Prague Convention Bureau
Machine Learning Prague will be staged in the 'Golden City' in May of this year Image: Prague City Tourism
Machine Learning Prague will be staged in the 'Golden City' in May of this year Image: Prague City Tourism
The “Golden City” is rich in history and Prague is now opening a new chapter: the Czech Republic and its capital city are intent on developing into a hub for artificial intelligence. Prague offers planners a range of updated content reference points and hotels.
It comes as no surprise that the Prague Spring International Music Festival will be staged in the Rudolfinum in May of this year. However, it is quite a surprise that Europe’s leading conference on Machine Learning Applications will also step into the limelight here, in the Czech Philharmonic’s concert hall. Jiří Materna is the event’s mastermind and artificial intelligence is his passion. The information scientist just loves discussing AI with other computer specialists. But because Materna can’t be jetting around the globe all the time, he invites these fellow enthusiasts once a year to the Machine Learning Prague, as again this year from May 27 thru 29.
“I love talking about AI"
Jiří Materna is a machine learning expert and passionate about artificial intelligence. Over dinner at Vienna House Andel’s Prague, the founder of Machine Learning Prague explained why we shouldn’t fear artificial intelligence, how his conference started, and how Prague is becoming an AI Hub.
The 1.3 million Prague natives are used to welcoming guests from all over the world. Prior to the pandemic, they registered some nine million tourists per year, ranking this “Golden City“ with the Prague Castle and the famous Charles Bridge among the top 25 city destinations throughout the entire world. The city owes its title to the sandstone towers gleaming golden in sunlight and to emperor Charles IV, who had the towers of the Prague Castle plated in gold. Buildings from the Gothic and Baroque eras characterize the Czech capital as do the 13 bridges spanning the Vltava river. At the southerly river bend lie the historic Hradčany and Vyšehrad districts classified as UNESCO-World Heritage Sites. Historians acknowledge that Prague in the 14th century was one of the outstanding political and cultural European centers; the Charles University founded in 1348 was the first university to be established in Central Europe. In 2022, the Czech Republic aka “Land of Stories” is reinventing itself as “Country of the Future”. The new strategy pursued by Prague City Tourism is focused on sustainable tourism, on the balance of economic benefits with the strategic interest of the city. This also encompasses the segment of congresses, which in Prague prior to the Covid pandemic were attended by 700,000 persons per year, who on average spent three times as much money in Prague as regular tourists. But that's not the only benefit, the congress industry also brings significant non-economic impacts, as it fosters the transfer of know-how to and from the Czech Republic. "We want to position Prague as an inspiring, innovative and sustainable meeting destination worldwide," said Hana Krejbichová from the Prague Convention Bureau, which supports planners with organizing their events. The marketing and PR manager cites the strategic goal of positioning Prague as an innovative business destination and world leader in selected strategic areas, as well as increasing investment and supporting the development of the MICE industry. Prague experts consider meetings, conferences, events and exhibitions to be levers to increase their competitiveness. "Prague is really focused on this, on many technologies and organizations that build networks such as prg.ai," Krejbichová stated.
Transforming Prague into an AI hub
The initiative prg.ai was founded in 2019 in partnership with the city in order to transform Prague into a significant European hub for Artificial Intelligence. As AI is consistently gaining in significance for the business and educational sectors, people in Prague are seeking to create a platform enabling the local AI-scene to establish an "innovation ecosystem" designated to promote ideas and solutions to the benefit of all. The founders of prg.ai originate from the Czech Technical University, Charles University, and the Czech Academy of Sciences. AI-related research in Prague dates back to the early 1960s.
Transforming Prague into a significant European AI hub
Transforming Prague into a significant European AI hub is the main goal of the Prague AI initiative: prg.ai. It was founded in 2019 by academics from the Czech Technical University, Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences, supported by the City of Prague. The initiative is connecting key players like the local AI scene, students, researchers, companies and the public and helping them to develop. It promotes the local ecosystem abroad and enlightens the public on the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence. The non-profit initiative strives for a prosperous innovation environment, contributing to Czech economic and social development.
Over the past 25 years, the emphasis on academic AI research and development has been further strengthened, e.g. by the establishment of the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics in 2012 at the Czech Technical University which is more than 300 years old. Here is where Dr. Libor Přeučil some 25 years ago founded the Intelligent and Mobile Robotics Group active in both basic research and applied cutting-edge research with a focus on the design and development of intelligent mobile robots and self-guided vehicles; its reference list includes industry giants such as Skoda Auto.
