• Our People in the Media15. 6. 2016Jiří Jelínek Interview to MF DNES

    Read more

    "Currently, there is high interest in vacation packages in Spain. However, everybody from Western Europe is heading down there, and prices will go up," says Jiří Jelínek, CEO of the Fischer Travel Agency.Is this year's situation worse than the conditions during the financial crisis in 2009?

    The two cannot be compared. At that time, people lacked money, and vacation was one of the first items in their budget they decided to eliminate. This year, people have enough money because the economy is doing well and wages are growing. However, the selection is nowhere near to what it used to be. I think that the entire market for holidays by air will decrease by at least 10% this year.

    How is your travel agency doing under the present circumstances?

    We expect that our this year's turnover will be about the same as last year's despite the current conditions. The economy is growing, and people pick different, more distant destinations than those where they used to fly to in the past. Our advantage is that we offer a broad portfolio of countries, but travel agencies that only focus on a handful of regions where people are afraid to go can get into serious trouble.

    Do you predict that somebody will go out of business this year?

    Certainly not any company from the top five (Editor's note: Exim Tours, Čedok, Fischer, Blue Style, and Alexandria), but as far as travel agencies further down the line are concerned, it's hard to tell. It could certainly happen. There is no doubt that travel agencies whose business relies on holidays in Egypt, Tunisia, or Turkey, that is countries affected by the biggest drop in sales, will face problems.

    The Kos Island in Greece is on top of the destinations where the most serious drop in sales has been registered. What is your explanation?

    It has been affected by what's published in the media. Everybody associates the island with migrants. Even though nearly no refugees arrived and no problems were encountered there in the course of last year, interest in Kos as a destination has declined by tens of percent. And prices correspond to this trend.

    Which countries are taking place of those where holiday-goers no longer want to vacation?

    There are two trends: there has been an extreme surge in demand for Spain, especially Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, as well as other European destinations. However, these are places where all Europeans want to go, and the high demand is reflected in prices, which are logically rising. For this reason, there are more and more people who opt for a summer vacation in destinations that are more distant. For instance, there has been a huge increase in interest in vacation packages in the United Arab Emirates, and we're starting to sell holidays on Oman.

    However, high prices make Dubai a destination not everyone can afford. What sort of tourists fly there?

    The high competition among air carriers has pushed the prices of tickets very low, which means that vacation packages there are about as expensive as an all-inclusive stay in a five-star hotel in Turkey last year. That's the current typical clientele for Dubai. In addition, we've found out that people prefer travelling for shorter periods, such as for a long weekend, but more often in the course of the year. The fact that clients are attracted by exotic destinations in the summer, as they are during the rest of the year, is a new phenomenon this season.

    When did you realize that the countries where people want to spend their vacation have substantially changed?

    There were some signals already during the last season, but the new situation became evident in October when we launched advance sales. There was no interest in countries that used to sell well long in advance in the past. In response, we quickly started to look for capacity in other destinations for which demand has been on the rise this year.

    Some say that there will be no last-minute offers this year. Is it only scaremongering?

    There will be no last-minute packages for destinations for which demand exists. On the contrary, there will be last-minute offers for countries in which customers weren't interested during advance sales. For example, Turkey will end up being a big hit because prices there have fallen by more than a half. There is a paradoxical situation in Germany, as more German tourists will travel to Turkey this season than was the case last year. Holidays in Turkey have become so inexpensive that people fly there despite perceiving a certain degree of risk. I think that the situation in the Czech Republic will be similar.

    Statistics show that the number of people who buy a vacation package from a travel agency is decreasing, while, in contrast, there are more of those who buy airline tickets and accommodation on their own. How do you see the future of your business?

    The travel business is going through a major transformation, and not everyone might survive. The trend is obvious, and it's up to us to do our best to offer people better services at better prices than what they'd get if they organized their vacation on their own. In the last three years, our firm has invested tens of millions of crowns into various new technologies that are used on advanced Western markets. Thanks to that, we are able to arrange vacation packages for duration other than the traditional seven to 10 days. Since we know that customers want as wide choice as possible, we have several tens of thousands of hotels in hotel banks (Editor's note – hotel booking systems not available to the public) in addition to the roughly two thousand facilities with which we have contractual partnerships. No other travel agency in the Czech Republic offers such a broad variety of choices.

