5.15am at London Heathrow, park the car and head for Terminal 3. This trip has come out of the blue but I’m intrigued by the invitation and looking forward to the next three days. After check-in and security, time to people-watch the hardcore business travellers who surf the concessions with an endless appetite for tech gadgets, perfume and jewellery – at 6am. This is familiar territory for those of us who travel regularly for work, but the destination is completely new.
Each year there are press trips to launch cars, usually involving several weeks of activity at a time involving dozens, if not hundreds, of people. If you add to this the sales reward programmes for dealerships, customer marketing activity and business conferences – it’s a big market.The Czech Republic is on a mission to grow its economy and the World Travel and Tourism Council 2011 report estimates that business travel is responsible for about a third of world export growth over the last decade, and one of the biggest spenders is the motor industry.
We land in Prague and the day begins with a transfer to Pilsen (Plzeň), a town of about 180,000 to the south west of the capital Prague. It’s a beautiful medieval city, a university town but famous as the home of Pilsner beer and the Skoda Engineering Works (don’t jump to conclusions just yet..).
To see the beauty of the city have a look at the photostream of my fellow traveller Eddy Sleiman an international event organiser who shot images the whole time and has uploaded them to Behance – highlights included the factory tour of the brewery where Pilsner was invented and you can see a video tour on YouTube from 2011 by an independent traveller. We didn’t get a chance to see the underground vaults in the city or sample the real local food but we did see the range of good business accommodation in the town, all modern and welcoming to a high standard – including a 1,000 seat restaurant at the brewery. If you’re thinking about unusual venues for business meetings, then some of the incredible historic buildings you can see in Eddy’s slideshow are available for corporate activity. Seeing is believing – great access to historic venues. The town has a rich heritage and is the European Capital of Culture in 2015.
A word about Skoda. The company was founded here in Pilsen in 1859. This was Skoda Engineering building everything from weapons to trains, power generation, trains, aircraft and … cars. Skoda Engineering is still here today, a huge company building trains and buses but it’s nothing to do with Skoda cars – which left the main group after 1945 and since 2000 builds cars under VW ownership at Mladá Boleslav in the north of the Czech Republic.
From Pilsen we travelled to Prague for a detailed insight into the ancient and cultural capital of the Czech Republic (never Czechoslovakia by the way.. Slovakia is now an independent state). Far from the Stag Weekend destination of old, this is a confident, beautiful and welcoming place. An international capital since the middle ages at the heart of the ancient region of Bohemia, Prague has the full list of brands (Chopard, Vertu, Audemars-Piguet) on the elite Parisan Street and hotels (Four Seasons, Intercontinental, two Hiltons and so on) and a range of smart independent five star hotels like the Alchymist which has an Italian twist, and Indonesian Spa.
You don’t have to walk far in Prague – everything is close together, whether it is the Presidential Palace where Barack Obama made his famous nuclear arms speech in 2009, or the Strahov Library where Prince Charles is a regular visitor. River cruises, fine food in restaurants and from outside catering such as Zatisi make it a good place for business events. You can see more views of the city in Eddy Sleiman’s photostream of Prague.
This trip was paid for by Czech Tourism and the teams in Prague and Pilsen are keen to do business with the UK, hence their commitment to showing our group around and desire to find new opportunities. I was impressed with the enthusiasm and genuine interest by everyone to offer activities, programmes and events to suit corporate travellers. We had a number of meetings with the regional tourism groups from around the country – which has more Chateaux than France (!), elegant spa resorts, skiing and outdoor activities.
It would be too easy to look at the Czech Republic and say the obvious benefit for business travel here is the low cost. Sure, things are much cheaper here, but the standards are genuinely high.
No, the real benefits and reasons I would do business here are the surprising and delightful venues which are within two hours by plane from the UK, combined with a ‘can-do’ attitude in a cultural setting.
My fellow travellers included leading PRs Frank Marr from Alexandra Marr and Philip Cooke from the Destination Marketing Group along with travel journalist Michelle Chenery from Incentive Travel & Corporate Meetings , Daise Graca from business travel, meetings and incentives experts BCD M&I and Arabella Faratro from Incontras International Event Organisers who are all seasoned in this type of event – for them to be impressed takes something special. It was interesting to meet a range of people on the trip from different but relevant backgrounds such as Chris Townsend from TA2 Creative and shows the imaginative thinking being applied by the Czech Republic to bring new business to their economy.
If you would like any further information or contacts with the Czech team – please drop me a line, I’ll be happy to put you in touch.
About Al Clarke – I am a marketing and communications specialist who has worked in the motor industry at board level since 1997. I have held senior positions in global brands such as Ferrari and the BBC including a decade working as a journalist.I am a member of the Institute of Directors, the Public Relations Consultants Association, an expert member of the digital community Smart Insights and Life President of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association.I speak regularly in the field of marketing communications to businesses and the media with particular reference to digital media. Find me on Twitter @alclarkeltd and LinkedIn.