Krakow has been at work for many years to be one of the most important cities on the global map of the meetings industry. The granting of rights to organise the 61st edition of the international congress of ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) was a huge success and the proof that related activities bring the desirable effects. Is hosting conferences such as the ICCA in the interest of all residents of Krakow? How much has the city benefitted thanks to the event?

Knowing and understanding ICCA

The International Congress and Convention Association was established by a group of travel agencies in 1963. The main purpose of the Association was to share the information about international conferences and congresses. In the middle of the last century when the internet was just a project, it was difficult to have a smooth, regular and, most importantly, fast flow of key messages. Reports that major industry events were being planned arrived with huge delays. The ICCA has improved the information flow by bringing together key players in the meetings industry.

Technology development encouraged the ICCA to expand the scope of its activities. Its main objective became to make the field of cooperation available to those who were part of it. Through joint meetings and experience sharing ICCA members were able to develop their offer of business tourism better and more effectively, and to gain a significant competitive edge on this market. Many organisations have quickly noticed the increased importance of the Association and benefits available to its members. The most important of these benefits included access to the largest database of congresses from around the world, training and knowledge exchange with international industry experts. Current ICCA members include more than 1000 entities from more than 100 countries in all parts of the world, including the Krakow Convention Bureau and the ICE Krakow Congress Centre.

The winding and bumpy road that led to the goal

The idea for Krakow to become the host of the annual ICCA congress emerged a few years ago. The turning point that offered a great opportunity for the capital city of Małopolska to acquire the event came when the ICE Kraków Congress Centre was put into operation in 2014. However, before it was decided to make an official candidacy, various entities from the capital city of Małopolska worked hard to meet a number of conditions for successfully claiming the right to organise the conference. The formal process through Krakow’s application commenced in the spring of 2020. The main goal was to become the host of the 61st edition of the ICCA congress in the autumn of 2022.

It was not possible without the commitment and cooperation of more than 30 entities from the MICE sector. Krakow’s capabilities were presented during the live broadcast from a virtual studio. The Kraków Convention Bureau supervised everything by coordinating all the key areas. Eventually, Krakow defeated Athens and Bangkok (the capital city of Thailand will organise the 62nd edition of the congress in 2023).

Obstacles (not) to be jumped over? 

As mentioned above, the beginning of the road to become the host of the 61st ICCA Congress for the capital city of Małopolska coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Observing that it had been difficult to control the spread of COVID-19 for many months, it was questioned for the first time whether the event would take place at all in 2022. In view of the uncertain situation, the ICCA authorities took a risk by deciding to choose Krakow as the host of the Congress. The capital city of Małopolska decided to secure the possibility of limiting the freedom of movement and the number of people who could attend the conference in person. This was why a modern studio allowing for the organisation of hybrid events was created in the basements of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. It turned out to be an excellent policy thanks to which not only the ICCA felt safe in view of the upcoming event.

The start of 2022 brought much hope that the following 10 months remaining before the congress would not bring any surprises and would allow for calm preparations. All this thanks to the containment of the coronavirus pandemic, the introduction of vaccination and the easing of restrictions. Unfortunately, new and unexpected complications appeared towards the end of February. Although the war in the spring of 2022 was being fought several hundred kilometres from Krakow, the Association’s authorities had great concerns that the war in Ukraine could spread to the rest of Eastern Europe including Poland. Serious consideration was given to cancelling the Congress. It was only through lengthy discussions and negotiations that the ICCA was persuaded that our country was safe with no fear that hostilities might spill over into the territory of Poland. The sudden arrival of new residents of Krakow from the Ukraine, fleeing the war, caused some uncertainty. It was wondered how this would affect the functioning of the city itself, whether it would be affected by communication and organisational paralysis. Eventually, the challenge has been met. It is worth stressing that the information campaign was conducted properly. It has convinced the ICCA authorities that Krakow has been dealing well with the crisis.

‘When the war started, we talked to the organisers and they said explicitly that they didn’t want to come. They were really concerned about the situation behind our eastern border. Everything was happening really close by and they knew that people from all parts of the world would come to the ICCA congress. There were really long conversations going on. We have been pushing for them to come to ICE Kraków and see what it was really like. We showed them how safe it was. Very few people registered initially so we didn’t know how many delegates would come eventually. Many of the guests registered at the last moment after arriving to the capital city of Małopolska. This resulted in the final number of participants in the event exceeding our expectations’, this is how Izabela Błaszczyk, President of the Management Board of Kraków5020, which operates the ICE Kraków Congress Centre described the situation.

‘The even acquisition process had many stages. It took many weeks to develop and prepare the city’s offer. The task was not made any easier by the COVID-19 pandemic raging around the world at the time. Lots of difficulties, including massive travel restrictions between countries, made it virtually impossible for representatives of the ICCA Association’s committee to visit the countries applying to host the next editions of the Congress. In order to show the ICE Kraków Congress Centre in the best light, two virtual presentations were prepared to show off the facility and the city. The first one lasted nearly 5 hours. Four films were produced for it in a very short period of time’, this is how Vice-President of Kraków5020 Paula Fanderowska described the path to acquiring the congress.

A congress like no other

The conference fee itself for this event was not among the lowest. Despite this fact, it was difficult to find a free place during its opening ceremony. It was also apparent from the outset that the entire organisation was arranged to the last detail, as the programme of the Congress was carried out without any major obstacles. In addition to official presentations, there was also a wealth of artistic performances to add colour to the ceremony. Before the inauguration of the 61st ICCA Congress, another tree was unveiled on that day in the Congress Alley along the Monte Casino Street. The authorities of the Association and representatives of Krakow participated in the unveiling.

