Photo: Jacob Termansen

the growth of creative destinations

In recent times, every media roundtable that I have been part of has included a question about where we see ourselves in five or ten years, and how competitive Slovenia is in the area of congress tourism. As a rule, an additional question is related to aviation accessibility as well as the usual logistics questions. We are most often asked whether there are enough large congress centres, sufficient numbers of hotel rooms and incentive and DMC agencies, and what the relationships are among the logistics providers on the scene.

To me, this kind of thinking seems totally wrong, since I believe that the essence of competitiveness lies in the area which I understand and promote as congress destination platforms.

To me, this kind of thinking seems totally wrong, since I believe that the essence of competitiveness lies in the area which I understand and promote as congress destination platforms.

Until recently, congress destinations were primarly understood as a group of various providers, which is still the prevailing model in the majority of destination brochures and presentations throughout the world. Over 95% of trade show presentations are still based on this premise.

If we turn the story on its head and concentrate on the needs of congress participants and organisers, an entirely different UX matrix is reached.

Instead of the number of congress halls, the capacity of halls for banquets and the number of international air connections, other indicators come to the fore such as the scientific, technological, cultural and economic creativeness of destinations. I strongly believe in this, and my beliefs were also confirmed by the conclusions of the traditional World Economic Forum in Davos. It is no coincidence that this year the new IDI index (The Inclusive Development Index) was launched, which, in the future, should replace the classic GDP index that is used to compare developed countries. The index is based on soft indicators, among them education and basic skills, basic and digital infrastructure, levels of corruption and numerous other indicators, which, in my opinion, show the real social-economic picture of the attractiveness of a destination and indicate much more than just rough financial indicators.

The leading countries on the scale are also well-developed congress destinations.

The first 10 places are held by Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Austria. The Czech Republic (15), Slovenia (19) and Slovakia (20) are the highest ranked eastern European countries. Creative industries are at the core of the new development of paradigms, which, in my opinion, will in the future create the real difference among destinations. Below are some thoughts and ideas.

Creative industries are the driving-force of modern congress destinations

I am strongly of the opinion that the congress industry is a creative industry. Creativity is used as a support that differentiates good events from average ones. International events can also been defined as activities that represent the export of local creativity. Without designers, architects, actors, singers, top-notch chefs, video producers, musicians and other creators, today I cannot even imagine good events. If we view the entire congress industry from this perspective, it totally changes the structure of key stakeholders. Today the industry is dominated by logistics companies such as transporters, DMC agencies, and hotels. To achieve a creative transformation, however, we need to transition to creative industries, which currently still do not have a place in the congress world. Only when the industry understands this concept, will it be the basis for implementation in practice.

How to connect the ideas of modern creative communities with the organisation of events?

Connecting creators from various fields is a paradigm that young people starting out on their career particularly want. Industrial and graphic designers, photographers and illustrators, programmers, architects, journalists, economists, and scenographers – there is a place for all of them on congress platforms. Platforms that are open-source, enable networking, development and the establishment of new companies, which the congress industry requires for growth. It acts as a kind of hub for interested individuals and companies that is based on democratic co-operation. This also includes sharing the costs of development and renting premises, which positively influences the development of new projects. I am aware that each platform derives from countries’ economic and development opportunities. The fact is, that today, above-all, we understand the start-up scene, which is a new religion, but less the true concept of creative industries. This is also where the congress industry lies – more or less beneath the radar – despite its exceptional potential.

Why congress destinations need new co-working platforms?

In recent years, co-working spaces have been growing at a phenomenal rate. Poligon is among the most well-known in Ljubljana, whilst in Serbia there is Mokrin House, in Split WIP, and in Vienna Sector 5. The list is infinite, covering the majority of the most creative cities in Europe.

You are probably wondering what hyperspace living rooms have in common with the organisation of events. There are many answers, since a lot can be learnt from the modern concepts of co-working. It is not just about the arranging of spaces, but more about the way of thinking and the concept of how to create the conditions so that events will be organised in destinations by individuals with the most innovative and creative ideas. Such spaces are the driving forces of economic development and communities, as well as new events. Of course, this is based on the assumption that a city is also creative in terms of image, cultural life, architecture, urbanism, cuisine and lifestyle. Just imagine what kind of projects could have been created if, like Berlin, such meetings had been encouraged and carefully planned. Berlin is today the European capital of creative events.

The end of centralised, inaccessible and hierarchical systems?

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The main European cities already have developed strategies in the field of creative industries. Among the cities that especially stand out are London, Amsterdam and Berlin. Creative and co-working communities in Slovenia are also well-developed and such spaces can be found in all the larger cities throughout the country. Slovenia is regarded as an exciting destination for digital nomads and creators. The creative industries, however, are still not recognised as one of the leading economic sectors, and recognition of the congress industry is worse still. It seems that in the congress industry, the wave of changes has still not made a splash. Many congress destinations organisations work centrally and hierarchically with a high entry threshold for membership.

In contrast, new systems, which are open, non-hierarchical and have scattered sources, develop from the bottom up. Participation in terms of sharing content and ideas, mass financing, co-ownership of content and goods, and alternative transport, have long been known. Only rarely, however, do such models appear in our industry.  

How to create new creative platforms in the congress industry?

Below I have listed some of the already known and visible ideas that could be used in our industry. The vision is to develop innovation and competences, so that, with appropriate support, congress destinations can achieve their social and economic potential. This is also the answer to the ever-increasing uniformity of congress destinations, which today, at least in terms of congress bureaus, are becoming like peas in a pod.

1. Creative congress destinations provide congress incubators as a creative hub, where new congress ideas and events are developed. 

Premises are intended to combine complementary congress companies, creators and start-up companies. Through the modernised process of events and workshops, such incubators accelerate the development of new events in line with destinations’ strategic orientations.

2. Creative congress destinations provide the seed of capital for new start-up congress events. 

Today, the majority of destinations spend a lot of money on classic B2B marketing. A typical example is the market of international associations, which is exceptionally demanding in terms of investment. If part of the budget was used to focus on new start-up congress events, some of them would undoubtedly succeed and become part of the local economy. This idea can be upgraded through crowdfunding or mass financing.

3. Creative congress destinations encourage a culture of co-working

This is based on co-operation, mutual assistance and sharing knowledge. The core element is a community that is based on interdisciplinarity. Such is the essence of the congress industry, as I have already described in detail.

4. Creative congress destinations develop new community-marketing projects

These do not rely on traditional marketing principles. They prefer to develop new creative campaigns that enable them to connect with creative industries.

5. Creative congress destinations offer production support to demanding projects

Certain congress projects are so demanding that they require wider support throughout all phases – from development of ideas to execution of the event.  If the production role was to be taken over by the community, the chances of the project succeeding would be greatly improved.

I believe that all those who work in the Slovenian event and congress industry will also know how to catch this wave. According to its multidisciplinary approach, we belong among the creative industries and, perhaps, we will soon see the first congress co-working space. By realising these ideas, Slovenia could become an innovative congress centre for the Balkans, Central Europe and beyond.

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