Q: What is the most positive thing about the meetings industry?
I may have contracted a permanent “MICE virus”, as I am passionately taking my job as a lifestyle. Every day is filled with dynamic variety, challenges and the opportunity to build strong relationships. It is also the traveling that drives me in the sense of constant personal and professional development together with the freedom to be creative and to implement daring out-of-the-box ideas as practical solutions.
Q: What have been some of the challenges you have faced over the past years?
The MICE industry in general is quite challenging as it consists of various key players from a cross section, plus it is driven and influenced by the micro- and macroeconomic environment. On top of that, I am the kind of a person who always strives for better results and higher quality so from my perspective, the challenges are always there J. I like to look on them as an opportunity to respond to a given situation differently than usual and to test whether a more “adventurous” move would also bring us a better outcome.
To be more specific, the past 4 years have been determined by placing Slovenia and Bled on the world congress map. Furthermore, since Sava Hotels & Resorts is the largest tourism company in Slovenia with 14 hotels in a portfolio, I am often facing the challenge of how to adopt value-chain thinking, provide potential clients with a reliable promise according to the expected delivery and to achieve the revenue targets – all at the same time.
Q: What is you strategy for developing MICE business?
First of all it is necessary to define a MICE profile for the destination where you work – or in my case where Sava operates with its hotels – by scanning its strengths and weaknesses, especially evaluating the venue and accommodation possibilities, analysing the infrastructure, predicting the seasonality, connecting with the local community… With such an in-depth understanding of the destination and your product, you have the weapon to build a strategy on how to penetrate the demanding MICE market. Setting ambitious but realistic goals and targets on the short and medium term is essential for effective marketing planning.
If we take a look at Bled – we have a well-established image on a local market that we have to upgrade on the one hand and on the other a world congress map to place ourselves on – different situations requiring different approaches. Marketing is an investment if done smart, targeted, with great content and in connection with specialized partners.
Q: Where are you positioning your marketing efforts this year and the next?
Besides being present at the most important congress fairs, our strategy will still include targeting the markets we have a good transport connections with. Workshops, sales calls, acquisitions, the organization of business breakfasts and other direct sales activities still play very important role when gaining new business, although FAM trips providing clients with first-hand experience have the highest conversion rate. Equally important is content marketing, which helps the destination to build its own persona and create a buzz – this is no longer an option but a must. Strategic partnerships with reliable marketing sources, including Kongres magazine, tend to come up with a great input/output ratio. And as meetings are getting more tech-savvy than ever before, we will strive to exploit as much of it as possible.
Q: What attractions does Sava turizem offer for those in search of innovative incentives?
International meeting planners are looking for that emotionally-charged wow factor, which would rationally discourage them from choosing established and verified destinations rather than holding their next event and encourage them instead to hold their next event in, for example, Slovenia. In Bled, our central MICE destination, we put in a great deal of effort to enrich events with extra accompanying programmes, depending, of course, on the profile and on the message conveyed. A positive atmosphere at an event results in satisfied participants and, consequently, in a satisfied customer.
In collaboration with Olympic rowers, we have therefore prepared programmes where participants compete in eights, rowing to Bled Island and tasting the well-deserved potica. We also successfully use the proximity of ski resorts, providing winter incentives or inviting the participants to attend the curling league at our ice rink with a view. At the same time, Bled is a destination of eco-mobility; our guests are thus encouraged to walk and use bicycles, Seagways, carriages, electric vehicles, etc.
Culinary programmes, such as the “chef’s table”, where participants help prepare gourmet meals and eat them in the hotel kitchen, have been a real hit recently.
Or perhaps the astrological programme in forest villas, where participants attend a candlelit barbeque dinner by the fire and look into the future predicted by the stars.
Those who prefer historical programmes are advised to participate in the “from villa to villa” programme, which represents a fun way to get to know the brightest jewels of Bled. And much more…
Sava is proud to have a dedicated and specialised MICE team with rich experience and referential knowledge; each organiser thus has a right hand that helps him create a winning story.
Q: Where would you like to see Bled in two years’ time
In two years’ time I would definitely like to see progress concerning the image and outside appeal of the destination, meaning the renovation of hotels to offer higher accommodation standards, off-site re-arrangements, maybe the opening of some high-end evening lounge, … together with the current focus regarding integral culinary projects, sports events and activities. Two years is not enough to place Bled on the world congress map but we can definitely take a step closer by working hand-in-hand within the community, emphasizing the local heritage and investing in our products, services and smart marketing activities.
Q: On a personal note, what would be your ideal event to host in Bled?
If I could construct an ideal event and place it at Bled, it would definitely be a high profile corporate one with a sustainable note where the DNA of the client would completely match the DNA of the destination. I imagine a highly developed multinational company with a sufficient budget but also exacting demands to encourage our hotels to boost the quality standards. Having eminent delegates on board would also create multiplicative effects and cover all the important media. The nature of the event and the budgets would allow us to exceed the expectations within the culinary and other accompanying services. Out of the box conference venues, gala evening themed events and a range of activities in connection with nature would also require smart strategic partnerships and tight cooperation with the local community.
One-on-One with Saša Zor
Q: What time do you like to be at your desk?
I am quite an extravert who enjoys socializing, networking, meeting new people, exploring the market… so my favourite time is definitely away from my office J. But despite being so passionate about what is going on in the outside world, I find productive time at the desk crucial in order to meet with my colleagues, sharpen the saws, plan more strategic moves and to do the needed paperwork. I can also call myself very privileged working within a group of 14 hotels, so my office can be in the alpine gem of Bled one day, ancient Ptuj another or the charming Prekmurje on a third.
Q: What’s your management style?
The basic principle I follow is that we are all firstly human beings and secondly employees struggling for the same company goal. That leads to believing and treating my team as professionals, delegating the responsibility and giving them the chance to stand out. When anybody makes a mistake, own up, learn something from it and move on. Real-time feedback seems crucial to me as it leads to continuous improvement. I am very results driven but they are only achievable when working together as a team so adopting a management style that suits the needs and characteristics of employees is the only way to do it in my opinion
Q: What would your key management advice be?
Beside the generally known management practices, especially delegating wisely to develop the employees’ confidence, encouraging fluid two-way communication and recognizing the team’s achievements, my advice would be not to forget to play. We are working in such an amazing industry with numerous possibilities to grow personally and professionally, so sometimes encouraging a team to reflect that feeling, smile and have fun is the best tactic.
Q: What’s on your reading list?
Depending on how I feel at the particular moment, I like to have several different books on my night shelf ready to read – from relaxed romance boosting the imagination to more educational books about personal or professional development.
Recently I just finished a very powerful book entitled “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, exploring what separates great companies and great leaders from the rest. The author suggests using a “Why” concept to be more innovative, successful, influential and profitable. “Why Slovenia and why Bled” are also the top priority issues to focus on when we are confronting potential clients. The book “Start with why” is actually very applicable to the hospitality industry itself, pointing out that only seeing what most others can’t see and providing things clients would never think of asking for makes the difference between the best and the average.