The themes of the event was initially based on three main areas: DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), sustainability and legacy. However, it became apparent rather quickly that the subjects went beyond the framework originally adopted. In particular, this refers to the war in Ukraine and to the necessary assistance to those who suffer during this conflict. This fitted in with the event’s slogan of Together we can. There were also actions under the banner of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The Kraków Convention Bureau was responsible for their organisation. The Manager of the Bureau, Małgorzata Przygórska-Skowron, said more about what they consisted of and what their purpose was.

‘The organisation by Krakow of the CSR actions that participants in the Congress could get involved with was a really important element of the agenda for the ICCA. Such on-site activities are always important for organisers of congresses, especially international ones; they were even more important this year due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which raised many questions about safety and the number of participants in the event. Very high attendance was a strong expression of solidarity with the Krakow’s and European meetings industry while helping the Ukrainian community seemed a natural course of events.

Delegates were keen to get involved with specific aid activities, which was why we suggested actions such as Soup for Ukraine and the sorting of gifts from #Team Kraków for Ukraine. There were also activities addressed to local recipients: the collection of gifts called Gift of Love which benefited the residents of the youth hostel or the cleaning of the LIBAN quarry.

‘These activities show that international events are not hermetic deliberations among specialists, but enter the fabric of the city. In Krakow, we promote thinking about congresses as “heritage”. We believe that they are not episodes in the life of the city but rather have the potential to positively influence the local community’, Monika Popiołek from the Krakow Convention Bureau stressed.

The 61st ICCA congress lasted 4 days and ended on 9 November. During the closing ceremony, the newly elected President of the Association, Marta Gomes, expressed many thanks and praise for Krakow for the excellent organisation of the conference. It was an excellent proof that nearly three years of work of the Krakow MICE entities were not in vain, becoming a fantastic showcase for the entire city.

What did Krakow get from it really?

The capital city of Małopolska has really benefitted a great deal thanks to hosting the international ICCA congress. It is sometimes difficult to see certain key aspects without an analysis, so it would be advisable to look harder at them. A large event mostly means that guests are coming from all parts of the world and accommodation has to be found for them for a few days. Hotels relatively near to the ICE Krakow Congress Centre were particularly popular. The ICCA Congress has significantly contributed to their financial profits. Participants in the event also travelled throughout the city using public transport and shuttle services. This was looked at in more detail by Prof. Dr Krzysztof Borodako from the Krakow University of Economics.

‘There is no doubt that international events of such magnitude as the ICCA Congress 2022 organised in Krakow hugely benefit the image of the city. In addition to such benefits, congresses influence many other aspects of the city life. The event organiser who chooses Krakow pays Krakow companies for their services, for example, the facility is paid for hosting the event, hotels for the accommodation, restaurants for board and transport companies for the transfers. Tourist attractions also benefit from a congress organised in the city because the participants want to learn about the culture and heritage of the city (and the region) they come to for a congress.

It is also important to emphasise the direct benefits for local residents connected professionally with the business tourism market as the meetings industry is called. Thanks to the arrival of foreign participants in events, these people have jobs and get remuneration that helps them support their families. Jobs generated and, with time, maintained thanks to the meetings industry also provide taxes paid by employers and employees, part of which goes to the budget of Krakow. And these amounts are spent for the benefit of all residents as part of Krakow’s budget.

In 2017, professor Borodako and a group of scientists from the UEK compiled a report entitled Economic Influence of the MEETINGS INDUSTRY on Krakow’s economy for the Małopolska Tourist Organisation, based on the conducted research. It demonstrated that the GDP share generated by the meetings and events industry in 2017 for the economy of Krakow amounted to 3.38%. The share of the meetings industry in terms of employment (expressed as the full time equivalent) including multiplier effects in relation to employment in the whole economy of Krakow amounted to 5.5%. The share of total taxes and charges generated by the meetings industry in the income of Krakow’s budget in 2017 including multiplier effects amounted to 2.97%. On this basis, it can be concluded that the events industry significantly influences the economic growth of the capital city of Małopolska. Even though the presented data comes from 2017, it is possible to state on the basis of the number of events organised in Krakow and in the ICE Krakow Congress Centre in the last 6 years that the meetings industry continues to develop in the region, bringing increasing profits to the city.

Prof. Borodako also mentioned another important aspect: reputational gains for the capital city of Małopolska. The ICCA Congress seriously influenced the promotion of the city, which was mentioned not only by the Polish trade media. There was no shortage of mentions in English-language services such as the AMI Magazine, Conference & Meetings World and the CIM Magazine. The Congress was also featured in the Spanish and Argentine press reporting on the meetings industry. In the Polish media, the event was most widely reported by the Think MICE magazine. This shows that, thanks to the ICCA Congress, Krakow has been on the lips of people from every corner of the globe. In the end, the conference was attended by more than 900 people from 80 countries.

The Managing Director of the European Association of Neurosurgical Societies (EANS), Valentini Amarantidou, was one of the participants in the ICCA Congress. She was really impressed by the excellent organisation of the even she took part in. A major international congress in 2028 will be a result of her visit. The EANS decided that the capital city of Małopolska will host the conference of European neurosurgical societies. The impression the ICCA authorities got was similar to that of Valentini Amarantidou as they considered that Krakow rose to the challenge and organised one of the best congresses in the history of their association.