On 14th December 2020, the annual voting for the most influential people of New Europe concluded. The list of influencers was viewed by a record number of 9.430 readers, while 2.606 of Kongres Magazine’s readers cast their votes.

Since 2014, Kongres Magazine has been giving centre stage to the most influential people of New Europe’s meetings industry. When we prepared our first-ever list of influencers, our guidance was the following mindset. Would you decide to build a house without an architect or professional construction workers? The price you would have to pay for the amateur approach would be significant. Likewise, this applies to event organisation, one of the fields of expertise, where everyone seems to be an expert.

Thus, we decided to set structured criteria and requirements for nomination. Our list of influencers differs from similar competitions, as nomination has to come from a third party and not candidates themselves. We want the influencer list to be of help when you start organising events again, serving as a trustworthy directory of MICE professionals. This project is not a competition, but a serious platform that you can rely on. All nominees that were part of the voting process are presented in alphabetical order below.

I would like to sincerely congratulate the winners and all of the nominees on their impressive achievement and pledge to further develop and evolve the project in the following years.

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021,

Gorazd Čad
Editor in chief


TOP 5 (with the highest number of votes)

Susanne BAUMANN-SÖLLNER, Austria Center Vienna
Renata BALAŽIĆ, Sava Turizem
Izabela BŁASZCZYK, Ice Krakow
Spasenija Kika PURIĆ, Montenegro Stars Hotel Group
Lenka ZLEBKOVA, Prague Congress Centre

Susanne BAUMANN-SÖLLNER, Austria Center Vienna

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

Susanne Baumann-Söllner was appointed to the Executive Board of IAKW-AG on December 1, 2012. The business education graduate, business trustee and financial analyst initially worked as a tax and business consultant and then worked in the Federal Ministry of Finance as a consultant to several ministers and as a department head for tax policy and tax law. Baumann-Söllner is the author of several tax policy publications and winner of the Leopold Kunschak Science Award 2011. Baumann-Söllner, as a spokeswoman for the board of directors, is responsible for the congress business.

Photo credit: © IAKW-AG/Andreas Hofer

Renata BALAŽIĆ, Sava Turizem

Sava Hotels & Resorts, the largest tourism company in Slovenia, manages six tourist destinations in Slovenia. Since her beginnings in the tourist sector 20 years ago, Renata Balažic has been closely related to the field of MICE. She started in the Grand Hotel Union where she established the MICE department and later progressed to the position of the Director of marketing and sales. Currently, as the President of the Sava Hotels & Resorts’s Board, she is actively involved in the Group’s MICE development.



Izabela BŁASZCZYK, Ice Krakow

“Let’s inspirit your event. Together! Every MEETING changes!”

Izabela Błaszczyk is an experienced cultural manager, producer, co-producer and coordinator of numerous international cultural and television projects. She sits on the jury of the prestigious EFFE Awards and is a member of the THINKTANK Expert Board. She has served as Director of the KBF since 1 January 2011. Some of her most important achievements include major municipal activities coordinated by the KBF, such as the implementation of the strategic programme Kraków UNESCO City of Literature and managing the activities of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre (listed as one of the best multivenue sites in the New Europe region.


Spasenija Kika PURIĆ, Montenegro Stars Hotel Group

Kika is the Head of MICE in Montenegro Stars Hotels Group, a company that was a pioneer in many spheres of the hospitality industry in Montenegro, and presents an important part of Montenegro’s growing attractivity for the international MICE industry. Within event management experience of 10+years, she shaped her skills working on the organization on more than 300 events per year in the largest regional conference center-Hotel Splendid Conference and Spa*****. She is the proud mother of a 6-year-old girl and an unshakable optimist who believes in work for a cause not for applause.


Lenka ZLEBKOVA, Prague Congress Centre

“Don’t worry, be happy!”

