Kongres Magazine chatted with the trendsetters of the Meetings Star influencers selection. Innovating and sustainably-oriented stars of the meetings industry shared their thoughts on sustainable transformation in the meetings industry. Andrzej Hulewicz, Vice President of Mazurkas Travel Poland, discussed how human-centric events can impact society and why the meetings industry is an alluring sector for young generations.

The ninth selection of influencers by Kongres Magazine concluded with the award ceremony hosted in Cankarjev dom. The selected influencers are pioneers 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: In times of crisis, we tend to draw parallels with the past. What have we learned so far to make our industry better and more responsible to attendees and the environment in the future?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the travel industry, and it has certainly been a time of crisis. We have learned about new technologies, created creative online and hybrid formats, implemented more education and sustainable events solutions etc. However, international MICE business in Poland still does not exist due to the war in Ukraine. It is what our international clients say all the time. It is the 3rd year for us without business, where in such great destinations like Spain, Portugal or Italy, my colleagues are overloaded with work, hotels are overbooked and so on.

Of course, I understand that the safety of the attendees is a priority. However, I have been following all the media, and Poland has been presented in the media, which unfortunately made us appear as though we were in a military conflict. It is very hurtful for Poland as a destination and for Polish people, as such an opinion has a negative impact on different sectors and for myself personally as a business owner who, for 33 years, promoted Poland as a travel and MICE destination. That is why my answer to the question is: proper information and communication. These are two matters that have been completely missed within the last year and had an extremely negative influence on our business. That is why we still cannot say we got back to normal. Our hotels, venues, restaurants, and tourist attractions operate normally. Of course, there are a lot of Ukrainian citizens whom we call our guests, and they work, learn and live as the locals do. When I am asked by my international colleagues some strange questions, I am really confused about where they have such information. Then I hear or see how the media create the news, and they do not care that it has such bad and negative results on somebody’s business and life.

Q2: What should we stop doing in regard to in-person events? Vice versa, what element should we not abandon at all costs?

I think we should still follow and keep some of the hygiene and safety guidelines, as I saw people completely forget about the pandemic restrictions. All the hotels and venues are very well prepared and still keep some rules, such as antibacterial sanitisers in each visible corner or the individual F&B portions, so people do not share the same cutlery. I think we need to be careful about and spread awareness among clients that rules should still be followed. We also need to be more flexible and cooperative in terms of offers and event organisation with all the underlying aspects, for example, sustainability. More education and more creativity are also a clue to successful events nowadays. While it is important to re-evaluate certain aspects of in-person events, it is equally important not to abandon the elements that make them special and memorable experiences. By striking the right balance between sustainability, responsibility, and meaningful experiences, event organisers can create in-person events that are both memorable and impactful.

I want to stress that the key element of our industry is people. The pandemic has completely changed our industry’s work state and a lot of professionals have been fired and have had to change the industry. Most of them did not come back and are not going to return to events. I know these were extremely difficult years and decisions, but there is still a huge challenge with proper quality of service due to the lack of professional staff. It will take a while until the situation stabilises and new generations reacquire the same professional level and engagement as those before the pandemic. Without professional staff and high service quality, there will be no chance to rebuild our business fast.

Photo Credit: Mazurkas Travel DMC

“the ability to connect and engage with attendees, regardless of whether it is in person or virtually, will remain at the core of any successful event.”

Q3: What is your take on the various event types, some invented during the corona crisis (live, digital, hybrid, metaverse)? How will we transition in the future?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the meetings industry and has necessitated the creation of new event formats to meet the changing needs of attendees and event organisers. First, we went completely online, which also took a while to learn and create something different than only connections. We started to discover and learn new technology, which quickly adapted to online events. Then, when restrictions were lifted – we were offered a hybrid model of events, which will undoubtedly stay with us as an option for a while. The events industry is transforming, and it is likely that the different event types will continue to evolve and coexist in the future. Event organisers will need to be flexible and adaptable as they determine the most appropriate event format for each situation. However, one thing is certain: the ability to connect and engage with attendees, regardless of whether it is in person or virtually, will remain at the core of any successful event. However, my personal opinion is that there are no better and more successful events that can exceed the stakeholders’ needs than in-person events.

Q4: How do different event types address the topical problem of human interaction, which is at the core of our industry and a basis for learning?

Indeed, human interaction is at the core of the events industry, as it provides the opportunity for attendees to connect, exchange ideas, and build relationships. Live events provide the most opportunities for human interaction, as attendees can connect in person. That includes traditional networking opportunities, as well as interactive experiences such as workshops, live performances, and exhibitions. The physical proximity of attendees also allows for conversations and the building of meaningful connections. Digital events present some challenges when it comes to human interaction, as attendees are not physically present in the same space. However, advances in technology have made it possible for digital events to provide meaningful opportunities for interaction, such as virtual networking, Q&A sessions, and group discussions.

