Co-operation, coexistence and harmony
It was in 2006 that the beginnings of an idea were formed for regional integration of the congress and events industry. Following the gloomy nineties, in the middle of the breakaway Balkans, professionals believed that it was again time to unite. In my memory and heart, the positive energy remained that had overcome us during numerous professional excursions and renewed contact.
Co-operation first began between the cities of Ljubljana–Zagreb–Belgrade–Dubrovnik-Opatija. This coalition has remained relatively firm to-date, even though somewhere along the way Opatija was lost. In those pioneering days the prevailing thought was ‘Anything is possible’, and slowly new ideas were born, among them Conventa, some new regional DMCs and professional exchanges in all directions.
Then came a decade marked by the financial crisis. This was a period when the region began to mature into a meeting destination and began steering a course towards various directions of development.
The meetings industry is an area where it can be demonstrated how far and to what extent the region is capable of actually co-operating, and how far our voice can be heard. It has not been possible to overcome certain stories from real life, since friction is deeply rooted in this area. Often a partial interest is more important that a common one. This is clear to all those who deal with events on a daily basis. As soon as there is a chance to co-operate, there can be a tendency to seek out each other’s weaknesses, instead of the things that unite us. And it is exactly in this area that we have exceptional opportunities – the question is, however, have we reached our full potential?
How is the region prepared for a professional breakthrough?
If we compare 2007 with 2017, a big difference is noticeable. The region represents an excellent testing ground for checking global trends, as well as for comparing destinations. The general opinion is that the region is only at the halfway stage. Therefore, in the editorial office we have carried out a review of the state of the market and a comparison of some of the key conditions that mean certain destinations find themselves at the top of the rankings.
By comparing the rankings of Meetings Star with that of ICCA (using the criteria of the number of participants in the decade from 2006-2016), the situation in the first four places is the same; Ljubljana, Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Belgrade are the leaders in regional congress tourism.
The most complex assessment is certainly the rating system of ‘Kongresna zvezda’ (Meetings Star). An integral part of this is the comparison of aviation accessibility, ranking on the ICCA chart, and a series of other criteria.
Similar results are also shown by the ICCA ranking, where the emphasis is mainly on congress events for professional and interest groups. Here also the same four destinations rank top: Ljubljana, Belgrade, Dubrovnik in Zagreb
- Ljubljana 4.33
- Zagreb 4.31
- Dubrovnik 4.27
- Belgrade 4.14
- Opatija 3.92
- Bled 3.91
- Portorož 3.88
- Split 3.85
- Poreč 3.82
- Kranjska Gora 3.82
Source: Meetings Star Award (Nagrada Kongresna Zvezda) – www.kongres-meetologue.eu
- Ljubljana – 346 events, 84,572 attendees
- Belgrade – 358 events, 79,797 attendees
- Dubrovnik – 231 events, 68,352 attendees
- Zagreb – 246 events, 46,927 attendees
- Sarajevo – 82 events, 15,206 attendees
- Portorož – 80 events, 27284 attendees
- Split – 59 events, 12511 attendees
- Novi Sad – 65 events, 11195 attendees
- Bled – 69 events, 11994 attendees
- Skopje – 47 events, 10940 attendees
Source: ICCA Statistic Report Country & City Rankings (www.iccaworld.org)
In all the rankings, the examples of Opatija and Belgrade stand out the most. In 2007 and 2008 Opatija was in a high sixth place, whereas today, in the area of associations, it has been dropped from the rankings. Belgrade’s story is entirely different; it has progressed most in all rankings, despite the fact it has the biggest infrastructure problems (Sava Center). Ljubljana has maintained a leading position through the entire period covered by the comparison.
There is a much more concentrated battle in the background of the four leading destinations, where there is ‘overcrowding’ mainly in the area of tourist destinations that have developed auxiliary congress products.
Clear paths lead to the best places. On the basis of conversations with leading professionals in the region, we have indicated below some of their recommendations and conditions that will improve the prospects for the foremost regional destinations.
