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WHO IS WHO IN NEW EUROPE’S MEETINGS INDUSTRY

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 DESTINATION REPRESENTATIVES 2020

TOP 5 (with the highest number of votes)

Sevda ALIYEVA, Azerbaijan Convention Bureau
Anna BÉKEFI, Budapest Convention Bureau
Miha KOVAČIČ, Slovenian Convention Bureau
Igor KOVAČEVIĆ, Serbia Convention Bureau
Jan ORŠIČ, Ljubljana Convention Bureau

Sevda ALIYEVA, Azerbaijan Convention Bureau

“Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward”

Prior to shifting her career to the business events industry, Sevda Aliyeva worked at the State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources of Azerbaijan as a Leading Expert in the International Relations Department. Continuing to work in the public sector in 2018, she started to serve as the Director of the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau after a year of leading the Baku Convention Bureau. She is recognized as a highly experienced professional in the business events industry of Azerbaijan and often speaks about performance management, destination marketing and promotion, destination research tactics, etc. on both local and international platforms.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sevda-aliyeva-a35164163/ 

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Photo Credit: Azerbaijan Convention Bureau

Anna BÉKEFI, Budapest Convention Bureau

“Your life is a message, don’t just remain a letter in a sealed envelope”

Anna Békefi has been the Managing Director of Budapest Convention Bureau since March 2020 and plays a key role in attracting congress guests to Hungary’s capital.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-b%C3%A9kefi-85b855201/ 

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Miha KOVAČIČ, Slovenian Convention Bureau

Active for over a decade as the director of the Slovenian Convention Bureau, which enjoys an outstanding reputation abroad, he continually nurtures the growth of the Slovenian meetings industry through a number of innovative marketing and CSR projects. The editorial board has put a particular emphasis on the Conventa project that, as a brand, has become synonymous with New Europe’s meeting & event industry and has significantly assisted with the placement of the region on the meetings planners’ list of key destinations.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mihakovacic/

Igor KOVAČEVIĆ, Serbia Convention Bureau

“Be Forever Young, since once you stop playing and laughing, you become old”

Igor’s main focus is on destination management and business development. This resulted in established proactive sales platform, together with private meetings industry sector, and securing 56 international events and over 53 million euros in revenues. He implemented a very successful Congress Ambassador program which created long-lasting relations with local distinguished members of the program. Igor is also an Assistant Professor at Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Belgrade, and holds the position of the Deputy Chair of Central European Chapter at ICCA.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/igorkovacevic/

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Jan ORŠIČ, Ljubljana Convention Bureau

Jan Oršič has almost 20 years of experience in tourism, from being a guide, working in a DMC agency and currently as the Head of the Ljubljana Convention Bureau at Ljubljana Tourism. Since 2009 he has been focusing on the meeting industry. He is also an active member of ICCA, SITE and ECM and of recently an active mentor in the ECM Mentorship Programme. Jan is a firm believer in live events and is convinced that meetings, events and incentives can play a part in creating a better world in the future.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janorsic/

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Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

ALL NOMINEES

In alphabetical order

Mateusz CZERWINSKI, Warsaw Convention Bureau

Mateusz Czerwinski is currently the Vice President of the Board of Warsaw Tourism Organization.

Barbora ČERMAKOVA, Slovakia Convention Bureau

Barbora is the head of the Slovak Convention Bureau more than 2 years. During this time she set up the marketing strategy of the national bureau and build up many strong and relevant business connections and cooperations.

Angelika DIETMAYER, Schladming-Dachstein Convention

Angelika’s work life is all about tourism: born and living in one of the most wonderful, picturesque, scenic regions of the world, in the alpine region Schladming-Dachstein, it is her passion to bring people from everywhere to this treasure. Sharing unforgettable moments and inspiring experiences in such a wonderful landscape. For Angelika it’s more than work: it’s getting friends and valuable personal relationships.

Laura FAVARETTI, Padova Convention & Visitors Bureau

After a career in luxury hotel hospitality, between Rome and Florence, Laura came back to her beloved hometown to start up the local convention bureau in Padova, a beautiful MICE and leisure destination in the northeast of Italy, in Veneto region, with great potential especially for congresses and international conferences. Passionate with tourism and travel, she is active nationally and internationally to create and develop new opportunities for her territory and for the local operators in tourism of her area, collaborating and always looking for new projects.