    But all that are services that people can procure on their own on the Internet. And sometimes for less money ...

    We are aware that as far as, for instance, accommodation in large cities is concerned, we'll probably never catch up with large booking portals, such as booking.com, but we're still quite a bit ahead as regards accommodation at seaside resorts. Hotels there mainly strive on business brokered by travel agencies. All hotels we use must be appropriate, must conform to the design of our portfolio, and must be verified. We have explicit quality guarantees and compensations for any failure to meet the prescribed quality standard. When you book a hotel over the Internet and its services do not match what was advertised, you'll be hard put in trying to claim compensation.

    Is it true that you will no longer publish paper catalogues?

    We are limiting their quantity considerably since the vast majority of what we offer is posted on the Internet. But we still publish them because especially older clients like them and use them to choose their vacation.

    As the average earnings in the Czech Republic are rising, it would make sense if interest in vacation packages were growing as well. Which holidays are currently more in demand, the less expensive or the more expensive?

    Under normal circumstances, the less expensive ones would be on the rise because average earnings are growing faster among people in the lower income bracket. They would now be buying holidays in Turkey and Egypt, but they are not because they're waiting until the eleventh hour. So, this year will most likely see a higher growth in the segment of more expensive vacation packages.

    Because of the hot weather last year, people were taking their summer vacation in the mountains. Have you noticed this trend?

    There has been a certain growth in this segment, but nothing spectacular. The Alps are not exactly an inexpensive summer destination, which means that a lot of people prefer traveling to a seaside resort, simply because it is less costly.

    Because of the current security concerns, it is expected that demand for holidays in the Czech Republic will grow substantially. Are you interested in that business segment?

    At present, we don't see much potential for entering the market and providing our own added value; there's not much we can do. So, the answer is a no. Instead, we will continue convincing Czech clients to travel abroad.

    What is the future of charter flights in the travel business?

    Their numbers will decrease, and it's already happening now. All you have to do is look at Travel Service, which now offers most charters as regular flights under the SmartWings brand. In the case of trips to exotic destinations, we have stopped using charters altogether, and the decision has proved to be a step in the right direction. I expect that the trend will be similar with respect to destinations with a shorter flight time. People mainly want flexibility.

    There have been rumors among travel agencies that Travel Service's charter monopoly is less than optimal. Hasn't the time come to find a competitor for the Czech market? Are you looking for one?

    What Travel Service provides is comparable to services offered by other European carriers; there is no difference. In addition, they are able to service Moravian airports. In the past weeks, quite a few people have contacted us with concerns about Air Cairo in connection with the recent tragic accident of an aircraft owned by the company's parent company, Egypt Air. However, we do not fly with Air Cairo.

    The Czech and German markets are often compared, and people say that whatever works in Germany will get to the Czech Republic in a few years too. So, what can we expect?

    The trends that can be observed already now: much higher interest in holidays in exotic destinations. I think that the travel patterns of Czech and German consumers will converge within the next five years.

    close close
  • Our People in the Media5. 5. 2016Karel Komárek Interview to FORBES

    Read more

    Although he treats Palm Beach, Florida, like a second home, it took more than a decade for Czech billionaire Karel Komárek to take his business across the Atlantic. He says he was just waiting for the right angle to breach U.S. markets, and now the founder and CEO of KKCG – one of the fastest growing investment groups in Central Europe – finally found one: producing and selling methanol.

    On a sunny spring morning I meet Komarek – 47 years old and worth nearly $1.8 billion – in Palm Beach for a bike ride, followed by lunch. The billionaire chooses to spend time in Florida because the weather allows him to practice all his favorite sports, from biking and golf to paddle-boarding. Cycling 40 to 50 miles along the coast three to four times a week has put him in great shape and I can hardly keep up with his pace. When the ride finally ends, we go to Mulligans Beach in Lake Worth where, over hot chicken wings and ice-cold beer, Komarek tells me about his ambition to conquer the U.S. market with his newly established US Methanol LLC, based inn Charleston, West Virginia.