Some digital events also include features like virtual reality, which can provide a more immersive experience and enhance the sense of connection between attendees. Hybrid events offer a blend of live and digital interaction and a good balance between in-person and virtual opportunities for connections. For example, attendees who are physically present can participate in live workshops, while virtual attendees can join in group discussions or ask questions during a Q&A session. Hybrid events also allow for a wider reach, as virtual attendees can participate from anywhere in the world.

Photo Credit: Mazurkas Travel DMC

“In an ideal meetings industry, we would prioritise creating unforgettable experiences that leave a lasting impact.”

Q5: What are your priorities to reach the goal of creating a carbon-neutral meetings industry? How environmentally aware is your organisation? How do your clients see sustainability? Can you illustrate with case studies?

Sustainability in events is nothing new, and all event organisers wish to implement this value into their events. However, as our experience has shown, sometimes the attendees’ comfort and easy usability are more important, and it ends how it ends. Also, the pandemic did not help us too much to keep the sustainable events as we had to follow rules, such as individual F&B portions, etc., which made extra waste and more costs. That said, I want to mention that the client’s wishes do not meet reality due to different reasons at the very end. However, meeting planners offer clients options, which usually show a sustainable approach. Also, our suppliers, such as venues or hotels, are very well prepared with their offers.

I must say that many are on the right path, and people are becoming more aware of the impacts and how important it is to organise sustainable events. To illustrate: we have completely abandoned the printing of materials – no badges, no paper or plastic whatsoever. We offer tailor-made applications instead, which the attendees appreciate as they have everything on their mobiles. When it comes to F&B, we offer our clients the choice of healthy options rather than regular coffee breaks, which are served in the most environmentally friendly way. If there is a need for flower decoration at the tables during the official dinner/ceremony – we offer flowers that can be donated to nursing homes. There are actually so many actions we may provide, but at the very end – it all depends on the client’s choice. Nevertheless, I must admit that the awareness is very high, and it seems that all is moving in the right way.

Photo Credit: Mazurkas Travel DMC

Q6: How do you imagine an ideal meetings industry? What should be its core value?

First of all, I would say that our ideal industry needs peace in the world and a lack of different types of crises, wars, military conflicts and natural disasters. The last three years, as well as what is going on right now, is full of the above and, unfortunately, hinder the development and rebuilding of our MICE business.

Regarding events themselves, we need to remember that they have many goals to accomplish. Because so many stakeholders are involved, many different expectations have to be met. In general, the meetings industry is all about people, networking, knowledge and inspiration exchange. When we meet, we learn new things, experience different things, learn about new cultures and much more.

When it comes to the core value of our industry, there are many which should be mentioned. For example, what the pandemic has taught us – accessibility – events should be accessible to a diverse range of attendees regardless of their location (that is why virtual and hybrid events are offered). The other value, which is extremely important is sustainability – our industry has a significant impact on the environment, and in creating an ideal event, we should remember to minimise its environmental footprint. That could include measures such as reducing waste and supporting local communities.

The pandemic forced and accelerated the development of technology, which helped to improve the attendee experience and to make events more sustainable and accessible. That is why the 3rd value I need to mention is innovation. The next value I would like to underline is community – events should foster a sense of community among attendees and the event organisers. That could include opportunities for networking, community building, and shared experiences. The next value should be collaboration – our industry should be built on a foundation of collaboration and partnerships, both within the industry and with other stakeholders, such as government agencies, local communities, and advocacy groups. We cannot forget about the event’s purpose as well, which should be clear and strive to make a positive difference in the world. That could include supporting social causes, promoting sustainability, and contributing to the local economy. Last but not least is the experience. In an ideal meetings industry, we would prioritise creating unforgettable experiences that leave a lasting impact.

Q7: What is your advice for younger colleagues starting their careers in the meetings industry?

Our industry is a great neverending journey which gives and teaches us something different every day! Those people who do not have any specific narrow specialisation, such as plans for the future and wish to join a dynamic and adventurous community, should consider the MICE industry. It is a human-centric business, so all is about networking, travelling, experiences, knowledge and inspiration exchange. That is why it is a very exciting and active industry. On the other hand, we need to consider that it is also a very engaging and time-consuming business which also influences our private life. Finding a proper work-life balance is quite difficult but it is possible. I am an example of this!

Q8: Who do you believe deserves the title of the TOP influencer if you had to select them from the list of finalists?

As always, there are so many great industry representatives that it is really difficult to choose one! However, I am very happy to see so many of my colleagues from the EUROMIC association. They are my first choice. These are people for whom I know how hard they work to promote their destinations and the MICE industry all around the world as well as what projects they do. EUROMIC is a non-profit marketing association of the world’s leading Destination Management Companies, specialising in the meetings, incentives, conferences and events industry. 2023 is important for EUROMIC as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary! From the very beginning, the main goal for us has been knowledge and intelligence exchange. That is the reason why I joined the EUROMIC Family so many years ago! We keep together, we create the future together, and I am pretty sure that all the EUROMIC members deserve the title of the TOP influencers in the MICE industry.

Learn more about Mazurkas Travel DMC Poland here.