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Interview with Michal Soukup, Venue Management Director

Coincidentally, Michal Soukup met GUARANT International (GI) while studying at ITM, where Ivo Miksa (GI’s Executive) was teaching. His first direct contact with GI took place during his studies, while working on the preparations for the IMF, which GI co-organized. After graduating, Michal joined the Four Seasons Hotel Prague, where he worked for two years, and in 2002 he joined GI as a Supplier Manager.

Michael, how was your career at GI?

Since its founding in 1991, GI has gradually developed to the point where it was necessary to cover cooperation with suppliers and hotels. Until 2002, everyone at GI dealt with suppliers on an ad hoc basis and independently. It was unsystematic and therefore a new position of supplier manager was created. After creating a supplier structure and setting the conditions for cooperating with suppliers and hotels, I continued doing so for several years, but this work no longer fulfilled me. In 2012, we were approached by PPF RE on whether we would like to take over the City Conference Center (KCC), which is located in the City Empiria building in Pankrác. We said we would try and we continue to run the KCC to this day. GI operates not only the KCC, but also the Kaiseštejn Palace and commercially represents other premises, such as the Grand Prior’s Palace and the Professional House. By directly operating two premises and commercially representing the other two, a separate group and service was created within GI, which I am in charge of, and we called this service Venue Management (VM).

What exactly does Venue Management mean?

We were looking for a Czech name, but we did not find any suitable one that would correctly describe this service, so we kept the English term, which is understandable in our field. As described above, it is primarily the operation or business representation of interesting spaces suitable for organizing various types of events. For example, the property owner does not want or cannot operate their property and is looking for a partner who would take care of the operation of the property. This is the basic idea of Venue Management.

What makes the spaces interesting?

The advantage is that the premises we operate can cover various types of events and are suitable for various clients. The City Conference Center is a modern medium-sized center with a capacity of 470 people, suitable primarily for conferences, training sessions, exhibitions and similar events. Kaiserstein Palace is a historic building, which is more suitable for gala dinners, social events and weddings. Therefore, these two spaces are very different.

A close partner of GI and VM is the modern multifunctional Cubex Centrum Praha, which with a capacity of 1,200 people is one of the largest venues in Prague. When connecting Cubex and the KCC (both spaces are part of a complex of two connected buildings), we are able to offer space for up to 1,700 people.

How did the pandemic affect Venue Management?

Like the whole field, that is, brutally. It was not a decline, but a total closure of everything. In 2008, when the financial crisis began, the number of events decreased, the structure of organized events changed, but certain events were still organized, albeit with, for example, fewer participants. It has been said that, for example, congresses are very resilient and will “survive” even major crises. COVID changed everything.

What are the current trends in organizing events?

We are not in the time after COVID yet, unfortunately it still has not begun. International events are cancelled, these can be expected in 2022 at the earliest, and they are, of course, still a question. As for congresses/conferences, the current trend is virtual and hybrid events and they are attended by far fewer people than in the past, which is logical. If the situation allows, I think that virtual events will be just a supplement, people want to meet in person, but what will probably “survive” in the future, are hybrid events, so some participants come in person and some join the event online. Unfortunately, it is simple, everything is decided by the development of COVID. Since March 2020, we have known that the first to be cancelled or reduced are mass events, which is quite scary for our field.

What did the pandemic take from you and what did it give you?

No one knew how long the pandemic would last, which was both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage was that I rested during the first days of lockdown (this was positive). Another advantage was the “discovery” of home office, but I am not a supporter of full-time home office. It does not suit me. In my opinion partial or part-time home office is ideal. Another advantage for me is that video calling has started to be used as standard practice, so I don’t have to go to every meetings in person. Nonetheless, the most negative is the uncertainty and length of the pandemic.

How do you perceive virtualization?

Everything in moderation… You cannot replace personal meetings, but then again, it has its great advantages. As I described above, thanks to a video call, one saves a lot of time spent traveling for meetings and so on.

As for our field, virtual/hybrid events are probably going to stay. Unfortunately, it has its negatives too. A participant who does not come to the event spends much less money by not coming in person. They don‘t stay in a hotel, don‘t eat in restaurants, don‘t go on trips, and so forth, so the economic benefit is almost zero.

What motivates you at work?

I have been at GI for almost 19 years and I have changed several positions/activities, which suits me. When I go to work, I have it set up so that I don’t have to go there, but rather I like/want to go there. Everything has to work as a whole for me, which works out perfectly at GI.

Do you have a life credo?

I don’t, but somehow I believe/hope that in the end everything will turn out well. I am not a sworn life optimist, but rather a pragmatic person. It was often confirmed that what looked bad to me at the beginning turned out well in the end, so hopefully it will remain this way.

How do you relax?

My family and I moved out of Prague. I’ve become a bit of a handyman. During the pandemic, I focused on the garden and landscaping, which is sometimes relaxing and sometimes not :-).

I play sports, I like fishing and I go mushroom picking, the latter being a typical Czech tradition.