Have you ever wondered just who might be the top influencers in the New Europe Meetings Industry? As the industry rapidly evolves, it is clear that some key influencers actually have the same reach and draw as big companies, so individuals matter in a way that has never been possible before.

The Editorial Board of Kongres Magazine has once again assessed more than 80 influencers in Central and South East Europe after reviewing highlights from the Meetings industry in 2017 and has based their assessment on several key criteria, such as:

• Achievement of the best financial and other multiplier effects of the meetings industry in 2017, (significantly deviating from the average);
• Implementation of the most demanding improvements and innovations in their field, which also includes successfully implemented projects that have defined the year 2017;
• Help in enhancing the reputation and profile of the meetings industry in 2017;
• Innovations that facilitate the work of meetings organisers, or in their way have pointed the direction of the industry in the future.

Based on 680 individually completed surveys, Kongres magazine has analysed and shortlisted the TOP 45 most influential people. They have all contributed to the development of the region and our readers have chosen the best of the best. We have also added 2 newcomers in each category, voted by our readers.

The candidates have been divided into 5 categories.


Julia WARD, Regent Porto Montenegro
Julia Ward naturally gravitated to the hospitality industry having completed her education and studies in Cape Town, South Africa where she began her work in Front of House Operations and then slowly transitioned into Food and Beverage for many years. She then felt she needed a directional swing and therefore focused on the Sales and Marketing side of the business with the Rezidor Group. Later she returned to Operations as the Director of Rooms for Fancourt (member of Leading of Hotels of the World) which comprised of residential units, lodges and two 5-star Hotels and four international championship golf courses. An opportunity arose in Bali, Indonesia with Regent Hotels & Resorts where she joined the pre-opening team as Executive Assistant Manager to open their new property in Bali, Indonesia.

Izabela HELBIN, Ice Krakow
Director of the Krakow Festival Office, which operates the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. Her former positions include those of the Deputy Director for Marketing and the Krakow Promotion Director, as well as the Head of the Press Office of the Mayor of the City of Krakow. Cultural manager, producer, co-producer and coordinator of many international cultural and TV projects. She takes pride in a consistently high quality of work, confirmed by numerous awards for festivals, single events, as well as innovative campaigns and publications.

Tomo ČEH, Grand Hotel Union
Tomo Čeh has worked for several years as a corporate director or consultant in the fields of real estate, marketing and tourism. Tomo has also been the Chairman of the Board of Istrabenz Tourism, lead the renovation project of the Palace Hotel in Portorož, director of the Postojna Cave and director of the agency Globtour in Globtour Praha. His management of various tourist and hotel companies has always been tied to specific requirements in connection with reorganisation and crisis management.


Renata BALAŽIČ, Sava turizem
Renata Balažic is the President of the Management Board at Sava Turizem, the largest tourism company in Slovenia, managing six tourist destinations in Slovenia under the Sava Hotels & Resorts brand. She graduated at the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana. She has been working in the tourist sector for 20 years, from the beginning of her career, being closely related to the field of MICE. She started at the Grand Hotel Union, the largest provider of business hotel accommodation and MICE hotel facilities in Ljubljana, where she also established MICE department and later progressed to the position of the Director of marketing and sales. Currently, as the President of the Board, she is also actively involved in the MICE development strategy in Sava Hotels & Resorts Group.

Kristian ŠUSTAR, HUP Zagreb
Member of the Board of HUP Zagreb, a company whose business is to dictate trends in the development of national tourism. With specified, since 2013. President of the Management Board – Dubrovnik Riviera Hotels Inc. (owned by HUP Zagreb), one of the leading investors in the Croatian tourism. By the 2011. CEO of Maistra, which is part of the Adris Group, the largest national investor in the tourism industry. Years of experience, mainly on management positions within the tourism companies in constant expansion (during career, often served multiple functions simultaneously within individual companies). Besides Croatia, experience gained in a number of international projects. For many years active in local and national Tourist Board as a Council Member (from 2016. President of the Supervisory Board – Croatian National Tourist Board.)

