Roko Palmić is a hotel industry professional specialised in overall sales and marketing, strategic planning and the execution of plans. He has held several profile positions, including Director of Sales and Marketing for Hotel Sacher Vienna & Salzburg and The Regent Esplanade Zagreb. He is currently the Managing director/owner at JumpUp Hospitality & Tourism Consulting.

While we, the hoteliers, find the leisure guests somewhat ‘easier’ as a case or a project, but equally as precious, business guests, especially business groups, are the most complex projects for hotel personnel. These guests are there and they want it all: good food, good coffee, a room with a view, tip-top fitness centre and, of course, the perfectly organised congress. They require a flawless M&E (Meetings and Events) service. And from all M&E segments (board meetings, various business presentations, seminars, interviews, wedding receptions, various celebrations, dance parties etc.) organisation of a congress is the most complex that there is, the biggest challenge for a hotelier.

Organisation of a congress is a carefully led and very complex project that involves, depending on the size of the hotel, but not on the size of the congress itself, at least 20 employees. It is a combination of work of several hotel departments, careful planning and brilliant execution.

Let’s start at the beginning. A decision about a congress is made. The venue is needed. Representatives of the company that will hold a congress decide on the venue. The decision is also a result of the hotel’s M&E sales team efforts. After that a contract is prepared, with all the details that a congress will require. And then the real ‘push’ starts: from the first meeting with everyone involved, over various preparations, combinations, negotiations with several departments, till the final product is made – the perfectly organised congress.

It is hard work and careful planning that involves also an F&B team that will prepare snacks and food for coffee breaks or lunch/dinners, and serve whatever needed during the congress; an IT department that will ensure that all the audio visual equipment is installed in a proper and timely manner; a technical department that will ensure that the heating, lighting, air conditioning etc. is according to guests’ wishes; a reservations department that will handle the reservations for lodging; the reception and housekeeping that will prepare room allocations and the rooms for the guests; the security department, which takes care that everything related to the safety of guests is taken with the utmost care; the purchasing department which orders everything the guest can imagine; an administration office which takes care of the print material needed for the congress; the florist who will discreetly decorate the congress room and pre-function rooms; and finally, the finance department in charge of the careful and accurate checking of all costs for the congress and for the final bill.

We can truly say that there is an army of employees who are involved in numerous congresses that occur in business hotels on daily basis, usually a couple of congresses occurring in one day, so without any exaggeration we can conclude that the organisation of a congress presents an extremely challenging task. It has to be a brilliant coordination of all resources, material and human, of all efforts, plans, energies, personalities and ideas…and usually, it has to be done fast, but also correctly, and of course, as this is tourism we are talking about, handled with a smile and the notion that the guest is always right.

It is a stressful job, but a guest cannot feel that, not even a hint of that.

The guest has to experience an immaculate service: from the arrival to the hotel, when she/he sees the info board and the set-up of the congress venue, through the perfect audio visual experience during the event, with a high quality F&B service, to finally the post-congress leisure offer that includes fitness/health club facilities, a cocktail bar to unwind and, of course, a beautiful and comfortable room which will guarantee a good night’s sleep before getting back for the second day of a congress or getting back home or to the office.

The perfectly organised congress is a mixture of a tangible and intangible service, and the larger the number of the stars of the hotel, the emphasis will lie more on the intangible service, as this kind of service is the magic factor that differentiates one hotel and one event from the other.

Being a participant of many congresses, but with a professional eye for the congress industry, I have seen and experienced some great examples of a perfect service during the congress; a neck massage offered to participants during the break to slightly relax and unwind, essential oils that should encourage concentration during the event; hula hoop corner for the participants to activate their energy during the event; and, naturally, some more typical examples: a high quality AV system, well equipped info board with the hosts, natural daylight in the congress room, experienced and polite F&B staff, good insulation from the noise outside and sounds inside the hotel, parking space at the hotel, good quality writing pads, pens and memory sticks for the participants etc.

When it comes to good example of a bad service, there are several that every hotelier should check twice before the event starts; unprepared staff, too warm/cold in the congress room, bad lighting, malfunctioning of projectors, screens, microphones, uncomfortable chairs with no space to leave your bag, food not prepared for the occasion (too high in calories), no soundproofing in the rooms, tardiness with the coffee breaks… I hope these examples will help my colleagues’ hoteliers in the future, with the organisation of congresses.

If I would have to name the best hotels, my personal top 3 hotels in the world, these would be:

1. Mandarin Oriental Bangkok – http://www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/ – absolutely perfect service.

2. The Oberoi Udaivilas – Udaipur – http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_udaivilas/index.asp – service, nature and history felt everywhere.

3. The Plaza New York – http://www.theplaza.com/ – an absolute classic.

Top 5 congress hotels/centres:

1. Grosvenor House, London – www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/longh-grosvenor-house-a-jw-marriott-hotel – the historical venue.

2. The Dolder Grand, Zurich – http://www.thedoldergrand.com – History, design, style and nature all around….

3. The Ritz Madrid – www.ritzmadrid.com – on each corner, something to discover and absorb the history.

4. Mediterranean Conference Centre, Malta – http://www.mcc.com.mt – perfect combination of heritage and the 21st century in the Mediterranean.

5. Qatar National Convention Centre – http://www.qncc.com – the absolute star!

In conclusion I can say that the guests experience a highly personalised, tailor-made service during the congress, but not many are aware that they see only the tip of the iceberg. The entire army that carefully organised and executed this event happily acknowledges that everything went well with a congress that the guests will probably remember for a long time. The army, on the other hand, simply moves on, usually during the same day, to another project/congress… and another…and after that one another… creating a perfect service all day, every day.

Roko Palmić