Fredi FONTANOT, Portorož Convention Bureau

As economist and marketing specialist, Fredi has always mixed his working experiences between tourism and marketing. Starting to work in hotel chain marketing department, being a director of the thermal spa centre, proceeding on the other side in PR and marketing agencies, returning then back in the incoming department of one of the Slovenian tour operators, and finally as destination MICE coordinator. With his experiences, positive approach and good energy, he manages to connect different partners to satisfy guest and partners’ expectations. He is also involved in the creation of new experiences and realisation of big events on the destination.

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Cemil HAKAN KILIÇ, Istanbul Convention Bureau

Mr. Kilic graduated in Business Administration after completing under and postgraduate degrees in the USA followed by a Ph.D. from Istanbul University. He has attended a number of educational programs in various countries such as Japan, the USA and Spain as well as having worked in different sectors. After working for the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce and the Istanbul Commodity Exchange, he was appointed as the General Manager of Istanbul CVB on October, 22nd 2018. Mr. Kilic has also authored some publications and articles.

Meeli JAAKSOO, Tallinn Convention Bureau

Meeli Jaaksoo has been the head of Tallinn Convention Bureau since its creation 20 years ago. At the time, it was the first convention bureau in the Baltic countries, which lead the way in modernising the region’s international conference industry. During her time as a convention manager, Meeli has helped the city of Tallinn develop into the vibrant international conference destination we know today. Due to her vast knowledge of the meetings industry, she is currently one of the most experienced convention professionals in Estonia.

Teodora JILKOVA, Bulgaria Convention Bureau

Teodora is a result-driven Business Development professional with a notable track record of establishing international partnerships, initiating joint projects and initiatives across multiple geographic regions including. Currently based in Bulgaria, Teodora has been working for 15 years in UK, where she operated in a multitude of industries including real estate, tourism and events for both B2B and B2C audience. In 2003, Teodora participated as an exhibitor for the first time at an international fair and since then, she believes in the ultimate power of the face-to-face communication, as well as in the indisputable importance of the events industry. Teodora perceives events as the most important platform for sharing good practices, exploring new market trends and establishing new business contacts.

Aleksei KALACHEV, Russia Convention Bureau

Has vast experience in the largest private companies and government bodies. Draws more than 15 years in communications, event and project management, which includes organizing and managing Russian and international event projects, exhibitions and conferences, as well as public relations. Alexey Kalachev’s professional achievements in the strategic promotion of Russia’s event potential at the international markets and building up the standards of industry inside the country as well. He is also the CEO of the first Convention Bureau of Russia founded in November 2017. After the first years of his work, the Russian Convention Bureau has already noticed considerable results and Russia is achieving great interest as an event destination among the international buyers and organizers. In 2019, Alexey Kalachev joined the ICCA Board of Directors and became the co-chairperson of the Destination Marketing sector. Alexey Kalachev entered some industry rankings of the most influential professionals of Europe in the events industry.

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Photo Credit: Graz Tourismus/Hannes Loske

Heinz KALTSCHMIDT, Graz Convention Bureau

Heinz Kaltschmidt has been heading the Graz Convention Bureau since 2003 and has worked for Graz Tourism for more than 25 years. During this long time, there has been a steady growth in tourism and the city of Graz was able to almost triple the overnight stays in Graz. 2020 has changed everything and it will now be a big challenge to have to start again after this long successful period.

Kadri KARU, Estonian Convention Bureau

Kadri was one of the founding board members of Estonian Convention Bureau in 2008 and has served as its Managing Director since 2011. In addition to her daily job of promoting Estonia as a meetings destination, Kadri works as a lecturer for Tartu University Pärnu College teaching destination marketing and conference organising. Her 24 years’ activity in the meetings industry includes 13 years of work as a professional conference organiser responsible for arranging hundreds of international congresses and events. She holds a MA degree in public administration and an MBA in management and marketing.

