rafael_szlachta
Photo Credit: Polish Tourism Organisation

KRAKOW – HOST DESTINATION OF ICCA CONGRESS 2022

Kongres Magazine talked to Rafał Szlachta, President of the Polish Tourism Organisation on their successful bid to host the ICCA Congress 2022 in Krakow. Rafał Szlachta delved into the challenges the Polish meetings industry faced, and what multiplicative effects the ICCA Congress will have on Krakow and Poland.

Q1: How challenging was it to win the bid for the congress? Did you face fierce competition from other destinations, and what contributed to Krakow becoming the host destination for the congress in 2022?

It is worth mentioning that Poland has had the opportunity to host smaller ICCA events in Gdańsk, such as ICCA Research, Sales & Marketing Programme, and the ICCA Central European Chapter Summer Meeting. The fact that we have qualified for the final stage of the selection process, together with Athens and Bangkok, is a great honour in itself. We sincerely believed that ICCA’s representatives would appreciate our incredible energy, fantastic team effort, and huge commitment and determination in pursuing our goal.

First of all, hosting ICCA Congress in Krakow is teamwork from international, national to the local level. Before we made the decision on bidding, we contacted all ICCA members from Poland and made a promise to ourselves. To make our appearance stronger, we decided to build the BID on national and European concepts. I am very happy to say that we received support from other European destinations from the Strategic Alliance of the National Convention Bureaux of Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Finland.

The selection process was a highly complex affair and involved multiple stages – Kraków has been competing to land the title of the Congress organiser since spring 2020. The very preparation and submission of the city’s bid posed an enormous challenge given the new reality created by the pandemic. It is worth mentioning that the city managed to organise a virtual site inspection visit, for which it produced four films and engaged over 30 companies from the MICE industry in a record-short time. The tour itself lasted almost 5 hours!

Q2: Trends in event organising are indicative of a spike in hybrid events and the digitalisation of a user’s experience. This year’s multi-hub event is a testament to that. How will you build on this in Poland?

The Polish MICE sector has instantly adapted to the new reality. Polish destinations and conference venues, hotels, DMCs, PCOs, convention bureaux and subcontractors operating in them adjusted themselves to the changes and successfully introduced solutions making it possible to arrange top-quality events that are not only safe but also technologically advanced. Dedicated studios facilitate the process of organising hybrid events, and more and more agencies specialise in related professional services. Video controls, sound operators, lighting console operators and camera operators all work on delivering live broadcasts.

The #VirtualEvents offer of the Poznań-based MTP Group, studios of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre and the Lublin Conference Centre are just some of the many great examples. In other words, COVID-19 sped up a phenomenon that has been discussed for a long time now, namely the blending of online and offline. The time has come to recognise the bright spots of the pandemic-imposed change and to start taking advantage of its potential. That is precisely what is happening now in Poland!

Q3: In Poland, you strive to host even more international congresses. However, that is only possible in cooperation with Poland congress ambassadors. In practice, how do you encourage meeting planners to organise their events in Poland?

Assistance given by convention bureaux reinforces the trust of meeting planners. In the 2019 edition of “The CVB & the Future of the Meetings Study” compiled in cooperation with Destinations International and Miles Partnership, more than 60% of planners consider the operations of bureaux as very important to the meetings industry’s development and as many as 78.6% reports regularly accessing CVB resources. In the case of Poland, the governmental Poland Convention Bureau has been operating for almost 20 years now, along with ten local bureaux based in Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Lublin, Łódź, Poznań, Toruń, Warsaw and Wrocław. Responsible for the promotion, the units in question predominantly act as first points of contact and objective partners for everyone wishing to stage a MICE event. They boast essential knowledge on all available products, must-sees, recommended companies, subcontractors, and venues.

rafael_szlachta
Photo Credit: Polish Tourism Organisation

“I believe that this event will contribute to the reconstruction and further development of the Polish meeting industry after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Q4: The ICCA Congress will be important both from an economic and exchanging knowledge aspect. What do you think is the greatest added value of the event?

The Polish Tourism Organisation, with Poland Convention Bureau operating within its structures, has been a member of the ICCA for almost 20 years. It is a good time to share our cultural and intellectual heritage as well as Polish hospitality with all ICCA World, but also to present our latest achievements, including those concerning tourism and business infrastructure.

I believe that this event will contribute to the reconstruction and further development of the Polish meeting industry after the Covid-19 pandemic and will provide momentum for our future promotion activities in Poland and abroad.

Q5: Could you share the focal topic of the congress with our readers?

