Majda Zidanski studied at renowned Ljubljana hotel management school and later at Faculty of Economics in Maribor and meanwhile gathered experiences at hotel Bellevue and Lev and as receptionist in hotel Turist, where she late became head of reception. In 1971 she began her professional career as congress organizer at Ljubljana Magistrat working throughout the former Yugoslavia. She remained with the company till 1978 when her talents were discovered by the then director of Generalturist Andrej Ristič, who wanted to make Bled a leading congress destination in Slovenia – and succeeded.
Based on the years of experience she published a book called “Meetings industry” in 2005, where she shares her knowledge and life experiences. Deliberate and full of vision she and partner Andrej Ristič continue their 42-year career in the meetings industry despite the current “weird times”.
The first Professional Congress Organizer (PCO) in the area of former Yugoslavia was the company Magistrat in Ljubljana, where a congress division called Congress Tourism was established in 1965. Back then we organized national and international meetings from 500 to 5,000 participants throughout Yugoslavia, from Bled to Skopje, from Belgrade to Dubrovnik.
The main congress destinations in Slovenia back then were Bled, Ljubljana and Portorož, in the other republics Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje, Dubrovnik and other tourist centres along the Adriatic cost – Opatija, Šibenik, Split etc.
At that time only capitals or the biggest cities had the proper capacities and infrastructure to host cogresses: Bled and Festival Hall, later the hall at Golf Hotel, Ljubljana with the Exhibition and Convention Centre, Tivoli hall and Festival Hall, Portorož with the Auditorium, Opatija with hotels Adriatic and Ambasador, Belgrade with Sava Centre, hotel Jugoslavija and other hotels and Dubrovnik with the largest congress hotels in Yugoslavia back then. The congress division of Magistrat organized fairly large international congresses from 1965 to 1978 at all the above mentioned destinations. For us – the employees this meant constant travel with all the baggage needed for organizing meetings – audio-visual and simultaneous translations equipment.
A second congress division was created in 1971 after the completion of the Avditorij, a new congress centre in Portorož. In 1978 a congress division of tourist agency Generalturist in Bled was formed, later renamed The Congress Bureau Bled till 1985 and then transferred to the Festival Hall Bled on the initiative of Hotelsko turistično podjetje. The Bled Congress Bureau worked till 1986 when the head stakeholder of the meetings industry in Bled Andrej Ristič and I founded the first private congress tourist agency in the socialist Yugoslavia – Albatros Bled, which is still active today.
In 1980 Cankarjev dom in Ljubljana became the largest event centre in Slovenia and started its own congress division.
The comparison of past and present state of the meetings industry can be summed up by the following statements:
- The offer of hotel and congress capacities has spread incredibly in the last few years, maybe even too much.
- Technical and conference services have achieved a higher level with the development of technology.
- With a higher level of meetings and hotel capacities the need for improvisation is no longer necessary – like it used to be.
- The logistics, i.e. managing contacts and online application of participants are made easier by computer software.
- We have noticed a lack of awareness on the meetings industry at the national level.
- There is a discrepancy in the development of the congress, catering, culture and entertainment capacities in regions and country.
- The human resources are not properly trained.
- The status of a PCO is not properly defined and appreciated. In Slovenia anyone with “five free minutes” can organize a meeting lately. Unfortunately there is more and more drive for profit. The result of this is the decrease in the level of quality of events and the services to participants.
- Lately, renowned international congresses are scarcer; there are more one- or two-day events mostly educational or promotional. I find Slovenia as a meetings destination is not recognizable enough on the international market.
The main role of promotion is carried out by international activities of political, scientific, cultural and business cooperation of the state and its institutions. Put simply: the congresses and similar events are a reflection of social, economic and scientific activities of a country.
I can conclude the situation in the meetings industry is similar to the situation in the country.
The future of the meetings industry is completely unsure and unpredictable since – as always – it is connected with the economic situation of the entire country and wider. We will definitely have to consider the following:
- We need to improve the quality of the tourist services linked with the meetings industry.
- Settle and “clean up” the number of service providers on the market and make sure the official status of a PCO (through the Chamber of Commerce or…).
- We need to examine the licences of congress service providers, mostly of non-profit organisations (which should not take part in profit). This disorder is visible in a complete decay of pricing politics of the service providers (hotels, congress centres and others).
- Current and probably also future state of affairs in the meetings industry: disorderly and producing unhealthy and disloyal competition.