1. Convention Bureau
It is a fact that destinations without a functioning convention bureau are those that have fallen the most behind. Convention bureaus are independent intermediaries between supply and demand, which is regarded on the international market as proof of the maturity and competitiveness of individual destinations.
An example from the region: Split is a town that has exceptional congress potential but does not have a convention bureau that could provide additional acceleration to its marketing.
2. Destination brand
A strong brand, which connects meeting planners and products, is the best marketing accelerator. In addition, it enables efficient communication and the creation of synergy in the areas of content and digital marketing.
An example from the region: Through consistent destination branding that is in line with the actual situation, Ljubljana has become one of the hottest destinations.
3. Advanced destination organisation
This includes the whole spectrum of providers who are interconnected both vertically and horizontally. There are various forms of co-operation and exchanges of knowledge and technology among companies, which greatly improves the competitiveness of the entire destination.
An example from the region: The Zagreb Convention Bureau involves and connects a very wide range of partners who work reciprocally and efficiently.
4. Smart specialisation
There are countless meeting destinations in the world. Only those that are able to specialise and adapt to target groups of customers succeed. The emphasis is therefore on focusing on the area where a destination has a critical mass of knowledge, capacity and competence.
An example from the region: Belgrade decided to specialise in attracting congresses for professional and scientific associations. That is why in the period from 2007-2016 it made the most progress in the ICCA rankings.
5. Operating standards
It is good to know who is who in destinations. This can be greatly assisted by standards which govern the membership structure and create greater transparency for subscribers. Standards also allow for more transparent intervention of enquiries among members.
An example from the region: Slovenia was among the first in the world to adopt standards for congresses. The model was based on comparable European models of business excellence.
6. Information infrastructure
In this area, those participating understand the general infrastructure and services as well as the applications required for the meetings industry. The first part deals with the development of broadband connections with a speed above 100 mbit/s. The second covers the various applications that enable improvements in event organising.
An example from the region: In this context the entire region is more or less within the European average. The region is still lacking destinations, which, based on the example of the Baltic states, have built up their own competitiveness on digitalisation and the start-up culture.
7. Marketing infrastructure
Efficient marketing in the industry is strongly targeted on customer databases and understanding their needs. When this part is clarified, then the hard work can begin in the areas of content, digital and direct marketing, which involves the entire network of partners.
An example from the region: The Slovenian Convention Bureau has developed its own comprehensive marketing system, which is based on a comprehensive customer database.
8. Ambassadors and social networks
Each activity must be properly integrated into the local environment. The most simple and efficient model of connecting with the local environment is through congress ambassadors in the fields of science and the economy. More complex links with centres of excellence are also possible.
An example from the region: The Serbian Convention Bureau currently has the most well organised ambassador programme in the region and is achieving exceptional results.
9. Industry training
Regular training of professionals is required in order to achieve certain levels of proficiency. A practical solution in this area is
the granting of licences for defined time periods that enable continuous acquisition of up-to-date knowledge.
An example from the region: Since 2015 the Croatian HUPKT Association has been training and certifying its members through its CCMEP programme (Certified Croatian Meetings and Events Professional). To-date the programme has been successfully completed by 58 professionals.
10. Measuring results
Without measuring the effects of congress activities, it is very difficult to interpret the performance and success of the entire congress industry. The fact that this is a demanding area is confirmed by the few studies have been carried out into this area; we most often refer to data of the Vienna Convention Bureau.
An example from the region: The Ljubljana Convention Bureau carries out cyclical research into spending patterns by congress guests. The last such study was carried out in September 2017.
The above points are not an instant recipe for success, they can, however, serve as orientation. Practically no destination carries out the entire spectrum of these points; the closest is the quartet of leading destinations. The key problem that has been highlighted is self-infatuation and non-acceptance of foreign knowledge. This is also the reason why, from our perspective, the region is still only at the halfway stage.