Izabela Helbin, Director of Kraków Festival Office – ICE Kraków’s operator

Michał Zalewski, PR & New Media Manager

Ryszard Strojnowski, Senior Sales Manager

Q: Since its opening in 2014 what kind of events has ICE Kraków been mostly attracting? In the past two years what has the ratio of congress/conference events to other organised cultural (concerts, exhibitions, theatre, etc.) events been?

Izabela Helbin, Director of Kraków Festival Office – ICE Kraków’s operator:
The ICE Kraków Congress Centre was opened in October 2014. However, the Kraków Festival Office, operator of ICE Kraków, already began intensive work in 2007. The team was present at the most important business meetings and conferences around the world, presenting the facility’s brand (Convene Wilno, Meedex Paris, EIBTM Barcelona, IMEX London) for many years before it opened, promoting Kraków as the perfect destination for the meetings industry and organisation of congresses and conferences. This resulted in a very rich calendar of events. In 2014, out of the approximately 70 days available from the opening, nearly 90% was booked. The very name of the facility, ICE – International Conferences and Entertainment – shows that it is a facility designed to accept almost any type of event: from congresses, conferences, symposiums and forums, to cultural events (classical and pop music concerts, theatre and opera spectacles and acrobatic shows [the stage of the Auditorium Hall was even the site of a children’s revue on ice], to social events and television productions). ICE Kraków is a multifunctional site – and what is very important, the project was consulted with representatives of the meetings industry and representatives of the world of culture. Today, about 60% of the events hosted there consist of conferences and corporate meetings, while 40% is culture. The Congress centre is also able to accommodate trade fairs, although we do not hide that we are not strictly an exhibition facility. There is no doubt, however, that during the organisation of events – beyond the cubic capacity of the facility – our only limit is our imagination.

Q: The centre is undoubtedly an architectural masterpiece, its modern form with an ingenious interior design, with its multi-storey foyer offering a panoramic view of the old city centre and the Wawel Castle hill is absolutely outstanding. But still, this 36,000m2 complex, with its intelligently designed roof formed into cascades flowing down towards the Vistula, which visually diminishes the scale of the building, is nevertheless a huge building standing out like a giant. How did the local people accept the building, or how are they experiencing it?

Michał Zalewski, PR & New Media Manager:
Kraków had been waiting for a prestigious congress centre since the 1970s. The plans changed many times, until finally in 2007 preparations for the construction began. Today, as a thriving facility, we describe ourselves as a next generation public institution. The facility is owned by the Municipality of Kraków. With the residents of Kraków in mind, we regularly organise free social events – Open Days, a festival of European funds, open rehearsals of orchestras, meetings for fans of mobile photography, and meetings with writers. There is also the possibility of touring ICE Kraków with a guide who, during the 1.5-hour tour, talks about the facility operations and the architectural solutions implemented in its construction. Many groups have taken us up on this offer, including local preschools, pensioners’ clubs, associations, universities and high schools. As you might expect, the publicly-funded construction of such a large building was controversial. However, through our openness, willingness to enter into a dialogue and – most importantly – effective operations, we are showing that it was worthwhile to invest in the construction of the Congress Centre. With the opening of ICE Kraków, the immediate vicinity also changed – the area around ICE Kraków has become increasingly attractive. A new bus terminal was opened, the area was landscaped and planted with new vegetation, many sidewalks were renovated and a cycling path was opened. The nearby public transportation hub was also modernised. This was truly a comprehensive investment.

Q: How has the centre increased tourist visits or congress dynamics in Krakow?

Izabela Helbin: Kraków is a well-established tourist city. Every year, it is visited by over 10 million tourists (the permanent population of Kraków is about 800 000 people). About 20% of the population makes a living off the broadly-defined tourist services. Now is the time for specialised tourism. We have a very rapidly growing religious tourism – this year, Kraków is hosting World Youth Day, and we’re expecting about 2 million guests. Investments in infrastructure for the meetings industry mean that today Kraków is ready to accept almost every event. Its offer is complete – in 2014, three facilities were opened: one of Europe’s most modern sports halls, the TAURON Arena Kraków, the trade fair and exhibition centre EXPO Kraków, as well as ICE Kraków. This facilitated further specialisation of tourists. What is important, ICE Kraków generates an economic impact for the city – the income of the congress centre also means an income in the service sector (transport, hospitality, catering, individual tourism, trade event services, event equipment suppliers), which translates into significant tax revenue for the city’s budget. All the meetings that take place in Krakow annually generate more than 1 billion PLN of GDP, which is 2.37% of the GDP of the entire city economy.

Q: How many events have taken place since the opening in 2014 and how many are you expecting in 2016?

Ryszard Strojnowski, Senior Sales Manager:
In 2015 alone, the facility was visited by nearly 230 thousand people during more than 200 events (since the inauguration on the 16th of October 2014, nearly 290 thousand people over 240 events). The booking of the ICE Kraków calendar remains at a very high, constant level. Even now, nearly 90% of all weekends of 2016 are reserved and we’ve signed contracts for approximately 50% of them. Currently we are working on the event calendar for the year 2020 and we’ve recently booked the first congress for 2026! This kind of information gives us great strength to keep going.