    “This venture is our first major investment in the U.S., which fits with our long-term strategy to expand into developed foreign markets,” says Komarek. “I believe we have the right timing and the right idea. This business is set to turn out fairly profitable.”

    Komarek wants to take advantage of low oil and gas prices in the U.S., which are now less than half the average price in Western Europe. Methanol is produced from natural gas and has a wide range of uses in various industries—as a solvent, fuel and antifreeze, as well as a feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals and biodiesel.

    “Methanol is a very suitable addition to KKCG´S product portfolio. It will diversify our exposure in this volatile energy price environment,” says Komarek, whose already diverse investment portfolio includes crude oil and natural gas exploration and production, lottery and gaming, tourism and real estate. “What I like about methanol production is that it is a nice niche product you can easily scale.”

    Komarek´s US Methanol will own and operate a portfolio of mid-sized methanol plants in West Virginia, with initial daily production of around 400 to 500 tons. Its first plant will be relocated from a site in Slovenia to the U.S. A Second plant will be moved there from South America.

    American methanol production was only fairly robust. In years prior it had been deemed unprofitable and most plants were shut down by the mid-2000s. The market then heavily relied on imported product, with as much as 90% coming from countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, according to global shipping consultancy, Drewry.

    But this is about to change now. There is an expectation in the industry that the U.S. production will be economical again thanks to low gas prices. “We have been seeing a resurgence of U.S. methanol production driven by the shale gas revolution,” says Gregory Dolan, CEO of Methanol Institute. “Plants that had been mothballed for a decade are now operating.”

    Komarek is not the only one with the idea of moving a plant from abroad. Canadian firm Methanex relocated two plants from Chile to Louisiana in January. And there are others building greenfield facilities in Texas and Oregon. “They want to take advantage of low cost natural gas,” says Dolan. “There is certainly an additional appetite for U.S. methanol production capacity.”

    Komarek´s new methanol plant will be constructed by an as yet undisclosed EPC contractor, which the fourth wealthiest Czech claims is “one of the best on the market.” KKCG hired executives Brad Gunn and Richard Wolfli to manage the project. Each has more than two decades of industry experience with companies like Ithaca Energy and RockBridge Resources.

    “I believe that man should work till the day he dies, do sports till the day he dies and live well till the day he dies,” says Komarek. Besides sports, he works up to twelve hours a day, running his international business via email and phone. “You need to keep your muscles and brain working otherwise they degenerate.” His new American venture surely will keep him toned.

    POST WRITTEN BY: Michael Mareš

    Published at: www.forbes.com

    close close
  • Our People in the Media9. 5. 2016Michal Tománek for the Faktor S Weekly

    Read more

    What technologies are your responsibility in your capacity at KKCG?

    My responsibilities include various projects and investment ventures that we've executed in the several recent years. There are three branches; the first one involves investments into IT startups, which is overseen by the Springtide Ventures fund. The second consists of investments into biotechnologies, where we have Medicem and Smart Brain and will probably add others in the future, and the third branch is centered on infrastructure and includes data centers and call centers. This structure is very logical because each of the sectors requires a different management dynamics.

    As far as big data, you have two data centers, one near Hodonín and a second is being built in Prague. How much have you invested and when do you expect to recoup your investment?

    The facilities are medium-sized data centers into which we've invested hundreds of millions of crowns. The return curve is entirely different from startups. Data centers are infrastructure projects built on a greenfield basis, and their payback period is therefore much longer. They are somewhat similar to investments into real estate. We believe that having a certain amount of infrastructure assets within the group is positive for a number of our other activities. Because they serve as a foundation on top of which numerous other layers can be built, which involve startups as opposed to infrastructure. For instance, we have now moved the Cleerio geoinformation group to the Hodonín-based data center, and we are trying to harness synergies that would allow the data center to specialize, for example, in geoinformation services. We not only think that it's interesting from the business viewpoint, but we also believe that there are many other synergic effects in the framework of activities we carry out now and will continue to in the future.

    Do you plan to focus on the big data industry in more specific a way? 

