication logo, three weeks before the public presentation. As the conference ended and the speakers walked off, the stage floor began to rise. A second floor opened up underneath the conference, which became the centre of the evening. The entertainment culminated in a performance by superstar Anastacia and DJ Tiësto, who presented a song that had been produced exclusively for Skoda. On the second day, the delegates were given a tour of a sample showroom. Vok Dams' Skoda conference attracted 5,000 international dealers to the Czech capital

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