Efi KOUDELI, Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau

Efi Koudeli is a senior manager with more than 12 years of international experience in the tourism, destination and event management industry, both in public and private sector. Prior to joining This is Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau, Efi worked at Found.ation, a top-notch technology venture builder, holding the position of Knowledge Transfer & Outreach Lead. She was responsible for the business development and implementation of programs on digital skills, working closely with the private and public sector (Municipality of Athens, Microsoft) and knowledge transfer programs as CSR for corporations. In 2015 Efi took over the Thessaloniki Convention Bureau where she was the General Manager for 5 years. During her tenure, she set up, developed and managed the Bureau promoting the destination for international association meetings, incentives and corporate events. Prior to this, she worked in Spain at the Greek National Tourism Organization for the Ministry of Tourism and for the International Air Transport Association-IATA. She holds two Master degrees, in Teaching Spanish as Foreign Language (Universidad Complutense) and Cultural Institutions and Companies Management (Universidad de Barcelona) and she holds a Bachelor degree in Spanish Language and Culture.

Brenda LEE FABRO, FVG Convention Bureau

Brenda Lee Fabbro is the person in charge of coordinating the promotional MICE activities of Friuli Venezia Giulia as a congress destination.

Edith MADER, Convention Bureau Lower Austria

Edith Mader has been working for over 20 years for Lower Austria tourism and knows where the most beautiful places in the region around Vienna can be found. Besides cycling and hiking, she loves excellent wine, like the Grüner Veltliner and regional food. She is happy to promote her region to the clients and help them to realise outstanding experiences.

Gernot MARX, Salzburg Convention Bureau

Gernot Marx is Managing Director of the Salzburg Convention Bureau and served as the vice president of the Austrian Convention Bureau until 2020. He was the spokesman of the regional and city CVBs in Austria. Before he started in destination marketing more than a decade ago, Gernot worked for the leading luxury and lifestyle hospitality chain in event, sales and marketing positions. Besides marketing, Gernot has a strong focus on psychology and leadership, currently working on the change process brought by the VUCA world and Covid-19.

Helena MAHUAS, Astana Convention Bureau

An experienced meeting professional, a passionate traveller and sports enthusiast. After initial steps in the hotel industry, Helena joined the world of events, and for the past 20 years, she held various positions in CBs, PCOs and governmental organizations in different parts of Europe and Central Asia. For the past two years, Helena’s role is to set up business strategies for the newly established Nur-Sultan (Astana) CB to increase its visibility on the international meetings scene. An active athlete and sports coach in her free time, Helena enjoys all the adrenaline and buzz that both meetings and sports industries bring.

Roman MUŠKA, Prague Convention Bureau

Roman Muška started his career in the MICE segment in 1996 working as Project Manager. Through various roles in the finance and administration sector, he got back to the congress project management in 2004. Since 2011 he served as the Country Manager of the AIM Group International in Prague. In 2013, he became a member of the Prague Convention Bureau Board of Directors and in 2015 its first Vice President. Since January 2016 he became fully involved in the Prague Convention Bureau as the Managing Director.

Zlatan MUFTIĆ, Zagreb Convention Bureau

Born and raised in Zagreb, Zlatan has dedicated his professional life to the meetings industry and promotion of his hometown. Latchkey generation member, grown up on the new wave, enjoying music and literature, he is never bored. Surrounded by bright and interesting people, Zlatan is lucky to work in an inspiring environment. Zlatan is open to new ideas and likes to try new things. He likes technology but strongly believes in face-to-face meetings and human social network.

Maja PANČUR, Bled Convention Bureau

Maja Pančur has devoted her career to local tourist organization in Lake Bled. She perceives working in world-renowned tourist resort with a wide diversity of tourist offer and interacting with visitors, locals and industry colleagues as the main benefits. Considering her eagerness to always improve, her creativity and strategic vision she was appointed head of developmental projects and Bled Convention Bureau.

Andriy PAVLIV, Lviv Convention Bureau

He started his career in the meeting industry in 2014 when the Lviv Convention Bureau was founded. In 2018 he became a Director of the Convention Bureau, the first CB in Ukraine. He has also been a part of International internships Professional Fellows Program (USA) in spring 2018 and his internship was held at Little Rock Convention and visitors bureau. He took part in an international Seminar on Development and Tourism Management for Asia and Europe” in 2016 in Beijing-Harbin, China.