    Big data is certainly an interesting topic. There is a large amount of data in the world, and this field presents a great opportunity to work with them. From our viewpoint as investors, it is attractive to invest into companies that specialize in processing big data and are able to use them productively. Nonetheless, the main thing for us now is that data need a place to stay, so to speak, and they stay in data centers. That's why demand for data centers will continue to grow. The dynamics in this segment are interesting and open up room for investment opportunities.

    Are you saying that companies have too much data and ultimately lack space where to store them?

    There are two interrelated trends: on the one hand, there are more and more data in the world, and on the other hand, companies are beginning to transfer data from internal systems into cloud storage, which is shared space at various external data centers. These trends feed off one another and generate demand for data centers. I think that there is not a shortage of data centers at the present time, but demand for their services clearly exists and is growing. We expect that there will be an increase in activities conducted by Asian companies and that they will be looking for data storage capacity. We want to offer them the data center in Prague, which we are building together with Foxconn.

    Looking at investments into data centers and IT startup projects, both sectors are financially demanding and, as you said, the payback period lasts a number of years …

    The risks and dynamics of investing into startups are different from the traditional investments we normally make, but we believe that the two complement one another in a mutually beneficial way. Return on investment is never instantaneous. We are investors, which means that we assess return possibilities, the degree of risk, and wait for the outcome as opposed to focusing on making fast money. Investments into the previously mentioned segments are smaller than the amount of money spent on the lottery license that we're applying for in Italy. They do not account for the main part of KKCG's investment portfolio.

    Why do you only invest into startups from the IT sector? Why don't you invest, for example, into agriculture?

    We invest into situations that offer the prospect of making profit. Growth opportunities emerge on markets that are either entirely new or go through a radical change. And such changes are usually brought about by disruptive technologies. We invest into IT and biotechnologies because they are closest to our specialization. There might be something interesting happening in the agricultural sector, but it is probably not the most liquid market, and it is not a field we are familiar with.

    In choosing potential IT projects, you focus on Central Europe and Israel. Have you considered areas that are more distant?

    In part, our strategy reflects the distance. We can't invest into a company on the other side of the world and fly there twice a year to check it out. At the same time, we are better familiar with the local environment. Another reason why our region is interesting is its relatively high fragmentation. The domestic markets in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary are too small for a company to operate on the local market only. Firms face no choice but to expand into other territories, which suits us fine. Our goal is to find local companies with global potential and help them succeed on the international scale. It's similar in Israel; plus, there are a lot of smart technology-oriented people, especially in the IT and security sectors. In short, there is a lot to choose from, and Israel is exceptional in this regard.

    Your main competitors in search for startups are J&T and Rockaway. How do you differ from them?

    We don't have a policy of differentiating ourselves from other investors. We have our internal criteria based on which we invest. In some areas, our strategies coincide with those pursued by other startup investors; in others, we are different. One of our criteria is the size of an investment, where we aim at a sum somewhere between three to five million euros. Secondly, we make investments in the previously mentioned regions, and thirdly, we want the company to not only focus on the local market, but also to have the potential and ambition to operate on a global scale. These are our three investment rules, which we try to fulfill. On top of that, we have secondary requirements, such as specialization in certain fields that are close to our business, for example gaming.

    What sectors does KKCG want to invest into in the future?

    KKCG's business relies on three main pillars. Since our beginnings, we have specialized in crude oil and natural gas production and related activities as well as on mechanical engineering. In the past three years, the lottery industry has become an increasingly important as the second pillar of our operations. We also develop other segments, such as technologies and real estate. As far as other segments and investments into them, I would mention biotechnologies. To some extent, we are already present in this segment. We believe that it has a high potential, and we want to get involved in it to a larger extent.

    close close
Next article

The specific type of article choose here.

Press Releases9. 6. 2017Sazka Group Increases Its Stake in OPAP

The Sazka Group has purchased through its subsidiary Rubidium a 4.8% ownership interest in the EMMA Delta fund from Helixor.

The purchased shares represent an indirect 1.6% ownership interest in the Greek lottery company OPAP.

"The deal was a good investment opportunity that conforms fully to our strategy for OPAP," said the Sazka Group's CEO Robert Chvátal in describing the transaction. He added that both of the Sazka Group's shareholders, the KKCG and EMMA Groups, have regarded OPAP as a strategic investment since the beginning of their partnership.