Lenka Žlebková has been involved in congress tourism since 2008 when she was elected as a member of the Board of Directors and later in 2010 was also appointed as a director of the Prague Convention Bureau. During her career in this organization, she managed with her team to move Prague on the ICCA ranking from 19th to 10th position of TOP world destinations. She also contributed to the winning Prague’s candidacy for the prestigious congress of the International Congress Association, which took place in 2017 in Prague Congress Centre (PCC). Since 2016, she has joined the PCC as a Sales and Marketing Director and at the same time, she became the Vice–Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Prague Convention Bureau. Since March 2020, she has been leading Prague Congress Centre as CEO.


Photo Credit: Prague Congress Centre


In alphabetical order

Dragan BARIČIĆ, Hotel Park Split

Dragan Baričić has been the General Manager of Park Split since October 2020.

Photo Credit: Robert Ribic
Photo Credit: Robert Ribic

Iztok BRICL, GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre

Mr. Iztok Bricl, M.Ec. (ISCED 6) started working in MICE in 2010 when he was appointed the Director of the GR – Ljubljana Convention and Exhibition Centre. As the director of a leading event centre in Slovenia, for the third term, he has been successfully leading the company with 33 employees. Among his greatest merits is the business reorganisation, modernization of infrastructure of the centre, the introduction of new fair events, in particular developing of the congress activities. At the CEFA General Assembly in 2019, he has been appointed as the president of the CEFA (2020–2022).

Miloš CEROVIČ, InterContinental Ljubljana

An accomplished General Manager with more than 15 years of global, multi-brand leadership experience in luxury hotels & resorts. A skilled financial leader, with a proven track record of maximizing hotel revenue and productivity, maintaining standards of quality assurance and achieving the highest level of guest service while staying within proposed budget guidelines. Successfully led teams for MGM Hospitality, Global Hyatt, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Rotana and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts on 3 different continents.

Adriano COLLENZ, Mjus World Resort

Adriano is a professional in the hospitality and tourism sector, where he has been active for over 20 years. He has gained experience in hotel management with administration, development and control of the organisation and of personnel. In his role as Trade and Marketing Director, he implemented strategies and sales plans as well as consolidation and development of previously acquired and completely new markets, using targeted B2B and B2C actions. He has loads of experience in human resource management and of policies suitable for personal and professional growth of staff.

Vasja ČRETNIK, Terme Olimia

Vasja Čretnik is the Sales and Marketing Director at Terme Olimia.

Nebojša DARABOŠ, Park Palič

Nebojša Daraboš is the Director of Park Palič.

Kai DIECKMANN, Regent Porto Montenegro

Kai started his career in Germany, working for many of his native country’s famous hotels, including Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa and Grand hotel Schloss Bensberg. Working his way up the hospitality ladder, he soon rose to become Front Office Manager at London’s St James’s Hotel and Club; Rooms Division Manager at Grand Hotel Park, Gstaad in, Switzerland, gaining valuable experience in different departments along the way. With 19 years of extensive experience in the luxury hospitality industry, he has worked for some of the most well-known names in the hotel business and is now the General Manager of Regent Porto Montenegro.


Janez ERJAVEC, Pomurski sejem

Janez Erjavec was born on September 29, 1949, in Maribor, Slovenia. He is a civil engineer by education. From 1972 to 1979, he was employed in Switzerland in responsible positions in construction. He joined the Pomurski sejem (the Pomurje Fair), which has been gaining ground in Slovenia since 1962, in 1981 and has been running it since 1993. Under his leadership, the company has placed itself on the international map of fair activity.
In 2004, Janez Erjavec received the award of the Chamber of Commerce of Slovenia for outstanding economic and entrepreneurial achievements.

Julia FRANZ, Imlauer Hotels

Julia Franz is the Director of Sales at IMLAUER Hotels.

Georg HECHENBLAIKNER, Congress Centrum Alpbach

The Managing Director of Congress Centrum Alpbach, Georg Hechenblaikner, is a recognisable figure in the congress industry.

