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Meetings: An Industry with a Future
May 7, 2015   
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The second annual Poland—Meetings Destination (PMD) conference pondered ways to stimulate the growth of inbound conference tourism in Poland.

This is an important issue because conference tourism could help boost Poland’s GDP by an additional 1-2 percent. This could happen if Poland does what many developed countries in the European Union have already done: try to understand the workings of its meetings industry and extend support to it.

Like last year, this year’s Poland—Meetings Destination conference opened Meetings Week Poland, the most important event for meetings industry professionals in Poland. “From our point of view, this is a great honor, but also a major obligation to the meetings industry and the key institutions that offer their support to Meetings Week Poland,” says Juliusz Kłosowski, coordinator of the Poland—Meetings Destination conferences and CEO of The Warsaw Voice Multimedia Platform.

Judging by who attended the conference, who gave speeches and what topics were discussed, the future looks bright for the meetings industry in Poland.

Tomasz Jędrzejczak, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Sports and Tourism, said in his opening address—and during a panel discussion—that developing the meetings industry and attracting international events would be top priorities for the government in its strategy for developing tourism in Poland in the coming years.

Rafał Szmytke, president of the Polish Tourist Organization, told the conference about a recent report on Poland’s meetings industry. The report was released in its entirety during Meetings Week Poland four days later. It contains a number of conclusions and one of these is that the Polish meetings industry has tremendous potential and, consequently, a lot of work to do. A lot should also be done to gather comprehensive data on the meetings industry in Poland.

Government officials, local governments and politicians are finally realizing the economic significance of the meetings industry. Michał Olszewski, deputy mayor of Warsaw, took part in the first part of the conference and gave a speech in which he supported the objectives of Poland—Meetings Destination conferences. Olszewski said that, like many other big European cities, Warsaw welcomes international meetings as events that stimulate the local economy and help enhance the city’s image abroad.

Gilles Clavie, President and CEO of Orbis SA, the largest hotel chain in Central and Eastern Europe, told the conference that Poland’s meetings industry could benefit as a result of Orbis acquiring 42 hotels in eight Central and Eastern European countries and gaining access to markets in another seven countries. As a result of a recent transaction with the Accor Group, Orbis now manages a total of 106 international-brand hotels.

Foreign speakers at the conference encouraged Polish politicians, local government officials and the government administration to invest in the meetings industry. Tom Hulton, director of international relations at the IMEX Group, said the meetings industry had a significant impact on the economy. This is not just about the value of the conference and convention business alone, said Hulton. All such events boost sales at hotels and restaurants, create higher traffic at airports and shopping malls, and thus generate considerable amounts in taxes. Politicians around the world are increasingly aware of this impact, according to Hulton. (See our interview with Tom Hulton in this issue of the Voice.)

Marc Horsmans of Amsterdam Marketing, one of Europe’s most successful organizations dealing with city marketing and the meetings industry, said that international meetings account for less than a third of Poland’s meetings industry. This means there is huge potential for development, said Horsmans.

While the conference was an opportunity for the attendees to exchange information and opinions, there was much more going on. During a string of panel discussions, experts, politicians, government officials, meetings industry professionals and members of local convention bureaux sought to come up with specific ideas on how to stimulate the Polish meetings industry. In Britain, the industry accounts for 2.9 percent of GDP, or £58 billion in 2011.

An interesting proposal came from Ireneusz Ra¶, a member of the Polish parliament and chairman of the parliamentary committee on physical education, sports and tourism. During a panel discussion, Ra¶ suggested that procedures be worked out to offer financial support to local governments investing in tourism. Such support could be modeled after the highly successful Orlik campaign as part of which a total of 2,600 sports facilities were built for local communities in 2008-2014. Under that initiative, funds assigned by local governments for the construction of new facilities were trebled using subsidies from the Ministry of Sports and Tourism and regional authorities. Many conference participants agreed that a similar plan concerning investment in local tourism products could be of considerable help to the meetings industry, because it would enable further investment in conference venues and other facilities.

The conference tackled a number of other issues of major importance to the meetings industry. Participants in a discussion on Polish convention bureaux debated whether such bureaux should operate under standardized rules—so that foreign partners encounter the same procedures in different cities and can expect the same forms of support. This discussion was moderated by Krzysztof Celuch, head of the Polish Tourist Organization’s Poland Convention Bureau.

During another discussion, several cities suggested they could benefit from the experience of Cracow, which collects a small fee from every tourist. Conference participants agreed that funds raised in this way should above all be spent on local tourism products.
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