ICCA Reunites in Poland With New Leadership

Skift Take

ICCA elects new president at its first fully in-person gathering for three years. The comes comes at the perfect time for Krakow and Poland to shake off the image of a destination hampered by the conflict in neighboring Ukraine.

The 61st congress of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Congress opened on Sunday in Krakow, Poland. ICCA announced that 900 attendees from 80 countries had made the journey to Krakow, the first time in three years that this group of association meeting professionals gathers as a global community.

ICCA members voted to elect Marta Gomes, deputy executive director sales division at Viparis, as ICCA president for the next two years.

Gomes is a respected leader in the ICCA community and will lead an ICCA board with a female majority. With Annette Gregg recently announced as the new SITE CEO and Michelle Allgauer set to be MPI chair in 2024, there appears to be momentum towards female leadership leading the associations that represent the female-dominated meetings industry.

Gomes beat off two U.S.-based candidates, Gregg Talley, president and CEO of Talley Management Group, and Daniel Palomo, director of global sales for Houston First Corporation. The result may have been surprising to some as ICCA actively seeks to expand its presence in North America.

While the congress attendance figures are slightly lower than the record years of 2017 in Prague and 2018 in Dubai, they are clearly comparable and very close to 2019 attendance when the association met in Houston.

The Polish hosts are clearly delighted with the opportunity to host the congress. Dignitaries shared warm welcomes from the main stage and revealed some of the negative business impacts of the neighboring Ukraine War. Almost 200,000 refugees have come through the Krakow so far this year.

Hosting the ICCA Congress represents a significant investment by the destination. Krakow was announced as the congress host city in October 2021. With the start of the Ukraine War in February 2022, hosting such a congress has taken on extra significance. The hosts want to ensure that the meetings industry can see that Krakow and Poland are open and ready to welcome international meetings.

The opening ceremony started with a communal sigh of relief, followed by a video journey connecting the 2019 ICCA Congress in Houston to the 2022 edition. The 2020 and 2021 editions delivered during the Covid-pandemic seemed to pale in significance for a community that focuses on in-person association gatherings. Despite once being hailed as the blueprint for future association meetings, there are very few remnants of the multi-hub hybrid format used for the last two editions.

Skift CEO Rafat Ali was the conference’s first keynote speaker discussing how The Great Merging is changing travel and its potential impact on association meetings. He spoke live and remotely from New York using hologram technology, supported by AHRT Media. Ali is not the only speaker addressing the audience gathered at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre remotely. A hybrid speaker lineup is possibly the main remnant of the virtual and hybrid gatherings that brought the ICCA community together during the peak of the Covid pandemic.

The ICCA Congress continues until Wednesday with a wide selection of education sessions focused on three key topics: sustainability; legacy; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Bangkok, Thailand, is the host city for the next edition of the congress, on November 12-15, 2023.