Ahead of Conventa 2022, Kongres Magazine chatted with the stars of the Meetings Star influencer selection. Pioneers and trailblazers, these influencers facilitate the meetings industry’s development. Lenka Žlebková, CEO of Prague Congress Centre, disclosed how they strive to place sustainability in the limelight and why improving the industry’s image is crucial.

Last year’s selection of influencers by Kongres Magazine marked the eighth year of the distinguished project. The selected influencers are trailblazers in their respective fields and help co-create the regional meetings industry. Kongres Magazine’s selection is, in a way, an overview of who is who in the industry.

Q1: Live meetings are coming back. What is your take on the current situation, and what is your prediction for this year?

After two years of the pandemic, when we had to postpone or cancel most of the events, we are happy that in-person events are coming back. During the pandemic, we served as the city’s main vaccination centre and, subsequently, as the premier Refugee Center for nearly 100,000 Ukrainians. We also innovated our product and started providing hybrid or purely virtual congresses for our clients. Thus, we have learned chiefly to be flexible, innovative and have proactive thinking. This year looks very promising due to the fact that we are hosting most of the prestigious events related to the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, where we can demonstrate our professionalism and high-quality services.

Q2: How do you see the future of digital, hybrid and metaverse events?

Digital and hybrid conferences are not the new thing that came with the pandemic. Nonetheless, they proliferated during the pandemic. I think hybrid conferences or hybrid elements are here to stay forever, but I am sceptical of purely digital conferences. They were a big hit at the beginning of the pandemic, but now clients prefer to meet face to face, gather and network. Congresses and conferences are about emotion, experiences, and sharing knowledge. No online conference has ever given me as much as a live one. On the other side, purely digital events might stay for special segments like IT geeks 😊.

Photo Credit: Prague Congress Centre

“Hybrid conferences or hybrid elements are here to stay forever.”

Q3: We are living in uncertain times; in the past two years, we have learned how to cope with a crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus, and we have found ourselves amid a war recently. How do you face such crisis situations?

I took my position just before the pandemic broke out. Since my entire operation has been about crisis management, minimising risks and looking for new business opportunities, it is obviously challenging. You have to be adaptable and flexible, but I like that. I try to look at crises as opportunities that move me forward. I think it is the same with our industry. It has not been an easy time and probably will not be, but our whole team has learned a lot of new things that we would not have had a chance to learn otherwise.

Q4: What does the future bring for the meetings industry in the next decade? Which challenges should we address immediately?

Sustainability is a topic we need to address particularly now when the energy prices are increasing enormously. There is still room for more green and sustainable practices that will reduce the impact of our business on the planet while being responsible to society. The recession, which is already inevitable, will undoubtedly be a significant challenge. We are currently facing high inflation and an increase in our overall costs. And so we will definitely experience a decrease in our profitability. Our bright future might be in digitalisation and automation that could increase our efficiency or modern technology that could bring us new revenue streams. We are and will also face staff shortages.

Q5: How do you keep up with the changes transforming the business world, particularly in event organising? What is your advice for our readers?

We need to have a growth mindset and be ready to change all the time now. I am lucky to be born with these capabilities. We need to be flexible and constantly look for new business opportunities and improvements. Also, do not forget your staff; care about your people!

Photo Credit: Prague Congress Centre

“Tourism and working in it is no longer the experience and life goal for these people that it was for previous generations.”

Q6: Will corporate social responsibility continue to be discussed as a priority at events instead of topical issues, such as climate change or organising events sustainably?

I do not think the themes are necessarily mutually exclusive. Sustainability, climate change, but also CSR are to some extent related. We, for example, see tremendous demand from clients for sustainable conferences, often in order to meet corporate CSR goals. When we first encountered a request for sustainability from a US client many years ago, we had no coherent concept. For us, environmentalism started and ended with waste management and reduction of energy consumption. Today, the situation is completely reversed as we see not only a great sense in organising sustainable events but also a business opportunity.

Q7: Which trend inspires you the most, and where do you see immense potential for event organisers?

The green event concept is not only decreasing the carbon footprint but also the costs for all parties involved.

“Evolve or die – meaning be flexible and ready for constant change, adapt and move on; otherwise, you are dead in current circumstances.”

Q8: What perils do new technologies adopted during the corona crisis hide?

As mentioned, online conferencing has reduced face-to-face interpersonal contact. In my opinion, face-to-face contact is irreplaceable. A conversation or a simple one-to-one meeting will probably take place online; this option is cheaper, greener, and saves time and energy. But what you would say at a conference over coffee, you would never say in an online environment, which I think is much more formal. A congress is a once-a-year event for scientists or doctors who make long-term professional connections & friendships at congresses and exchange knowledge and best practices. Also, you can add emotions to an offline meeting that are hardly present in an online meeting.

Q9: What should the meetings industry do to attract talented individuals among its ranks?

I think the potential of internships and cooperation with universities or secondary schools is not exploited sufficiently. Our field needs to raise its image and importance. People often do not see the benefits conventions and conferences have for their communities. The benefits for the development of science, for example, are staggering.

Q10: Have you noticed that work within the industry is not as desired among the younger generations? What could be the reason behind a significant shortage of staff?

First of all, it is necessary to mention that unemployment in the Czech Republic has been very low for many years, so the problem with the shortage of employees is not only in our sector. I guess there are more reasons why young people are not attracted – long & flexible working hours, lower salary than in other sectors, etc. In Central Europe, one of them may also be access to travel and the development of international services. Compared to the previous generation, for whom this was something new and desirable, the younger generation is now taking these activities as a normal part of their lives.

Tourism and working in it is no longer the experience and life goal for these people that it was for previous generations. With the rise of technology, there are also new positions such as Social Media Manager or Youtubers that may be appealing to the younger generations, who would have been more involved in the convention business and tourism industry before the rise of social media. At the same time, as I mentioned in my last answer, it would undoubtedly be useful to improve the industry’s overall image.

Q11: What is your recommendation for young colleagues starting their professional path?

In our field, it is really necessary to gain experience in different areas. Listen to the people around you, try out various jobs, keep educating yourself, keep up with the latest trends and be flexible.

Find out more about the premier convention centre in Prague, Prague Congress Centre, here

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