Goran PAVLOVIĆ, Opatija Convention Bureau

Goran Pavlović is a meetings industry professional with over 15 years of experience. Ever since high school, meetings industry became a passion in Goran’s life. He gathered his experience through work in different hotels in Opatija and in Opatija Tourist Board. Goran likes to work on projects related to the meetings industry and shares gladly his knowledge. He was part of a working group in Croatian Meeting Professionals Association (CMPA), which developed an education programme for the national certificate for meeting professionals – CCMEP. He also prepared a blueprint of the Croatian Congress Ambassadors programme.

David POBJECKY, Bratislava Convention Bureau

Accomplished Sales Director with over 15 years of experience in Hotel management industry. Considerable experience in developing and leading a highly successful sales team while consistently achieving and outpacing sales goals and performance measurables. Ability to problem solve and collaborate as an integral part of a cross-functional leadership team in order to increase revenue, profit and brand awareness.

Mirjana RESNER, Croatian National Tourist Board

She started the new position as a head of CB in summer 2020 after had been working more than 20 years in CNTB. She was responsible for CNTB’s activities abroad such as fairs, b2b workshops, a different type of presentations etc. She emphasizes the importance of the MICE sector and hopes that in mutual cooperation with public and private MICE sector they will get an important role in the new Sustainable tourism strategy until 2030.

Andrea SAJBEN, Steiermark Convention Bureau

Aigars SMILTANS, MEET RIGA

Passionate about being an Ambassador of Riga city and being part of the Meetings & Events industry of Latvia for the last two decades! It was an exciting journey to place Riga back on the European map of the Meetings & Events industry! 

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Eleni SOTIRIOU, Thessaloniki Convention Bureau

Eleni is the Managing Director of the Thessaloniki Convention Bureau. She holds an MSc in Economic History from LSE and a BSc in Economics from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She was the co-founder of Wine Plus, an innovative company for wine promotion, gastronomy and oenotourism, has served as Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Thessaloniki (2011 – 2018) focusing on the city’s promotion and growth and has occupied different positions in the private sector in Marketing and Sales. She believes that in the core of the Meetings Industry is sharing: knowledge, experience, know-how, fun!

Petra STUŠEK, Ljubljana Tourism

Petra Stušek is CEO of the Ljubljana Tourism and President of the Board at European Cities Marketing, a non-profit organization which aims at improving the competitiveness and performance of city tourism destinations in Europe, including CVBs. She is a proud member of worldwide meetings community – industry, which is changing and adapting so fast, that it enables really beautiful ride through professional life if the person enters the new train on time. She is a passionate traveller by nature and profession. Loves to live, do sport, explore, teach, learn, share experiences, not necessarily in this order.

Romana VLAŠIĆ, Convention Bureau Dubrovnik

The director of Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Romana Vlasic, with many solid years of experience in business behind her has accelerated the promotion of Dubrovnik to now being the region’s most recognizable congress brand and a player in the European premier league for congresses and events. Dubrovnik could rightfully claim that recent years were its years on the conference scene, as many important events were held in this very beautiful city. Dubrovnik has been a popular filming location in recent years.

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Photo Credit: Wien Tourismus/Martina Siebenhandl

Christian WORONKA, Vienna Convention Bureau

Christian Woronka is the director of the Vienna Convention Bureau at the Vienna Tourist Board. Additionally, he also manages the market management team, uniting both B2B-departments in the Vienna Tourist Board under his leadership. It is his concern to develop the destination in a holistic and sustainable way and to continuously optimize the destination’s offerings. Vienna’s Visitor Economy Strategy 2025 aims to increasingly use the meetings industry to drive Vienna’s development as a business and research location and to increase its international visibility.

Vita ZILINSKAITE, Vilnius Convention Bureau

She is the Head of the Convention Bureau at Go Vilnius and one of the most noticeable meeting experts in Estonia.

HOW SELECTION AND VOTING FUNCTIONS

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.