We have some ideas to join the substantive part of the congress, but at this stage, I cannot say anything yet, as talks between HOST City and ICCA are ongoing. The ICCA Congress programme should be enhanced by the ideas related to the interaction between heritage and tourism developed. We want to boast and tell you about the most innovative congresses hosted in Krakow. Identification of the condition and directions of tourism development is more and more frequently undertaken tasks for the development of cities. New models of the so-called economy of sharing, excessive tourist function, quality of residents’ life and expectations of visitors demand compromise solutions. Krakow is a leader in this discussion, a city aware of opportunities and threats resulting from tourism, welcoming and seeking new measures. Consistent development of the MICE sector is such an element.

Q6: Do you expect to welcome more or fewer attendees than in previous ICCA Congresses?

In the post-pandemic reality, geographical proximity and the security factor are crucial. Krakow as a city in the heart of EUROPE, perfectly connected to the world, very attractive and still intriguing, ensures high attendance at the congress. I believe that we can attract new members especially from Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and of course from Poland! We are also counting on the rest of the NEW Europe!

It is worth emphasising that ICCA Central European Chapter is the second-largest chapter in the association with 182 members from 19 countries, and 46% of ICCA World is based in Europe. Past congresses held in this part of Europe have enjoyed record attendance – Prague in 2017 hosted almost 1300 attendance. Also, Leipzig in 2011 was very successful with over 1000 pax.

It’s not a race or a competition, but, of course, we do hope to host in Krakow all ICCA Members and sympathizers.

ice_krakow
Photo Credit: ICE Krakow Congress Centre

“While we might live in the so-called new normal, face-to-face meetings continue to be the key in regard to sharing knowledge.”

Q7: At the end of the interview, we wish to ask you a few questions regarding the meetings industry in Poland. What is the state of the meetings industry in Poland?

The pivotal role played by the meetings industry in Poland is best reflected by figures. According to the 2020 edition of the “Poland Events Impact” report, the MICE sector generates approx. 1.5% of the national GDP, creates more than 220,000 jobs and makes an economic contribution of approx. 35 billion PLN. Considerably growing figures are also recorded in listings presented by Poland Convention Bureau. Needless to say, the pandemic period is the one unfortunate exception.

The data discussed above is confirmed by international sources. For many years now, Poland has maintained its strong position in the two most important rankings of destinations, hosting the greatest number of conferences and association congresses. Naturally, I am referring to reports compiled by ICCA and UIA, whose latest editions rank Poland 19th and 24th, respectively, up to three spots in the latter case. While Warsaw and Kraków dominate rankings of cities attracting events, the mention is also due to other players, such as Poznań, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Katowice, Łódź, Lublin, and even Zakopane (the unofficial winter capital of Poland) and Białowieża set in the heart of the magnificent Białowieża Forest. This is the best possible proof of the great trust that organisers of major, often logistically challenging events, choose Poland.

Q8: How is the pandemic affecting Poland’s meetings industry?

Representatives of the Polish industry spent the long lockdown months working on developing standards and procedures for events staged in new health and safety conditions. The largest conference and congress centres implemented appropriate solutions in this area, with the majority of hotels following suit. Organisers, including DMCs and PCOs, also adopted their own set of procedures. A clear example of the involvement of the local meeting industry is the KRAKÓW NETWORK Protocol announced in March 2021. The document inspired by the ICCA’s “Kaohsiung Protocol”, which is not only a set of good practices and recommendations adapted to the new post-pandemic reality regarding such issues as joint risk management, innovative business models, engagement and value for participants, digitalisation and promotion of hybrid events but also an introduction to the common strategy of Krakow for the years 2021-2023.

The Polish Tourism Organisation, with Poland Convention Bureau operating within its structures, has been a member of the ICCA for almost 20 years. It is a good time to share our cultural and intellectual heritage as well as Polish hospitality with you, but also to present our latest achievements, including those concerning tourism and business infrastructure.

I believe that this event will contribute to the reconstruction and further development of the Polish meeting industry after the Covid-19 pandemic and will provide momentum for our future promotion activities in Poland and abroad.

rafael_szlachta
Photo Credit: Polish Tourism Organisation

Q9: What is the main message of the ICCA Congress in the context of current challenging times?

Last year transformed the MICE industry all over the world. While we might live in the so-called new normal, face-to-face meetings continue to be the key in regard to sharing knowledge and experiences, establishing relationships, building teams, motivating and rewarding employees or partners. As a matter of fact, these challenging times made them more important than ever. Let’s be more resilient and strong to meet again!