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January 2011Conference+Meetings World17Mike Trudeau visits Krakow and investigates its conference and meetings offering.Krakow:Poland'sevent undergroundWhen thinking about hosting eventsin Poland, Poznan or Warsawinevitably spring to mind.However, the southern city Krakow is quietlyramping up its conference and meetingsoffering with the addition of two new venuesto complement many smaller facilities. Addto this the "old-European" feel of the place,and you have a powerful recipe for amemorable destination.The old market centre is a cobbled plazalined with caf├ęs and bars, and has a richhistorical atmosphere. It's easy enough toget away from the tourist crowds andimmerse yourself in the vibrant nightlifeenergised by the thousands of universitystudents living there.Poland's third-largest city, Krakow ispeppered with small- to medium-sizedmeetings facilities. One of the biggestvenues is the Gromada Hotel andConference Centre, with a total capacity for4,880 people and a large conference roomfor up to 2,200. The JagiellonianUniversity's Auditorium Maximum holds1,200 and Krakow University of Economicshas a multi-functional conference room thatseats 1,500. The Krakow Opera House andPhilharmonic Hall have auditoriums for 800and 700 people respectively.The next generationDue to open in 2014, the InternationalConferencing and Entertainment (ICE)Congress Centre will finally deliver whatKrakow needs in terms of dedicatedconvention space. It is a modern, curvaceousbuilding on the banks of Krakow's Vistulariver and 15 minutes from town. ICE will havean 1,800sqm, three-storey glass foyer forexhibitions or banquets, a 2,000-seatauditorium and a 600-seat theatre. Meetingspace for 600 people will be available dividedinto two spaces, each sub-divisable for a totalof 12 rooms of varying sizes. The venue willalso hold two bars and two restaurants, aflorist, shop, VIP room, press centre and two-storey underground car park.Also in the works is the city's first combinedexhibition and conference space, CracoviaExpo. Unlike ICE, Cracovia Expo is privatelyfunded, by the city's exhibition associationTargi w Krakowie. The venue hopes to offer18,000sqm of exhibition space and a 1,600-seat auditorium. However, it seems thebureaucracy of local government isfrustrating efforts to finalise plans.Although ICE will be an extensive andversatile conference centre, the city'sstrength currently lies in its unique venues,which include botanical gardens, castles,towers and museums of everything frompharmaceuticals to aircraft.However, in terms of unique venues, theWieliczka Salt Mine is undoubtedly theKrakow region's meetings crown.After an unbelievably long descent on awinding staircase and walk past awe-inspiring underground lakes and chapelshewn by hand centuries ago, there's anelegant meeting space with a hideout-stylemood that inspires a conspiratorial senseof confidence.The underground chambers, carved fromMarket Square, Krakow solid rock, vary in size and capacity. TheWarsaw Chamber has 680sqm floor spaceand can accommodate 600 people.For such an ancient venue, the facilitiesare modern and tidy, including everythingfrom cloakrooms to catering. Most roomshave adjustable lighting from elegant saltchandeliers. Extras include tours of themines, performances by the miners'orchestra, and even a sample of themysterious 'Miners' Welcome Drink'. Whileyou're there, take a moment to discretelylick one of the walls, which are full of hunksof clear salt.Krakow's Mayor, Jacek Majchrowski,acknowledges the need for dedicatedvenue space to improve the city'sinternational standing."Krakow needs new conference andexhibition venues," he toldCMW. "Thepresence of additional conference andexhibition infrastructure will surely allow thecity to be even more competitive on thePolish tourism market in comparison withother big cities in the country. Krakow hasall the means and potential to become animportant business tourism destination," he told CMW.Krakow's old-world European vibecomplements its selection of unique venues.It is a safe and friendly city, where mostpeople will eagerly speak English to helpstrangers or share a joke. The KrakowConvention Bureau is hoping that the city'scharm coupled with two big new venues willboost this small medieval city into themodern-day meetings market.CITY FOCUSCracovia ExpoKrakow expects the ICE to break in 2014