“Robotics and machine learning are technologies that are not new. New is advanced robotics, intelligent robots which can help you to handle uncertainty and fulfil complex tasks,” Přeučil explained. He predicts that intelligent service robots are up and coming, a trend driven by considerable competitional power and favorably-priced technology. "When we started these mobile robots and built our first autonomous robots, it was at the price of a nice BMW. Nowadays you can buy similar solutions, for example a vacuum cleaner for 500 euros. Evolution here is very fast." Today, the tasks are getting more complex, once you run a neural net you need powerful computers to be able to get the decision in time and to solve much more complex problems.
Hana Krejbichová meets Libor Přeučil at the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics and the Czech Technical University. Image: tw tagungswirtschaft
The information scientist sees the Czech Republic in the “group of countries that is visible in the field of advanced robotics.” Přeučil is proud that he was able to win the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) 2021 for Prague, even if the event was relocated to the internet owing to the pandemic. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Přeučil, who already in 2017 was appointed Congress Ambassador by the Prague Convention Bureau in recognition of his candidature for IROS 2021. Přeučil and his colleagues predominantly speak at scientific congresses and at best to promising communities with a problem that could bring them some business. As to deploying robots at conferences, he can envision these being assigned to registering and informing attendees, cleaning tables and serving drinks. Přeučil: “Maybe you can use these technologies to make a difference, to wow people by getting served by robots and to attract their attention, but don’t rely on that: to advance these applications to enabling them to make a reasonable part of organizing or running the conference will need a lot of time, funding, and manpower. We're certainly not there yet.”
Image: Prague Convention Bureau, Ales Otava Photography
Pepper is the name of the little robot who helped out as hospitality assistant at the OREA Hotel Pyramida.
Přeučil visions are already being put to test at the Orea Hotel Pyramida the little robot Pepper gave a helping hand at the front desk. The business hotel opened in the 1980's refurbished its 340 rooms; room prices start at € 60 including breakfast. There's a 520 sqm conference room, several meeting rooms, and an adjacent cinema auditorium seating 377 persons. The hotel weathered the pandemic well, and meeting business has been picking up pace again this April. Hybrid events are not greatly in demand, in contrast to innovative technologies. Orea, with 18 hotels the biggest Czech hotel chain, has a pilot project on-going in Prague: a self-serviced hotel with 14 rooms. Should the project go well, plans call for an 80-room establishment to be opened. The international hotel chain Hilton has two operations in the Czech capital: the Hilton Prague and the Hilton Prague Old Town. The Hilton Prague holds available some 5,000 sqms of space for events of all kinds; a congress hall for 1,350 persons, a ballroom for 800 guests, and 38 meeting rooms. Management just recently invested half a million euros into modern technologies. The hotel features 791 refurbished rooms, three restaurants and two bars, of which the Cloud 9 Sky Bar & Lounge may be rented for unique events. This applies also to the impressive lobby with its 40-meter-high atrium. Its 800 roof glass panels have been replaced in context with renovation work and are now have better heat reflecting properties. "Our carbon footprint is important to us", said Marketa Sebkova. She’s responsible for marketing, and in that function advocates the Hilton campaign "Carbon Neutral Business Meetings“.
The Hilton Prague according to own statements is the largest conference hotel in Continental Europa. Hotel management from left to right: Alastair Laird, Marketa Sebkova, and Michael Specking Image: tw tagungswirtschaft
“We had 95% of all renovation work completed, and then the pandemic stopped us”, said General Manager Michael Specking. The German has been living in Prague for 15 years and he knows his way around in this industry. His typical meeting business has between 500 and 600 delegates and three hotel nights. Prague's main competitors are Barcelona, Vienna and Berlin, with Prague being highly competitive in rates. Specking is well aware that his business depends strongly on developments in Eastern Europe, as many of his clients are corporate planners from the USA. The war in Ukraine is omnipresent owing to the Ukrainian workforce members, company staff has organized an aid transport and also sponsors a refugee shelter. A Ukrainian national has been managing the sister hotel Hilton Prague Old Town since March of this year. This operation is located in the historic part of town; decorated in Art-Déco style, it has 303 rooms, 14 meeting rooms and a ballroom with foyer.
Elegance, luxury and lifestyle are attributes best describing the Andaz Prague opened on March 1. It is also located in the historic center of Prague in what was formerly the Sugar Palace. The 5-star establishment and its 180 rooms have been inspired by local culture. The lobby is just the right place for meeting and working. As an alternative, there are five rooms suited for board meetings, for conferences with up to 72 attendees or cocktail receptions with 100 guests.