Ivica KRIŽMANIĆ, Esplanade Zagreb
Ivica is the General Manager at Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, with 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is being loyal to the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel for all those years, as he started his career as the Front Office & Revenue Manager, continued as the Executive Assistant Manager and Acting General Manager, and for the past 5 wonderful years, he is the General Manager of Esplanade Zagreb.

Gabriela DITETOVA, Radisson Blu Old Mill
Gabriela Ditetova, born in the Czech Republic, replaces Thomas Swiec as the head of the Radisson Blu Old Mill Hotel in Belgrade. With more than 20 years of experience in the hotel industry, Gabriela brings to this position a wealth of experience in sales and marketing, management and operational management. Prior to her arrival in Belgrade, she built her career in a number of management positions in hotels in Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. She arrives in Belgrade from a senior management position at the hotel Park Inn by Radisson Nevsky in St. Petersburg, Russia. Ditetova will be responsible for the operation of the hotel with a focus on the growth, development and future of the company in Belgrade.

Željko KUKURIN, Valamar 

Željko Kukurin was born in 1974 in Zagreb. He graduated in 1999 from the Faculty of Economics and Business in Zagreb where he received his Master of Science degree in Marketing in 2003. In 2010 he received his EMBA degree in International Management from the Bocconi University in Milan. In 2000 he began his career as an intern in Riviera Poreč, a member of the Valamar Group, as Assistant Director on Sveti Nikola Island. From 2003 to 2009 he held various managing positions in Valamar’s Sales and Marketing, and he was responsible for the development of a number of strategic projects within the Group. From 2010 to 2014 he was Management Board President of Istraturist d.d., owned by the Zaba Unicredit Group, and cooperated with Meliá Hotels International in managing the tourism portfolio in Umag. In 2015 Mr. Kukurin joined Valamar Riviera again and was appointed President of the Management Board of Valamar Riviera’s consolidated portfolio in June of the same year.

Gregor JAMNIK, Hotel Slon 

Gregor is a supervisory board member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Slovenia and member of the supervisory board of the Ljubljana Tourism Board. Gregor also has proud memberships of several other important associations: YES (Young Executives of Slovenia), American Chamber of Commerce, German Chamber of Commerce and the Slovenian Managers Association. Gregor achieves great results at Slon with the highest occupancy rates among all of the hotels in Ljubljana, as well outstanding financial results within all of the Slovenian hotels. Slon has hosted many important and distinguished guests during Gregor’s management, with the highlight being the stay of American President Bill Clinton.

Josipa JUTT FERLAN, Double Tree by Hilton
A dynamic, high-performance executive with a 20-year accomplished career track record recognised throughout the industry for delivering and sustaining revenue and profit gains within a highly competitive regional market, she has broad hospitality experience with in-depth expertise covering hospitality management, controlling, international sales, marketing, PR and brand development.

Newcomers in 2017, voted by readers

Riccardo Zanellotti, Savoia Excelsior Palace 

Since the beginning of his career, Riccardo has progressed through several roles in the Hotel Industry, covering specific jobs like: Event Management, Business Analyst, Information Technology Management, Hotel Pre-Opening Project Management, Training Management, F&B Management, Hotel Operations Management, and General Management. He acquired solid skills working for renown International Hotel Chains such as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hilton International, Langham Hospitality Group, and Starhotels Collezione.

Thies C. BRUHN, Kempinski Palace Portorose 

Thies Christian Bruhn was appointed General Manager of the Kempinski Palace Portorož on 1 September 2008, after working before as the hotel’s Project General Manager during the Opening phase. Mr. Bruhn started his professional career in the hotel industry in 1985. As he was born to a family of hoteliers, the hotel environment has been familiar to him since his early childhood. After having done his 3 year classic apprenticeship in Germany, he joined Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in Miami/USA. He joined the Kempinski Group in 1991 working his way up in different positions in several hotels in Germany. His first General Manager assignment of a Kempinski hotel was in 1999, when he took over the helm of the Kempinski Hotel in Leipzig. He successfully managed this hotel until he was appointed Project Opening General Manager and then General Manager of the hotel Kempinski Palace Portorož.