The beginning of the year is always a good excuse to take stock of the past months and reflect on the future. Reflection is even more favoured by such a difficult time for many industries, caused by the global pandemic, the outbreak of which unexpectedly stopped development in many sectors of the economy, including Poland. One of the industries that in our country has suffered the most from the restrictions introduced due to COVID-19 is the MICE industry. Representatives of the tourism industry and the meetings industry are still asking themselves how long the crisis caused by the pandemic may still last and what effects it will have on the functioning of the MICE industry.
To get the answer to this question, it is worth referring to the data from 2019, when business tourism in Krakow was thriving thanks to the work of the facilities: ICE Krakow Congress Centre, TAURON Arena Krakow and Expo Krakow, as well as nearly 170 other conference facilities that can receive guests from all over the world.
Q: Business tourism, quo vadis?
“The statistics we have collected show that since its opening in 2014, ICE Kraków has been visited by 250,000 people every year and over 200 events have been held there,” says Izabela Błaszczyk, director of the KBF, which is the operator of ICE Krakow. “As a city, Krakow attracted organizers of meetings of international associations, which is confirmed by taking 48th place in this year’s ICCA ranking. The flourishing of business tourism in Krakow is also evidenced by the fact that in the meetings industry report published by the Polish Tourist Organization, Krakow could boast of organizing as many as 8,400 business meetings last year, 78% of which were national events,” adds director Błaszczyk.
“For many of us, adopting a hybrid formula in the organization of events turned out to be a breakthrough innovation”
These numbers are of great importance because they affect Poland’s GDP. The impact of the meetings industry on this indicator is estimated at 1.5%, which is equal to approximately 35 billion PLN – this is shown by research carried out by Celuch Consulting together with its partners.
“This is an undeniable economic impact generated by the meetings and events industry. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the pandemic and travel restrictions, and the possibility of organizing events at the facilities, this year and probably for the next two years, we will not be able to repeat this result, because event planners most often decide to move their events to next spring or subsequent years,” says Paula Fanderowska, KBF deputy director for the ICE Krakow Congress Centre.
Q: How do venues such as the ICE Kraków Congress Centre and event organisers, in the era of the coronavirus, demonstrate flexibility in cooperation and organization of events?
“For many of us, adopting a hybrid formula in the organization of events, i.e. onsite and online at the same time, turned out to be a breakthrough innovation, which, despite the pandemic reality, allows for the organization of national and even international events,” notes Izabela Błaszczyk.
“We are currently dependent on government guidelines and legislative changes. Conference and convention venues, as well as hotels that have conference rooms, need to be alert and flexible. They have to react swiftly to what legislative changes are introduced by the legislator and immediately inform their contractors and the business environment about them. Explainers, tutorials are needed, everything that can help our clients find their way to the new reality,” emphasizes Paula Fanderowska.
“We have two years of work ahead of us to get back to the number of events organized before the pandemic”
Q: Can a new communication strategy help in attracting customers to facilities such as the ICE Kraków Congress Centre?
“The strategy, which we called the New Dimension of ICE Krakow, assumes, first of all, maintaining constant contact with recipients, including by organizing industry webinars, as well as introducing new functionalities for contractors, such as photo sessions, advertising sessions, recordings, exhibitions. If the facility had operated in the pre-pandemic mode, these events would not have been possible at ICE Kraków, as we would have been organizing congresses, conferences and cultural events. Today, our offer is also based on such events, but in the online or hybrid formula, so we have significantly expanded this offer,” says Paula Fanderowska.
Q: In the era of the coronavirus and numerous restrictions how necessary was it to create a tool that would allow unlimited access to culture and valuable educational materials?
“The PLAY KRAKOW platform, operated by the KBF, is a tool suited to our times and possibilities. It is the first city-based, cultural streaming and VOD platform in Poland with a place for culture and business, as well as for education. We see this as a new sales channel and offer event organizers and planners the opportunity to stream or present materials even in a more distant perspective,” emphasizes Izabela Błaszczyk.
Q: All conference, congress and cultural events will surely return, but unfortunately no one knows when. When do you predict the return of events?
“Based on the results of the Tourism Economics study, we have two years of work ahead of us to get back to the number of events organized before the pandemic. It is worth using this time to think about what kind of business tourism we want. Such an indicator should be the policy of sustainable tourism – a great and valuable document created by experts from the Tourism Department of the Krakow City Hall, profiling us on business and cultural tourism,” notes Paula Fanderowska.
“The policy of sustainable tourism,” adds Izabela Błaszczyk “is a guarantee that we will use local resources and opportunities in an optimal way. We will start creating tourism products in relation to the inhabitants by respecting cultural goods and traditional values. Business and cultural tourism is an opportunity for Krakow. And while we don’t know what to expect or how long the pandemic will last, we do have time to act and remodel our activities in relation to this document.”