Prague you think are going for #ICCA-World?! #BridgeToPrague" was a Facebook question posted by Dahlia El Gazzar early Saturday morning. She"> Prague you think are going for #ICCA-World?! #BridgeToPrague" was a Facebook question posted by Dahlia El Gazzar early Saturday morning. She" />
“Build new bridges” Image 1


“Build new bridges”

1,279 participants traveled to Prague for the 56th ICCA Congress, in doing so setting up a new record in the association's history. President Nina Freysen-Pretorius had her particular focus on filling the event theme #bridgetoprague with life.

ow many people on this flight LH1392 from Frankfurt -> Prague you think are going for #ICCA-World?! #BridgeToPrague" was a Facebook question posted by Dahlia El Gazzar early Saturday morning. She was one of many sharing their anticipation in the social media. The agency CEO from Boston was one of 1,279 delegates from 80 countries traveling to Prague to attend the annual congress of the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) from November 12 thru 15 of this year.

In her welcome speech, President Nina Freysen-Pretorius put delegates in the right mood with a YouTube video: "The DNA Journey, Let's Open Our World". The Momondo video with more than 17 million views is about young people from all over the world learning all about their origins through the analysis of their saliva samples. Freysen-Pretorius concurs with the travel search website's statement: "We believe that everybody should be able to travel the world, to meet other people, and experience other cultures and religions." Freysen-Pretorius, CEO of "The Conference Group", traveled here from South Africa. "Societies need to be able to move, to travel", she said, taking up the theme of this 56th ICCA-Congress "Bridge to Prague", which relates not only to the signature Charles Bridge, "but ICCA's mission to build bridges, to connect people from all over the world". She emphasized: "Everyone should be ready to build new bridges. We need to stand together despite politics and narratives dividing people."

“Build new bridges” Image 2
ICCA charity run: Start and finnish at the Prague Congress Centre.

#Bridgetoprague referred also to ICCA itself. "The strategic direction of our association – ICCA's bridge to the future – is determined by the member-elected ICCA Board members. The expectation is that the elected board members representing their sectors or geographical regions will be closely engaged with the ICCA members in order to ensure that their expectation is communicated through these board members." She would very much appreciate heading a more balanced management board. "Currently we only have four female board members and this is by no means representative of the majority members that we serve." Freysen-Pretorius mentioned that she has experienced tremendous support and respect if not encouragement from the male board members. "So I feel that it is incumbent on us as women to take up the challenge and the commitment to see a gender-balanced board next year."

Her message is amplified by the Wake-up-call-Session with Sofia Falk, one of Sweden's most sought-after business consultants. The founder of "We Are the StoryDoers" says: "We don’t like diversity, because it is different.“ Falk is in favor of diversity. "Don’t try to change women to fit them into the system, but fix the system." Her urgent appeal to the meeting professionals in the auditorium: "We have to make sure to set up a 50:50 of speakers and delegates."

ICCA-President Freysen-Pretorius had another message ready in her President’s Choice Session: "Collaborative Professionalism: The next knowledge frontier." Her conclusion: "Give away your best ideas, that forces you to come up and invent new ones!" That applies in particular in an expanding market with increasing competitiveness. The record number of 1,279 delegates, among these 500 first-timers, impressively demonstrated that new competitors are crowding into the market. Many of these originate from Central and Eastern European countries. As ICCA is based in Europe, its annual congresses staged here are always large. As a consequence, this year's program filled 39 pages all packed into an app.


ICCA-President Nina Freysen- Pretorius at her opening speech.PHOTO: ICCA
ICCA-President Nina Freysen- Pretorius at her opening speech.
Nina Freysen-Pretorius, President of ICCA and Chief Executive Officer of The Conference Company in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

tw: #ICCA2017: What do you take home?
Nina Freysen-Pretorius:
Professional Collaboration – give away your best ideas, that force you to come up and invent new ones!

The theme was #bridgetoprague. Why?
Based on more than 300 bridges and the fact that Prague is known as the city of bridges, it seemed only appropriate to reference the importance of our association’s commitment to building bridges in order to collaborate, share knowledge and improve the way we do business within our industry and association.

In your opening speech you did talk about diversity. Why is this issue important for the meetings industry, ICCA – and for you?
My opening members address spoke about the importance of equality and encouraging a gender balanced board. Diversity is also embraced within ICCA as our members represent many countries, cultures and religions which need to be respected and embraced.

You invited a very large group of association executives. Why this is important?
The ICCA Strategic objective has identified a closer working relationship and engagement with international associations that will result in the benefit of our members.

If you had a free wish for ICCA 2018. Whom would you like to ask to speak?
There are a few people: Pope Francis to inspire us and give us direction as to how to move forward in a homogeneous manner; Bill and Melinda Gates to tell us about the interesting projects and creative solutions to make the world a better place and address inequality and environmental challenges; Richard Branson to turn ideas into reality! His passion and adventures approach is engaging and inspiring! Plus he is good looking!

The agenda included lectures, talks and panels on "How to hack a homogenous culture and boost your business"
or "Is your business ready for GDPR and E-Privacy Regulatory changes? – The impact for the MICE sector". While Magdalena Dziewguc, Head of Google Cloud (PL CZ SK), was concerned with "Digital or die. And **** is digital?", Prof. Dr. Keith Still, Professor of Crowd Science at Manchester Metropolitan University, described "Tools for live events crowd safety in real time". Meanwhile, Martin Jensen (Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association), Susan Cantrell (Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy) and Davi Kaurder (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer) led a panel discussion on "Conversations about Healthcare Meetings" and students and young professionals from Shanghai, Sarawak and Montreux-Vevey discussed "The future belongs to us! – Millennials set the ICCA Congress agenda".

Organizer and delegates alike were forced to adapt to the 25-percent increase in delegate attendance; not everyone was immediately at home
in the 70 rooms and auditoria at the Prague Congress Centre – which is why friendly guides were posted all over the complex. ICCA CEO Martin Sirk called to mind: "Please note: If a room is full, it is full!" There were alternative zones, such as "Connect" centered on mind and body, the "Tech Bar" with subjects such as "Twitter 101" or the new "Braindates". The webbased knowledge sharing platform of “e180” allowed event participants to book 30-minute one-on-one or group conversations with one another.

Two observations might indicate how this assembly in spite of its sheer size is still somewhat of a global family reunion: for one, there's the openness of the delegates. For the other, there was the sorrow shared by all those present when learning that Paul Flackett of the IMEX Group had succumbed to his illness in England and that Manisa Mohamed Nor from the Malaysian Convention and Exhibition Bureau had surprisingly died on her flight to Prague. The RIP-Posts on Facebook extend far beyond Prague.  KERSTIN WÜNSCH


How serious the hosting city takes the congress industry is demonstrated by Prague's Lord Mayor Adriana Krnácová formally opening the ICCA 2017 congress on a sunday morning. Last year alone, approximately half a million delegates traveled to the city, the mysterious atmosphere of which reflects in the works of Prague's native son Franz Kafka. The city is linked to 162 destinations by 69 airlines flying in and out of Václav Havel Airport Prague. The city has a long tradition in hosting significant international meetings, such as the ERA-EDTA in 2011 with over 10,000 delegates. The Prague Convention Bureau offers advice and support to meeting planners. On its website the venue finder lists all hotels with more than 42,000 rooms in total, locations and meeting venues like the Prague Congress Centre, which hosts up to 9,300 delegates in 70 halls and rooms.