Gregor JAMNIK, Hotel Slon

Gregor Jamnik counts among his several memberships also a position of a supervisory board member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Slovenia and member of the supervisory board of the Ljubljana Tourism Board. Gregor achieves great results at Slon with the highest occupancy rates among all the hotels in Ljubljana, as well as outstanding financial results within all of the Slovenian hotels. Slon has hosted many important and distinguished guests during his management, with the highlight being the stay of American President Bill Clinton.

Katija JERKOVIC, Adriatic Luxury Hotels Dubrovnik

Katija Jerković is a hotel industry professional specialised in overall sales and marketing and MICE industry. She is currently the Director of Sales and Marketing at Adriatic Luxury Hotels, leading luxury hotel management company in Croatia.

Josipa JUTT FERLAN, Double Tree by Hilton

Josipa Jutt Ferlan has been the CEO and General Manager at DoubleTree by Hilton Zagreb Hotel since 2015 and the Cluster GM at Hilton hotels in Zagreb for a year. She has 20 years of experience in the industry, delivering revenue and profit gains within a highly competitive regional market. She also brings broad hospitality experience, covering international sales, marketing, PR and brand development.


Ivana KLARIĆ, Hotel Cornaro

Ivana Klaric graduated from the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Opatija. Since 2000 she has been working within the hotel management. With many years of experience in hotel management, sales, and marketing, MICE, she worked successfully on a pre-opening strategy for several hotels. Since 2014 she has been employed on a pre-opening project as General Manager at the Cornaro Hotel, now one of Croatia’s Leading Hotels. She is a member of The Tourist Board of Split council, the Corporate Counsel of the Faculty of economics, business and tourism and a member of the Croatian-Indian business council.

Marcela KLOFUTAR, Hotel Linhart

Marcela Klofutar and began her independent path at the Vila Podvin rural restaurant with rooms, where she strives to unite local suppliers (Podvin Farmers Market) and restaurateurs (Taste Radol’ca), as well as offering workshops for children, adults and professionals, while also developing traditional dishes into nouvelle Slovenian cuisine.

Sandi KOVAČEVIČ, Hotel Cubo

The polite hotelier hides in himself a rock soul who has been dedicated to tourism from early years. After a decade of working in the hotel business, in 2010 he became a general manager of CUBO hotel, one of the leading hotels in Slovenia. A few years later CUBO expanded hotel brand to one of the well-known golf courses in the region – CUBO golf. His love for nature and horses, which have a special place in his life, give him inspiration for creating the bright future of hospitality and events with his colleagues in the CUBO group.


Kathrin NOLL, Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras

After her apprenticeship as a hotel manager at the Panoramahotel am Jägerhäusle in Freiburg, Kathrin gained important professional experience in Germany, England and Switzerland before joining the Kempinski Hotel Airport Munich as Assistant Banquet Sales Manager in 1999. After five years in Munich, where she quickly became Assistant Food & Beverage Manager, she was drawn back into the distance. At the Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski in Tanzania, she took over the position of Food & Beverage Manager for more than two years, which she then filled successfully at the Kempinski Hotel Ajman, not far from Dubai. Since 2012 she works as the General Manager of Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras.


Tomislav POPOVIĆ, Maistra Hotels & Resorts

Presently, Tomislav Popovic is Chief Executive Officer at Maistra dd. He previously held the position of Member-Management Board at Adris Grupa dd and Chairman-Supervisory Board for HUP-Zagreb dd (a subsidiary of Adris Grupa dd).

Matej RIGELNIK, Union Hotels Collection

Matej Rigelnik is the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Union Hotels.

Milan SAJOVIĆ, HIT Alpinea

Milan Sajović is the General Manager at Hit Alpinea Kranjska Gora.


Alexandra SCHÄFER, Messe Graz

Alexandra Schäfer is the Marketing Manager at Messe Graz.

