In the spirit of openness, I want to try to clear up to our readers some basic facts about working as a PCO on the Croatian market. First of all, this business is directly connected to travel agencies – you have to be registered as one to be able to work (according to local law). Therefore, even if it is not common for other markets, to be a PCO in Croatia means that you are a travel agency and mostly you will have other e.g. travel departments within the same organisation. Surely you will then also be a DMC? An independant PCO company is not something you will find on our market, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t find professionals offering up-to-date conference management services within their specialised departments.[pullquote]Altrough I started unintentionally, today I can not imagine my (business) life without meeting organisation and the whole industry around it.[/pullquote]
My story as a PCO also started while I was working in a big travel agency (one of the market leaders at the time). None of this would have happened if there were not two special ladies (one of them my boss at the time, the other one working in the city’s convention bureau (who over the years also became my dear friend) there in 1997 who thought I was the perfect person for the job of PCO. A new, specialised department was founded within the travel agency in which I was working. To be honest, I was not delighted. I just got back from my maternity leave happy to continue my very nice previous job of product manager in the travel department. I was not even sure what would be expected from me, what the ‘meeting industry’ meant, what a ”PCO” was… In Croatia at that time this was all a yet-to-be recognised industry. There was no mentor and no business formula for me to follow. However, everything that has a beginning has a cause – meaning quite a big client was already there with a challenging project of a regional medical meeting. I hadn’t a clue where and how to start with the project, but I couldn’t stand losing an opportunity! For me this medical meeting was at first sight like a group with a fairly complex programme, but on the other hand it wasn’t at all a group but rather a lot of individuals, each with their own ideas, desires… Thank God, then, that the venue was already chosen, so it was one risky decision less for me to take (although a hotel on a traffic-free island, also a national park, was tricky and challenging “per se”).
I started with the small things that I had already learned in the travel business – reservations, price calculations and the like – each step providing me with new challenges, questions to be answered and no seniors around to support and lead you through the project. In the end, though, the congress was a full success and several RFPs followed immediately after I returned to the office. How I made it happen – it is hard for me to explain even nowadays. Most probably when you know less, you try even harder. I also think I had found my new talent – the nightmare had become a beautiful dream. I looked at the received RFPs as possible new and thrilling experiences and at future projects/meetings as new adventures which I was gifted.
From administator to consultant
A significant milestone in my career was participating in EFCT (now ECM) Summer School in 1997 in Barcelona, where I learned all the basics like the technical terms, who is who on the market… and then more at the IAPCO Wolfsberg Seminar in Switzerland, which was another huge step forward. The knowledge shared with us seminar participants was fundamental for everyone working in the meeting industry and particulary for PCOs. I belivethat if one meets the strict criteria for becoming an IAPCO member, one should definitely do that.
At the start of my career I was working predominantly with professional associations so it made me realise very soon how important professional networks are. Meeting organisers also have to meet among themselves to study, to research professional problems and to exchange ideas and experiences, and that is where ICCA comes with its variety of networking and educational events (and annual congress on top of it all), database, networking possibilities – a whole pool of meeting industry experiences. A vast opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences as well as the latest technologies all enabled me to move forward from being an administrator to becoming a consultant and creator in every aspect of meeting organisation.
During the past 10 years, in one way or another, my career has been turning more and more from a PCO towards a DMC specialised for Croatia and the surrounding Adriatic Region. My philosophy is to create events here in the region which are educational, networking, motivational, experiential, possibly with (at least) a touch of exclusiveness and also fun, and integrate them into a client’s business strategy.
[pullquote] Aleksandra UHERNIK ĐURĐEK / Graduated from University of Zagreb, Aleksandra is a meeting and motivational event professional. With over 15 years of experiences, she has created special meetings and events all over Croatia.[/pullquote]
I am particulary passionate about Croatia becoming a rising star on Europe’s meeting and incentive map and I love to share this passion with clients trying to find the right place for their events. How do I venture out globally? Going green, sustainability, social responsibility, a limited budget amd working with different cultures are just some of the new challenges I am facing nowadays. What do I do? I try to package them all into one – a unique Croatian experience!