Q: Which other convention centre in the EU or worldwide could ICE Kraków be compared with?

Ryszard Strojnowski: In planning the marketing and communication strategy for ICE Kraków, even before the opening, we searched for benchmarks – of course, Vienna, Berlin and Prague are very strong in the market. It is worth observing and adopting good practices, but there’s no denying that we have a long way to go before we can compare ourselves to these cities. We’re also keeping an eye on the convention centre in the capital city of Iceland – HARPA Reykjavik. Despite the geographical isolation and different geopolitical conditions, out facilities are almost identical in terms of functionality and the events organised – we focus on both the MICE market and the broadly understood entertainment industry. We are very impressed by the congress centre in Ljubljana – despite the fact that the facility has been operating for many years, its functional solutions are timeless.

Q: What are the advantages of the centre from the standpoint of your potential customers – congress participants? Also, whilst the centre is in itself an events magnet, in your opinion what does it take to maintain a good reputation for it – the staff, the choice of events, the flexibility of the management?

Michał Zalewski: ICE Kraków is an extremely multifunctional facility. It meets the requirements of international organisations: ICCA, SKKP (Polish Conference and Congress Association), MPI and AIPC. ICE Kraków is located virtually in the centre of the city, right on the Vistula River, across from the historical heart of Poland – the Wawel Royal Castle. A splendid panorama of the city can be viewed from ICE Kraków. The international magazine TRAVEL+LEISURE selected us as one of the 25 most important tourist attractions of 2015, thanks to the glass-enclosed foyer, which offers a truly breath-taking view. We have at our disposal VIP spaces – separate entrances, corridors (lifts, hallways), a VIP lounge and a VIP bar. The design of acoustic solutions is under the care of companies responsible for the Oslo Opera and the Disney Theatre in the United States. In the immediate vicinity of ICE Kraków are 6 hotels (best walking distance), and the distance to the nearest transit stop is only 50 metres. The stop “Centrum Kongresowe” is served by around 20 bus lines and around 10 tram lines. Also significant is the proximity to the International Kraków Airport, as well as the railway station – guests can arrive in about 15 minutes.

We’ve said a lot about the technical and production infrastructure, but the success of any facility depends largely on the work of the team. We probably haven’t had a client who didn’t call attention to the excellent organisation of work, professionalism and manners of our team. We particularly remember the remark of an agency from France, which hosted an international congress for over 1,000 guests with us: “How do you do it, that you’re always exactly where we need you at any given time?” We often remember this collaboration. The atmosphere of the city is not without significance – in Kraków, you just feel good – excellent cuisine, historical heritage and an extremely varied cultural offer. What more could you want?

Q: What have been ICE Kraków congress centre’s biggest achievements to date?

Izabela Helbin: We’re extremely proud of the fact that despite being a very young, brand new facility, we’ve become one of the most important players in the Polish meetings industry. From the very beginning, we’ve focused on professionalism. However, we learned everything ourselves – we didn’t hire experts who implemented ready-made strategies. Our hard work was recognised at the beginning of 2015, when not even 3 months after opening, we were named the best congress centre in Poland. That gave us a lot of energy. The next honour was the Meetings Star Award. As a public institution, we pay attention to our image – we try to operate very responsibly, talk with the local community and listen to the voices from the industry. We do not conduct aggressive marketing, but we are one of the market leaders. It may sound cliché, we are pleased that through our hard work, we’ve gained the respect of many people and institutions.

Q: What influence does the centre have on the general appearance of Kraków? Do you consider it a modern “Arc de Triomphe” kind of construction, a new representative object, symbol of new, modern, prosperous Poland?

Michal Zalewski: It’s funny that you should ask that. Even before opening, we wanted ICE Kraków to become a business and cultural landmark of the city. All our actions were focused on this big idea. Analysing the events calendar, we realised that we hosted very diverse events. The advertising slogan and the main idea we are guided by came to us very naturally and is very simple. Business, Culture, Science meet in ICE Kraków – we create a platform for dialogue for all of these sectors, all of it in a beautiful, modern and functional facility. It may sound a bit immodest, but we’ve managed to get all the elements to work really well together, so we can say that we are a symbol of modern Kraków and contemporary Poland.

Q: At Conventa 2016 you received the award for best congress centre in New Europe – what does the award mean to you?

Izabela Helbin: According to the idea of the competition, the jurors submit candidates and evaluate facilities on their own initiative. The fact that we did not submit ICE Kraków as a recommended site confirms that our operations are not only visible in Poland, but they’re noticed and appreciated outside the country. Thanks to this, we know that it is worthwhile to pursue our goals. The additional Meetings Star Award is excellent promotion for Kraków as a destination for the meetings Industry.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about ICE Kraków that perhaps describes it best?

Michal Zalewski: Modern society lives very quickly and requires information here and now. People expect valuable content, provided in an aesthetic form. From the very beginning, we focused on new media. We intensively operate in social media, we conduct dialogue, and the materials we prepare are always visually appealing and modern. In communication, we let ourselves be a bit nonchalant and relaxed. We believe that this is the reason why we meet with such a positive reception.

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