"Helixor, acting in cooperation with the J&T Private Equity Group, has decided to sell its stake in the EMMA Delta fund, having achieved a very interesting return on investment. We consider OPAP's shares highly attractive from the investment viewpoint, and we will continue to monitor their development closely," commented the transaction Miloš Badida, CEO of the J&T Private Equity Group.

The transaction changes the structure of investors in the EMMA Delta fund, which owns a 33% stake in OPAP, as follows: the Sazka Group currently holds 71.9% of the fund's shares, while the remaining 28.1% is controlled jointly by Greek partners and the U.S.-based IGT Group.

 

Download attachment (111 kB)

Close
Close

Press Releases5. 6. 2017Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation:

Litomyšl Opens Renovated Riverfront with an Unconventional Playground for Children

Nearly five years after the project "Restoration of Loučná Riverfront in Litomyšl" was officially launched and a year and a half after construction work began, the Vodní valy locality was opened to the public on Saturday 3 June 2017. 

The aim of restoring the Loučná riverfront near Smetana Square was to revive functions the locality once had, but has since lost due to insensitive urban planning in the second half of the 20th century. The main objective was to make the river once again a part of the city's everyday life, to create a space people can use for pastime activities, and to establish a close connection between Litomyšl's historical district, the riverfront, and the park adjoining the Smetana House.

The design was selected as part of the Proměny Foundation 2013 Award, an architectural competition whose parameters were formulated in consideration of a survey of the needs and preferences of frequent visitors to the Loučná riverfront. In response to suggestion made by local inhabitants, architects Martin Rusina and Martin Frei prepared a design that has allowed the locality to retain much of its natural character. At the same time, the concept provides a link between the formerly separated Vodní valy Street, the riverfront, the river itself, and the park adjacent to the Smetana House. The focal point of the transformation was the riverfront promenade with a playground for visitors of all ages, a space for an outdoor café, and various types of seating arrangements. 

"The new design of the locality is both bold and playful. Most importantly, however, I hope that the city's inhabitants will find it functional. I'm confident that Vodní valy will become a sought-after part of the city, where people will come to spend their free time. I want to express my gratitude to the Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation, the architects, and everyone else who has contributed expertise and hard work to the project," said Mayor of Litomyšl Radomil Kašpar during the opening ceremony.

The planning of the transformation of Vodní valy began in 2012, but the beginnings of the project, subtitled "Dialogue between Town and River", go back to the years 2010 and 2011. "The plan to restore the riverfront area in Litomyšl was originally presented as an initiative of the local community and the city fathers. We decided to lend our support behind this transformation venture because local people expressed keen concern in the locality, were willing to contribute their time, and took active part in the project," explained the Proměny Foundation's founder Karel Komárek. In addition to over seven million crowns from its own resources, Litomyšl has received over 23 million crowns in financial assistance under the Proměny Foundation's Parks grant program.

Download attachment (529 kB)

Close
Close

Press Releases23. 5. 2017SAZKA Group Website Launched

SAZKA Group, one of the largest lottery and sports betting companies in Europe, has launched its new website.

The website, presented in English, will be mainly used to publish information for industry specialists. There is general information about the holding, and the website functions as a hub from which access is provided to the SAZKA Group's member companies. The website www.sazkagroup.com features a modern youthful design that symbolizes the fact that SAZKA Group companies target young individuals, promote diversity, and respect people who have been loyal customers for decades. The SAZKA Group website has been created by the VCCP agency.

Download attachment (276 kB)

Close
Close

Press Releases10. 4. 2017Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation:

Construction or renovation of a local park is planned by 28 Czech municipalities

The two main types of projects for which grant applications have been made to the Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation under the current request for proposals involve renovating a park, a public garden, or a river embankment that no longer fulfils its function on the one hand, and building a brand new public area on the other. As many as 28 projects aimed at transforming the local public space have been proposed by applicants from all parts of the Czech Republic. The foundation's financial aid, which municipalities that have submitted applications aspire to receive, will cover a substantial part of project execution costs. The locality that will be revitalized with the assistance of the Proměny Foundation will be selected in the fall.