The Julius Prague will open in Prague this May; this will be the first hotel operated by the Julius Meinl company. Image: Julius Meinl
An even more recent newcomer will be The Julius Prague scheduled to open in May. This will be the first hotel operated by the Julius Meinl company, which since 1862 has been supplying premium coffee to its 50,000 customers. In 3.5 years construction time, the Austrians converted the historic building dating from 1891 into an elegant residential hotel. Guests have self-check-in options, after which they use their smartphone to access their room and connect it with the TV. Interior designers attached great importance to quality, in particular in choice of beds. The 168 rooms vary in size from standard rooms over studios to apartments with kitchenettes. These as well as the three conference rooms 25, 44, and 50 sqms in size are also suited for meetings. The Preciosa chandelier in the staircase is a genuine eyecatcher. The crystal-glass manufacturers retell the story of light in their flagship-store, which is open to stage events with up to 50 persons. Lindner Hotels for the past ten years has been active in the city’s hotel industry with the Lindner Hotel Prague Castle enclosed by the Baroque-style Strahovs monastery near the Prague Castle - with a panoramic view included. Overnight accommodation including breakfast in one of the 138 rooms starts at €80; package deals are available for the four conference rooms seating up to 200 persons. Meetings may be staged in the library, an option booked by the nearby embassies. 50% of all conference bookings originate from Germany: it's a four-hour car ride from Berlin to Prague, a flight from Frankfurt to Prague is one hour, other traveling alternatives are the highways D5 from Nuremberg and D8 from Dresden.
“You see many new things and openings in Prague”, said Marek Chmatal, Business Development Director with O2 Universum, referring to the Hotel Stages. The circular building opened under the Marriott brand in November. To assure that guests feel like stars, a guitar tower and drum kit are set up in the lobby for some concert hall atmosphere; the 223 rooms and 27 suites resemble artists' dressing rooms. The concept is invigorated by the O2 Arena and the O2 Universum. Built in 2004, the O2 Arena can seat a maximum of 20,000 visitors. The event calendar includes One Republic and the Scorpions in May to be followed in June by Alicia Keys and Kiss. The indoor arena may also be used for other functions, for example to seat 1,500 guests for dinner. The O2 Universum is made up of five halls for up to 10,000 persons and 39 rooms. Shortly after its opening in fall 2019, the O2 Universum was forced to close in May due to the pandemic. A year later, the largest facility Hall A was converted into a vaccination center for six months. And that's something Chmatal is particularly proud of: “We vaccinated 700,000 people at no cost to the government, we considered that to be our duty.” He is confident: “Business will be back in May.” Between July 1 and 3 of this year, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) will meet at the O2 Universum for the world's largest such event. The Prague Convention Bureau and the Czech Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology came out first in a three-year bidding process. The EAACI 2022 is designed as hybrid format. Prof. Petr Panzner, local ambassador and Chair of the 2022 Congress, sees a variety of new advantages and progressive functionalities. “It allows participants to attend and network from all around the globe, but we would also like to express our wish to have as many participants as possible with us personally in Prague, to enjoy both the social contact with friends and colleagues and the unique scientific and cultural atmosphere that magical Prague has to offer.”
The Andaz Prague opened in the former Sugar Palace on 1 March 2022. The 5-star hotel offers five rooms for board meetings and conferences with up to 72 participants. Photo: Andaz Prague
Culture is something to be enjoyed in Prague at every corner, with one of the more refined sites being the National House Vinohrady. This neoclassicist representative building dating from 1894 is today property of the Ministry of Culture, which makes the venue available for festive events and receptions at the Mayakovsky Hall as well as for conferences. Another prime location is the former building of the Czech-Anglo-Saxon Bank, which in October 2019 reopened as Restaurant Červený Jelen (Red Stag). Group events and meetings can be staged here on several levels, with the vault and the 12-meter-high beer tower as particular highlights. Event rooms may in fact also be rented at the Prague Castle or in the neighboring Palais Lobkowicz, where the House of Lobkowicz puts on display its art treasures including paintings by Bruegel, Canaletto, Cranach, Rubens, and Velázquez to the public from all over the world. “This site is not only a museum, it's also a venue with 15 rooms”, Development Director Barbara Starostova explained. What's more: the Palais Lobkowicz this past year had a premiere as “Non-Fungible Castle”. The House of Lobkowicz wants to explore the intersection of the traditional art world and the rapidly evolving technology behind NFTs. In an increasingly digital age, the House of Lobkowicz believes that NFTs have the potential to broaden accessibility to cultural heritage. Non-Fungible Castle aims to provide a space for open and creative exchange to discover how NFTs and the cultural sector can enhance, engage, and challenge one another. It is the first event of its kind to be hosted by a traditional cultural institution.