The UN World Climate Conference, held in Poznań in December 2008, made headlines with such topics as hydrogen technologies and renewable energy sources. However, Poznań, a city in western Poland, also made the news, as it faced huge logistical challenges in organising the conference and passed the test with flying colours.

The event proved to the regional authorities in Polish cities that the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry could bring significant benefits, in terms of both prestige and profits. Data provided by the International Meetings Association confirms that assumption. For example, a mid-sized medical congress with about 600 members generates an estimated $350,000. What is even more significant is that 90% of that sum is spent on local services such as accommodation, translators and tour guides.

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In a perfect position

Experts suggest that Poland is in a perfect position to join leading countries in the MICE industry, although it is currently far behind regional MICE leaders such as Vienna and Budapest. “The biggest international events pass over Poland. The main problem lies in the lack of promotion, as many regional authorities are still focused on attracting traditional tourists rather than conventioneers,” says Michał Stradomski, project co-ordinator at Konferencje.pl, a Polish website focused on the MICE sector.

Another problem that Mr Stradomski points out for Poland's MICE industry is insufficient infrastructure, especially big, state-of-the-art convention centres. However, thanks to subsidies from the EU and preparations for the Euro 2012 football tournament (which is to be hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine), infrastructure is being significantly improved in the country. For example, 118 new hotels were added in Poland in 2008 alone. Accommodation is still insufficient, considering that the western European average is 400 hotel beds per 1000 inhabitants, whereas in Poland the ratio is 40:1000, but the outlook for the meetings sector in Poland looks brighter than ever. “The best years for business tourism are yet to come. Recent initiatives taken up by the authorities ensure that Poland might finally benefit from its central location in Europe,” says Iwona Kubisz, conference specialist at the Warsaw Convention Bureau.

Poznań and Warsaw lead the field

According to the National Tourism Institute, in recent years millions of tourists have visited Poland for business reasons and have spent many hundreds of millions of dollars. Much of this revenue has been concentrated on two cities, however: Poznań and Warsaw. Poznań has already established its position as the regional meeting industry centre. The Poznań International Fair was established 90 years ago, and even now Poznań is the only Polish city included in the global ranking of trade fair locations produced by the German-based trade fair association, AUMA.

As for Warsaw, its leading role as a convention destination results more from the city's high profile than from good infrastructure. However, a state-of-the-art, 8000-seat congress centre located near the National Stadium that will be opened before Euro 2012 could turn Warsaw into a fully fledged regional centre for the MICE industry. Currently, Warsaw’s meeting industry infrastructure is concentrated in four main locations: the Expo XXI complex (up to 5500 seats), Murator Expo (3200 seats), the Congress & Exhibition Centre near Okęcie Airport (2500 seats) and the Congress Hall in the Palace of Science and Culture (2800 seats). Additionally, smaller but more modern facilities were recently opened in the Hilton Hotel (1000 seats) and in the Mazurkas Centre on the outskirts of Warsaw.

Another two cities following Poznań and Warsaw in the race for business travellers' minds and pockets are Wrocław and Katowice. Wrocław can host conferences of up to 3000 participants in the historic Hala Ludowa building and the city's appeal to organisers includes its convenient location, tourist attractions and rich cultural offerings. Katowice’s main assets are the Spodek complex, with nearly 10,000 seats, and competitive prices in comparison with other Polish cities.

Undeveloped potential

There are some Polish cities that have not developed a significant presence in the MICE sector. Kraków and Gdańsk still rely heavily on traditional tourism but, as the weather in Poland is unpredictable, their profits from this source have been hit by a trend of holidaymakers turning to destinations with more reliable, sunny weather. Szczecin is another city that could expect significant takings from MICE. “Szczecin could be a perfect spot for German conference organisers," says Ms Kubisz. "Unfortunately, the lack of big and modern conference centres and inadequate hotel infrastructure hinders Szczecin’s chances of attracting foreign clients.”

Poland is gearing up for two big international events over the next two years: in addition to Euro 2012, Poland takes on the presidency of the EU in 2011. Both events will bring a large influx of journalists and tourists to the country and will ensure that Polish cities and infrastructure will be very visible across Europe. The country's authorities will be working hard to ensure that Poland passes the test.