Patrick DELANEY and Padraic GILIGAN Interview by Gorazd Čad

YING- Patrick Delaney

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you and Pádraic met?
I did Hotel Management at University and worked initially in hospitality before moving to the Irish Tourist Board as a hotel inspector. I was then given the opportunity to move to sales and marketing and headed up the Irish Tourist Board’s interface with the growing MICE industry in the United States for over 10 years. I then returned to Ireland as Sales and Marketing Director for Adare Manor, a 5 star resort in South West Ireland. Finally in 1994 I started Delaney Marketing Consultants with Padraic.

Pádraic and I are lifelong friends and despite the commonly held opinion that you should “never go into business with your friends” we have successfully worked together for over 20 years. Padraic comes from an academic background, having taught at secondary and university levels for many years. I started my career in hotel operations and moved on to destination marketing promoting Ireland in the United States. We joined together in 1993 and formed Delaney Marketing, which evolved into Ireland’s leading DMC, Ovation Group. Ovation, in turn, merged with the MCI Group and we launched the Ovation brand in over 100 destinations worldwide.

Q: You’ve been in Slovenia and Croatia recently. What are your impressions of the local meetings industry?
Both Slovenia and Croatia have a rich and long history in the meetings industry, however both destinations are suffering from a lack of focused development of their physical infrastructure. Thankfully this situation is changing and they are now involved in a major drive to catch up. The other challenge, of course, is that of limited air access, especially in the case of Slovenia.

Q: How did you feel about the Slovenian Convention Bureau brief for cooperation? 
We are really excited about this co-operation as the Slovenian Convention Bureau, and Miha Kovačič in particular, have a reputation for innovation and not being satisfied with the status quo. We firmly believe that a destination can only be successfully marketed if it is willing to be disruputive in its actions. There are too many safe, “me too” destination activies which are not based on a clear, measurable and focused strategy. If you are going to cut through the clutter of the avalanche of messages in today’s marketplace, you need to re-engage your customers with content that matters.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in demonstrating the effectiveness of your work?
We have been working in the Meetings Industry for over 25 years, running meeting and events in every continent and being actively involved in the promotion of the various Ovation destinations world wide. During this time we made many mistakes, but we also had the opportunity to be involved with and observe many of the most successful destination promotion activities. These campaigns have used social media and training to drive and deliver increased market share among customer groups and supplier partners. In particular we have been passionate proponents of training programmes that genuinely engage participants and we have been delivering this type of training within our own company as well as all the main Industry Associations. The challenge was to showcase these capabilities to a wider audience, which thankfully is now happening.

Q: What kind of initial advice would you give to destinations that want to host international meetings?
There are no quick fixes to being recognised as a viable meetings and events destination. It takes time, hard work, funds and will not take place without a clear strategy and total destination stakeholder support. A first piece of advice would be to look in your own back yard and find an academic, a professor or an industry thought leader who is contributing something of significance to the knowledge economy. Leverage his international contacts to bring international meetings to Slovenia.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the meetings industry?
Be interested, not interesting; that is, try to be open to understand what is important to your customers and then try to deliver it. This attitude will make you always on the lookout for new ideas and ways of doing business that are relevant and realistic.

Q: How strong is the outlook for DMCs, what services might they offer and will they still be around in 10 years time?
Absolutely, but not as we know them today. With the rapid growth of technology and the sharing economy many of the services and added values a DMC used to provide are no longer needed, or, to be precise, customers are not willing to pay for them. However, a good DMC is totally immersed and connected in their destination and is uniquely positioned to mediate a customer’s goals and what the destination has to offer.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing our industry today?
To stay relevant to our customers. The real benefits of organising face-to-face meetings and events need to be highlighted and celebrated. In a world where societies are disconnected and individuals feel disenfranchised and alienated, collaboration is greatly enhanced and facilitated when interested parties get together in a structured, face to face environment.

YANG – Padraic Giligan

Q: So why SoolNua and why now? Why does the world need another consulting agency?
We’ve been truly blessed by the opporunities we’ve had in our careers. Prior to working in the Meetings Industry I was a teacher for 13 years while Patrick worked in the public sector for the Irish Tourist Board in North America. Then we ignited our enterpreneurial spark and started Delaney Marketing, which became Ireland’s largest MICE agency with over 60 staff and revenues of €20m. Next we joined MCI and continued worked as global directors, opening 100 Ovation offices all over the world.

SoolNua is the next natural step in a career trajectory that started with a small, boutique environment, got big, then bigger. Now we need that start-up intimacy and energy again. We want to be client facing, personally involved in projects, sharing the insights that come from the many mistakes we’ve made over the past 20 years!

And, to be really honest, the world doesn’t need another consulting agency. However, our industry can always benefit from practical wisdom and hard earned experience. That’s what we bring to destinations, venues and hotel clients and the PwCs and McKinseys of this world need have no fear that we’re taking the bread out of their mouths!

Q: You are from Ireland? How did that shape your route in terms of your career and getting into meetings industry?
My own entry point into the Meetings Industry came purely by accident. I was doing PhD research in Italian at University and our department was contacted by the Irish Tourist Board as Alberto Moravia, the famous Italian author, was visiting Ireland to write a series of travel articles. I was hired as his guide. I discovered then how much I loved mediating the destination experience on behalf of visitors to the country. I worked about 6 seasons as a tour guide in Ireland and that provided the basis for moving into the DMC sector.

