The 10th anniversary of Kongres Magazine was an excellent opportunity to meet with people who have witnessed and helped create the congress story of the region. The open debate moderated by Gorazd Čad, Editor-in-Chief of Kongres magazine, was held in Grand Hotel Union on 1 March 2016 to celebrate the jubilee, exchange different opinions and indicate the right future path for the meetings industry of Slovenia.
The majority of invited speakers were women, who have played the biggest role in the regional meetings industry: Mojca Gobina (Bernardin Group), Karmen Novarlič (Slovenian Tourist Board), Breda Pečovnik (CD congress centre), Tatjana Radovič (Ljubljana Tourism / Convention Bureau), Mateja Sušnik (Kompas DMC), Nuša Šolar (Union Hotels) and Saša Zor (Sava Hotels & Resorts) all attended the roundtable. A special contribution was also made by Iztok Bricl (GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre), Miro Hribar (Intours DMC), Miha Kovačič (Slovenian Convention Bureau) and Ninoslav Vidović (Terme Maribor) with their experiences and observations.
The roundtable was split into three sections and began with a debate on whether the existing strategy enshrined in the manifesto written 5 years ago is still relevant and appropriate, given the market situation has changed so much. The energetic and enthusiastic professionals of the Ministry of Economy and Slovenian tourist organisation (STO) who wrote the manifesto have brought together the meetings industry and the intention to raise awareness of the meetings industry’s value was met.
Over the years a lot of the planned activities have already been carried out. Some were implemented differently than expected and others still remain on the “to do” list. Although it has been five years since the beginning of the economic crisis, many improvements have been made during this difficult period. The biggest focus was on the visibility of Slovenia as a meetings destination in SE Europe and beyond. An uplift in recognition has been sensed at workshops and trade shows abroad, where potential buyers have by now become aware of Slovenia. To change the perception on how to promote Slovenia and present it as a congress destination was an important step for all providers who have outgrown government actions on this issue.
Slowly but surely the recognition and influence of the Slovenian Convention Bureau continues to improve. Despite the economic crisis the bureau has managed to place congress activities in the strategic documents of the Slovenian Tourism Organisation. In the following years the appropriate systematic functioning of the Slovenian Convention Bureau should be the guide for further congress activities. The bureau needs such systematic functioning to the extent that it will enable the authority a consistent, multi-annual plan that, if necessary, will be adapted over time.
Air connection has been highlighted as a problem that needs to be improved in order for the Slovenian meetings industry to grow. Unfortunately individual meeting players have no influence in this area, but with the new ownership of Slovenian air carrier Adria Airways there is hope for new and more frequent flight connections.
According to participants the forecasts for the 2016 meetings industry are promising. This congress season is not going to be delivering surpluses like that of 2015, but it is still going to be a positive one.
During the round table it was at the forefront that in the last few years the academic sector is increasingly coming under the spotlight. A notable trend is the organisation of smaller events, which they try to satisfy with their own capacities. The year of 2016 will not only be marked by numerous smaller events, but also by their last minute organisation.
The debate was concluded with a discussion of ‘dream events to hold’. One of the most sought after types of events are car launches and events associated with the film industry. The long term focus should be on flagship events and association congresses. Flagship events present the opportunity to on one side raise the recognition of Slovenia and its meeting industry and on the other help to raise the quality of meetings services.
All in all the round table was a great opportunity to meet old friends, industry colleagues and future talents, to look back on how we helped shape the meeting industry during the last decade and to discuss and agree on what still needs to be done…and there is still a lot of work to be done.
Kongres magazine thanks all the round table guests and looks forward to creating meetings industry magic with them into the future!
Mojca Gobina comes from the Slovenian coast and she is constantly involved in the development and creation of the congress story in Portorož and Piran. Despite many restrictions she manages to maintain the excellent condition of the Bernardin convention centre, which will this year host a record number of events and 17 international congresses.
Dream event: We would like to host more major sporting events. They bring together the business and social part and have a major impact on the destination. This autumn we will host the Golden Age Gymnast Festival and we expect around 1,800 participants.
The Bernardin Hotels were always in the role of a trend setter, also when it comes to finding synergies in conjunction with the Slovenian Convention Bureau.
The manifesto was created at a critical moment when we wanted to raise awareness of the value of congress tourism, of our work and the multiple effects congress tourism has on the whole economy. At the same time we have raised the visibility of Slovenia.
We are not lacking knowledge, experience or professionalism when it comes to the meetings industry. The manifesto was created in 2011 on the basis of energy and individual enthusiasts that recognized Slovenia’s potential a long time ago. I would like to see the budget for the marketing activities be increased so that we would be able to reach our potential clients. With the experience of presentation of the destination we have had excellent results. The proof of that was also this year’s Conventa and SITE Incentive Summit.