The Proměny Foundation has been supporting transformation projects since its establishment in 2006. The aim of the Parks Program is to provide assistance for conceptual renewal or construction of the public space in cooperation with specialists and with the involvement of people from the local community. The foundation offers municipalities as much as CZK 25 million in grants, technical consultations, and communication support for multiyear transformation projects. In addition, contributions are paid for maintenance of the locality during three years after project completion.

Applications for financial aid have been submitted for as many as 28 projects. The applications will now undergo three rounds of evaluation, where the second round will include a visit to the locality. The winner will be announced this year in the fall. An overview of all proposed projects is enclosed on the following page.

"Although the evaluation process started only recently, we already have a rough idea about the projects," summed up Karla Kupilíková from the Proměny Foundation. "We were pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of projects proposed by microregions, as this is the foundation's first request for proposals where microregions are eligible to apply. Another positive factor is participation, which is an important criterion in the evaluation process. In this respect, projects proposed by municipalities are getting better with every request for proposals. Among other factors, applicants are starting to realize that it is important to involve not only people from the local community, but also stakeholders from municipal authorities and the central government. Another encouraging fact is that many towns now propose brownfield projects." 

The Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation, which receives funding from private sources, has to date disbursed close to 115 million crowns in grants for the development of municipal parks. For instance, this year will see the end of a five-year project that has transformed the embankment of the river Loučná in the city of Litomyšl. The embankment will open to the public in a ceremony held at the beginning of June. 

Download attachment (572 kB)

Close
Close

Press Releases28. 3. 2017Dvořák's Prague Unveiled the 2017 Program

Musicians from Abroad and Their World Renowned Czech Counterparts to Pay Tribute to One of the Greatest Musical Geniuses

The Dvořák Prague International Music Festival has unveiled the program and began advance sale of tickets for the 10th anniversary season. The event, which bears the name of one of the greatest music composers, will showcase renowned soloists and some of the world's best orchestras and conductors during 7-23 September 2017. Apart from Antonín Dvořák's well- and lesser-known works, the festival will present the music of other composers from different eras. The event will feature star vocalists from the Metropolitan Opera and other prestigious establishments, such as Kristine Opolais, Piotr Beczala, René Pape, Michael Spyres, Adam Plachetka, and Jan Martiník. World-renowned orchestras performing at the festival will include the London Philharmonic Orchestra with chief conductor Vladimir Jurowski and the Essen Philharmonic with conductor Tomáš Netopil, who will also conduct the Vienna Symphony in the closing concert. An extraordinary experience will be a performance delivered by conductor Ingo Metzmacher and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, which will feature French piano virtuoso Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The program will include the festival's orchestra in residence, the Czech Philharmonic with conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, the Prague Philharmonia (PKF), and such leading vocal ensembles as the Prague Philharmonic Choir and the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno. For the first time in the event's history, this year's edition will present the Dvořák Prague Festival Orchestra with an international roster of musicians. 

Download attachment (722 kB)

Close
Close

Press Releases14. 3. 2017Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation:

Nine projects were selected under the Transform Your City program to receive assistance from the Foundation.

Transforming an unsafe intersection in Prague's Borough of Žižkov into a peaceful neighborhood zone, joining forces with children to create a public installation in the Czech capital's Bubeneč District, revitalizing the Rozdělov housing project in Kladno, and restoring the embankment of the river Labe in Kolín – these are four of nine projects selected under the Transform Your City program to receive assistance from the Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation.

The Foundation launched the Transform Your City program last year with the aim of assisting initiatives that aim to improve the urban environment, develop the public space, and facilitate a public debate about topics related to this effort. In response to the first request for proposals, which was open to applicants from Prague and the Central Bohemian Region, the Foundation has received 41 grant applications.

"We were pleased by the broad scope of activities and topics proposed in the grant applications. It is encouraging to see that people perceive the varied potential of the public space and want to get involved in its development, mostly in their free time. After all, the diversity of topics is underscored by the nine projects that have been selected," commented the outcome of the process the Foundation's Director Jitka Přerovská. Six of the selected projects were submitted by applicants from Prague, the remaining three will be executed in the Central Bohemian Region. 

Download attachment (565 kB)

Close
Close