Q: Why is the Meetings Industry important in today’s global economy?
The term “Meetings Industry” is not really understood outside of its own confines. Most commentators will categorise us with travel and tourism and while these sectors are hugely important in the global economy the impact and importance of the Meetings Industry goes way beyond the bounds of travel and tourism and has few, if any, of the downsides of leisure tourism activity.

In terms of tourist revenue, meetings outperform most niches – a meetings visitor will contribute 3 – 4 times more revenue to a destination than a leisure visitor, for example. But meetings bring far more than that – think foreign direct investment, knowledge transfer, destination reputation etc.

Q: How innovative is the international meetings Industry? 
We are very innovative internally within the Meetings Industry and appalling, completely lacking in innovation, in our external relations!

Meetings today in relation to their delivery and execution are increasingly pushing out the creative boundries using new meeting design, formats and, of course, technology. It’s really exciting to see this – there’s a vibrant, pulsating heart of creativity across everything that we do these days.

However, we’re very poor at communicating this externally with the result that we’re still a hidden economic presence, a powerhouse without a name.

Q: What is the hardest part of the process of attracting international meetings and events?
For new and emerging destinations like Croatia and Slovenia the challenge is profile, identity, image. Conference organisers are afraid to select a destination that’s “unknown”, as this may impact attendance.

However, when they start to research the destination they’ll use the standard filters with access and infrastructure top of the criteria list. If access is poor or challenging and there are not other mitigating reasons why the destinations should be selected – for example a hugely compelling brand value proposition – then that destination is dead in the water.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges in the regional meetings industry of South-East Europe?
The challenges are image, access and infrastructure and, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for any of these!

But there are opportunities too and these relate specifically to the fact that South-East Europe is still undiscovered. The on-going demographic evolution in workplaces means there’s a generational shift which is also impacting preferences regarding destinations. Young meetings delegates are more curious, more adventurous and more culturally sensitive than their older counterparts. They value authenticity over luxury, direct experiences over hands-off explanations. They want to taste and feel new destinations also because they’ve been everywhere mainstream already – they grew up in an era of democratised travel. They’re the Ryanair and EasyJet generations.

Q: Which meeting brand—besides your own—currently impresses you?
From a destinations perspective I really like what Slovenia is doing – it’s fresh and friendly. I also like Iceland’s approach. It’s quirky and different, just like the destination itself. The Swiss Convention and Incentive Bureau (SCIB) is also impressive – I really like the short movies they present each year that give the lie to the common belief that the Swiss have no sense of humour.

I also love the new independent hotels, particularly Citizen M and, at the other end of the scale, I’m intrigued by Firmdale, The Doyle Collection and Kempinski hotels.

Q: What makes new meeting destinations stand out from the competition?
You can’t stand out when you’re sitting side by side with everyone else, so new meetings destinations that stand out do so because they’re different, unusual, quirky, funny-looking, disruptive. Once you get attention by “standing out” then you have the chance to establish a connection, a dialogue, a face to face conversation.

One2One with Patrick and Padraic

Hey! I am first heading line feel free to change me

Q: What’s the first information you consume in the morning?
World and local news via the radio, then followed by emails and social media platforms like Linked In, Instagram, Facebook and industry blogs.

Q: Tell us about your social media habits – who do you follow?
I read all the industry blogs, of course Padraic’s first, and people like Bruce Macmillan, Alan Jordan and Ron from BookBuzz, and I love to read Seth Godin and Bernadette Jiwa for their insights on business and marketing in particular.

Q: What have been the mistakes in your career and what did you learn from them?
When I knew something was wrong, I felt it but did not give enough credibility to my instincts. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, so concentrate on protecting your culture and values above all else and the rest will follow.

Q: What’s on your reading list?
Benjamin Black, the pen name of the Irish author John Banville: The Silver Swan – a murder mystery with a wonderful main character called Quirke. Bernadette Jiwa: Difference – a wonderful book about reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing

Hey! I am first heading line feel free to change me

Q: What’s the first information you consume in the morning?
I use Feedly to curate content from a variety of on-line sources including business and meetings industry sites and sites like HBR, Monocle, Wallpaper etc. That’s where I go first thing in the morning. I also read MeetPie, MeetingsNet, Kongres Magazine.

Q: Tell us about your social media habits – who do you follow?
I’m active on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook and click thru to other on-line content from there usually. I’ve recently joined the editorial team at Event Manager Blog where I’ll be writing about venues besides posting weekly at http://padraicino.com/

Q: What have been the mistakes in your career and what did you learn from them?
I’ve made all the classic blunders from sending out an unprotected spreadsheet to a client with all our wholeprices displayed to pressing “reply to all” on email communications that everyone should definitely not have seen!

The biggest mistake, I think, was not following the classic advice to “Hire slowly, Fire quickly”. The people around your organisation are the life blood of your culture and values. If they’re the wrong people then your culture and values are compromised and you should never allow this to happen.

Q: What’s on your reading list?
I’m a graduate in English Literature but felt I was a fraud because I avoided George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I just spent the past 4 weeks reading it and now feel like I really earned my degree.

ABOUT SOOLNUA

Q: Tell us more about Soolnua services?
We offer strategy, marketing and training to destinations, venues and hotels with a specific focus on MICE.

Q: Where do you want to take Soolnua this year and in the years to come?
We want to stay small, so that we can retain a personal, direct involvement in our projects. That said, we find that clients are asking to outsource their social media to us. We can see this service growing.

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