Alena SPISIAKOVA, Kempinski Hotels

Alena holds the position of Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing for Kempinski Hotel Adriatic and Kempinski Palace Portorož and is responsible for sales, marketing and public relations teams. Alena started her Kempinski journey at the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras in Slovakia. Previously she was Head of Marketing and E-commerce for 9 properties under Tatry Mountain Resorts. Alena holds a master’s degree in Business Management and Marketing and has developed her expertise in an international environment in hospitality and full-service agencies in Australia, UK and Ireland.

Irina TOMIĆ, BLUE KOTOR BAY Premium Resort

Irina is a true professional with great stamina and dedication, actively creating success stories in Croatia and Montenegro. After graduation from ACTM in Dubrovnik, part of RIT New York, she started working in best hotel corporations like Starwood and Regent Hotels, where she got an insight into the world of upscale tourism. Irina’s expertise covers pre-openings, planning, sales and marketing, brand creation, revenue management, destination management, and she is seen as a young leader showing by example. Being a member of different associations, Irina is globally promoting Montenegro and Croatia, and through many conferences serving as speaker, she is passing on her knowledge to youngsters and rest of the industry.

Marilka TOVARAC, Valamar Hotels Dubrovnik

Marilka Tovarac is the MICE Sales Department Manager at Valamar Hotels and Resorts.

Georg UNTERKIRCHER, Falkensteiner Punta Skala

Georg Unterkircher is the General Manager of Falkensteiner Punta Skala.

Živorad VASIĆ, IHG

Živorad Vasić graduated from Boston University with two degrees, Hospitality Administration and Finance, both finishing with Magna Cum Laude. He got his MSc with the master thesis in the field of economic and financial indicators in the hotel business. He is also a visiting lecturer in study groups of prestigious Serbian Universities. After 17 years in the United States, Živorad Vasić returned to Serbia in 2008. Today, he holds two positions. He is Senior Vice President for Delta Holding and Area General Manager for InterContinental Hotels Group, managing Crowne Plaza Belgrade, InterContinental Ljubljana and Indigo Belgrade project, all three owned by Delta Holding, but also InterContinental Bucharest, InterContinental Sofia and Regent Porto Montenegro managed by other owning groups. He is a member of the Serbian Association of Managers, American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, Serbian Business Club “Privrednik” and on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement Serbia. In his career, Zivorad Vasic received many prestigious business awards.

Ivan VITOROVIĆ, Hotel Mona

As an authorized representative of Pegasus, he has been organizing congresses and introducing reservation systems in hotels in Serbia, and in 2005 he joined the company Mona d.o.o. which then starts investing in the hotel industry. He served as sales and marketing manager, hotel manager, Mona Zlatibor, sales, marketing and development director, and CEO. In 2016, he became the Executive Director of Mona Hotel Management, which owns and manages the Mona Plaza hotel in Belgrade.

Riccardo ZANELLOTTI, Savoia Excelsior Palace

Riccardo Zanelotti is the General Manager of Savoia Excelsior Palace.


Candidates were assessed on the following key criteria:

• Achievement of the best financial and other multiplier effects of the meetings industry in 2019/2020 that were significantly above the average;
• Implementation of the most demanding improvements and innovations in their field, including successfully implemented projects that marked the year 2019/2020 as a special one;
• Help in enhancing the reputation and visibility of the meetings industry in 2019/2020;
• Innovations that facilitate the work of meetings organisers, or have shown the direction for the future.

Based on the criteria, we prepare the list and invite readers of Kongres Magazine to vote. The voting lasts for a month (this year from 13th November to 14th December 2020). In each category, we highlight five influencers with the most votes, while the rest of the nominees are presented equally according to alphabetical order. Each year, colleagues that received less than 2% of all votes are excluded from the list. The 2% was set as the threshold for being placed on the list (52 votes in 2020).

The selection is prepared by the editorial board of Kongres Magazine, consisting of five members. The editorial board ensures a comprehensive overview of nominations and oversees voting results. Thereby, the editorial board assures voting credibility. On request, individuals have the possibility of examining the selection results.