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The Big Interview: Zaneta Berus

The Big Interview: Zaneta Berus

As she takes the reins at Warsaw’s largest venue, Zaneta Berus talks about her  plans for new congress space, and a main hall filled with the fruits of  international association partnership. Antony Reeve-Crook reports

This summer Zaneta Berus, the former president of Polish venue Expo XXI, made the 20-minute walk across the capital to take up a new role as managing director at the largest venue in the city, Ptak Warsaw Expo.

What prompted Zaneta’s move after 16 years managing Expo XXI has a lot to do with the fact there are 15,000 parking spaces outside the new venue. Ptak Warsaw Expo is 10 times larger than Expo XXI, presenting large event organisers with a total usable space of 500,000sqm, 143,000sqm of which is in halls.

And, while this presents new-found opportunity, there remains the very real challenge of changing the strategy at play at the new venue, in particular the fact Ptak Warsaw manages its own conferences and trade shows.

“It is an exciting challenge after 16 years of building the power and prestige of the previous location,” she explains. “The key challenges are not connected with the size of this venue but with the different model of functioning.

“So far Ptak Warsaw Expo was focused only on their own events and I am going to add one more strong leg to it – opening the venue to guest events, MICE business including trade shows, congresses and events.

She certainly has the knowhow to make an impact at the new venue. Zaneta was presented with the Silver Cross of Merit by Poland’s president in 2013 for her successful promotion of the country and has spent years working for the Polish Association of Congresses and Conferences.

Last year Poland’s minister of sports awarded her the prestige Badge of Tourism as appreciation for her long service to tourism in Poland, and today she is a board member of the national Association of the Event Sector.

Success by association

So how does she plan to go about the task in hand? One route to success here is working more closely with the city’s convention bureau to bid for and win truly international events. Berus’s work with key business event industry associations will provide the connectivity necessary for this, notably ICCA and global exhibition industry association UFI.

Plans to ensure high venue occupancy figures include going after international partners through various association affiliations.

“My goal for next year is to go to the wider international community and attract organisers to try and work with us. This venue could be very attractive for the international players who so far have not had much choice when it comes to the bigger events. At Expo XXI  didn’t event try to attract the big players as the venue was too small,” she explains.

However, now that she has 143,000sqm to play with, as well as a portfolio of proprietary events, this has become a very real proposition. “The models can be different: from an independent clone of existing guest event, through organising something additional together with our shows, to the model of collaborative organising and creating of new events together.

This initiative will be helped by the upcoming development of new congress space at Ptak Warsaw. “Our investment plans for next year include transforming 8,000sqm into standalone conference space, specifically for larger conferences.

“The designs have been made and are currently being addressed by authorities, to get the relevant building permits qualified and, if all goes according to plan, we will start building next spring,” she says.

While Berus hopes to increase the exhibition business through international connections, the game she’s hunting comes with a significant conference component. Ptak Warsaw currently has 38 owned events, of which all 26 B2B shows have conference programmes. But the demand for congress business, given Ptak Warsaw’s location in the country’s capital, is booming.

Interior design show Warsaw Home is a good example of an event that has grown to include a major conference programme. The show’s organisers created a school for young architects at this year’s edition, complete with a series of conferences set up like a school offering education and even accreditation.

“Warsaw is an attractive place for business,” says Berus. “It reflects the present state of our strong economy. After the global financial crisis things weren’t wonderful here for around a year; we noticed a drop in business, which everyone experienced. But we started to see things rise almost immediately in 2010 – and for the last three years we have witnessed a booming economy again, with GDP growth of more than 4%.

“And some emerging sectors are especially active, catering for non-traditional industries; modern technology rather than heavy plant machinery. That’s why we decided to run our own ICT Live event, which reflects this.”

So, with her feet now under the table at her new desk, what are her aspirations for the new role? Berus says that her years managing Expo XXI have taught her some important lessons about building business successfully.

“You have to respect all people working with you, both your internal and external clients. You cannot exist without the service people, hall managers, plumbers, stand constructors etc, and you cannot be on top of things when you are not sure if the job is being done on that level.

“Manage the venue smoothly, develop it to the next level, build recognition for the venue in the international marketplace, and ultimately connect organisers with the people they exist to help,” says Berus.

As she sets about achieving the same success she reached at Expo XXI, one thing is for certain; the coming months will be very busy for Berus and the team at Ptak Warsaw.

“Only an active approach will pay off; you have to be seen and be respected in all major industry environments. Smooth co-operation will be required with all market players to be sure the job is done properly,” she says.