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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 23, 2008
Business Tourism
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Craze for Conferences
April 23, 2008   
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New hotels with modern conference facilities are springing up all over Poland while older ones are being refurbished to help meet demand for conferences, conventions and training.

Where does Poland stand?
Poland is still a couple of laps behind regional rivals Hungary and the Czech Republic in hosting conferences. International bodies like the International Congress & Convention Association and the Union of International Associations rank Poland around 20th in the world in terms of the number of conferences held.

Poland has around 700 hotels, conference venues and training centers with at least one room holding 50 people or more. The country is, however, conspicuously light on large congress centers catering for upwards of 5,000 people. Nor does it have the necessary support infrastructure for such major events.

Poland will remain a junior league player so long as this situation prevails. Poland and Ukraine's being granted the right to host the Euro 2012 European soccer championships last year raised hopes that combined sporting and conference facilities would be built, with the latter contributing to the upkeep of the former. But now the focus is on stadiums alone.

Top spots
Ideally, all the services, programs and accommodation are housed under the one roof. Large big city hotels are obviously the best places to start looking but companies often prefer resort areas for teambuilding and motivation sessions.

The Mazurian Lake District is just the spot for staff training and academic conferences. The Polish coast is likewise attractive to organizers whatever the time of year. Special offers are usually available between September and May. It is becoming increasingly popular to hold conferences in venues not designed for that purpose. These include historic castles like Wawel in Cracow and Malbork near Gdańsk.

Conference capital
Warsaw is Poland's largest conference center with a large number of four- and five-star hotels. The most important venues, according to Conferences in Poland (2008), are the Gromada Hotel and Conference Center which has a 2,300 sq m conference room, the Hilton Hotel which has a 1,400 sq m conference room and the Airport Hotel Okęcie at Warsaw Airport which has 1,350 sq m. The MCC Mazurkas Conference Center, which opened in Ożarów Mazowiecki outside Warsaw in the middle of last year, is an important new venue. These facilities are supplemented with the likes of the National Opera, the Wielki Theater, the Palace of Culture and Science and the Expo XXI exhibition center, although converting these into conference venues can be costly.

The Palace of Science and Culture's Sala Kongresowa is still Warsaw's largest conference and entertainment center despite having been built in the 1950s. It will relinquish the title later this year when MT Polska opens the Warsaw Fair and Congress Center to accommodate around 10,000 people.

Other big guns
The western city of Poznań is a particularly good conference setting. The city's large international trade fair has been driving much of the expansion of its conference facilities. The 14th annual Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held here in December and is expected to draw 10,000 delegates from all over the world. The city, which has never hosted an event this size, outbid its southwestern cousin Wrocław.

Wrocław has lost the battle but not the war. The city is one of the nation's fastest growing conference centers. It has a well-developed infrastructure and is in the hunt for large international events like the Futuralia business forum.

Cracow in southern Poland hosts a lot of academic conferences but does not have the facilities of Poznań and Wrocław. Hotels with large conference rooms are situated on the outskirts of Cracow.

Other cities worth mentioning are ŁódĽ in central Poland, the coastal Tricity of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia, Katowice in Silesia and the north-central city of Toruń.

The future
Demand for conferences is growing steadily. There are still a few skeptics questioning the need for all these get-togethers and claiming the main beneficiaries are organizers, hoteliers and airlines. Venture capitalist and Financial Times columnist, Luke Johnson insisted in his weekly column that, with the exception of large industrial exhibitions, business events invariably fail to deliver and conferences are rarely, if ever, illuminating. Johnson claims the situation is not so bad so long as private money is being spent but that there is no justification for making the taxpayer contribute.

This sort of criticism may increase and technological progress and the need to save time and money will make remote conferencing more attractive. New videoconferencing capabilities are being developed every year. Microsoft's RoundTable system is a case in point. RoundTable uses a conference telephone and a 360-degree video camera and tracks the conversation by showing remote users a close-up of whoever happens to be holding the floor. The device has advanced built-in voice recognition which enables it to identify speakers and switch between them without losing the thread of the conversation. Technology progress, though, is not likely to bring about the end of the traditional meeting as there will always be a need for face-to-face contact. The market being split into roughly equal segments is a more likely scenario.

Krzysztof Jendrzejczak

Did you know...
The term "business tourism" includes conferences, congresses, motivation sessions, fairs, exhibitions and business trips. The www.conferencespoland.com website, which promotes Poland as a conference venue, says the country is an attractive place for such events because:
- It is the biggest central European country with the strongest economy and the highest education level in the region and has a well-developed tourism and conference sector.
- It is a relatively cheap country for foreign customers and the standard of services is good.
- It offers developed infrastructure for congresses and conferences in big cities.
- Conferences in historical and museum buildings.
- Incentive-type events connected with Polish tradition, culture, nature.
- Guests can count on professional organization of conferences, congresses, trainings and business meetings.
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