Karmen Novarlič is known amongst congressmen as a long-standing member of the Council of the Slovenian Convention Bureau. As a head of department of tourism at the Public agency SPIRIT she has solved many problems with a positive approach and has helped develop a better understanding between the public and private sector in congress industry.
Dream event: In 2015, for the first time ever, we organised within the remit of the Bled Strategic Forum a meeting of European Ministers for Tourism and Chinese representatives — 16 + 1. I would like to see this kind of event be organized in the next two years at the level of Prime Ministers. I am also a fan of promotion through the film industry. Filming the next James Bond in Slovenia would be my dream event.
In the past, it was crucial to include business tourism among the eight key products of the Slovenian Tourism 2012 — 2016 strategy. We’re still at the point where there is no guarantee of a sustainable existence of the Slovenian Convention Bureau. The new strategy from 2017 onwards should therefore regulate and ensure stability of the bureau.
In the promotion of Slovenia, the focus has turned to digital content marketing, which means the preparation of new, different content, from text to video material, production and distribution through conventional channels and social networks, where we can best measure inputs in marketing and then address the appropriate audience with the right content.
Breda Pečovnik, as director of the congress and commercial programme, is responsible for the central Slovenian congress PCO agency. She is committed to high standards of quality, as evidenced by her long-term membership of international associations IAPCO and ICCA. She seeks to enforce high standards of operation and greater visibility of PCO agencies and their role in the congress field.
Dream event: For Ljubljana to obtain the IAPCO Annual General Meeting with 120 members from 41 countries that organises 8,000 events per year with approx. 3.9 million participants and 5.1 trillion EUR revenue.
We are facing the same challenges as in 2011, when the manifesto was created. In some areas, such as accessibility, we have stagnated, whilst elsewhere, for example in the supply of accommodation for conference guests, we have been improving for the past five years.
As PCOs we are confronted by “uncertified” agencies that introduce themselves to clients as competent event planners. The Slovenian Convention Bureau should continue to certify the meeting providers as was determined in the beginning.
At the state and municipal level they should know what the meetings industry is. I wish that congress tourism was equivalent to leisure tourism.
Tatjana Radovič is the face of Congress Ljubljana, which is recognized all over the world. She has been involved in the congress development of Slovenia from the very first beginnings. In 2006 she received the IMEX Academy Award for her committed work in the field of tourism and her sustained efforts in the development of congress and conference tourism in Ljubljana. She is the only Slovenian to ever receive the award for excellence in the meetings industry.
World international trends go in the direction of the growth of scientific conferences with 500 participants, according to the conferences with 1,000 or more participants. This is our core business. In the candidacy of associations one of the key elements is accessibility. The city of Ljubljana thus sometimes falls out in the first round.
Dream event: Dream events are flagship events like Association congresses that would bring to Ljubljana 200 representatives of scientific professional associations. Such an event would be considered a breakthrough.
Starting Kongres Magazine was a bold move that was accompanied by many doubts. If I today compare it to other professional media, I can say that Kongres magazine has a trending content and has made a real breakthrough among the professional media. The highlight of personalisation made a shift in our perception of how to present ourselves and our destination services. Somehow we have already internalised this model, which is also consistent with our boutique perception. I am proud that foreign professionals also praise this magazine.
A strategy on paper is necessary, but it needs to be flexible. It is necessary to adjust it every few years and re-define the priorities according to the available resources. I remember the Finns who years ago said that they had come up with a 5-year plan that they review and correct every year. The stability of the Slovenian Convention Bureau is what is most important. To convince associations you have to consistently build your presence. Being the best congress destination in the region is a very ambitious goal, especially if we look at the fast progress some other destinations are making.
Keeping statistics also remains a challenge. Often the data we have do not convince the decision makers of the importance of our industry. Destinations that have carefully designed statistics are those where data capture is ensured through monitoring official tourism statistics at national level or associated with established external institutions. From my experience I do not believe that without the support of an on-line application the required data could be captured.
As an important role for the future I see the ambassador programme linking key players from the science and meeting industry fields.
Mateja Sušnik, a geographer by soul and belief, built her career in Kompas, where she led various departments and fully met DMC activities. In the previous year she took over the management of incoming business and re-started PCO activities. She is known as a positive and goal-oriented person.
Dream event: A dream event would be an important car launch. Not necessarily Bentley, perhaps Volvo? Due to the increase of safety in Europe, Slovenia will have to be more interesting for meeting organisers.
Kongres magazine has helped me stay in the loop. I get all the information I need with the one newsletter the magazine sends.
It is now time to come up with new solutions. The economy has changed and so have the trends and the key audience. In Croatia they have made a smart move with subsidizing 20% of all investments made in filmmaking in Croatia. Every euro invested in it pays off well and has a multiplier effect and increases its visibility. Dubrovnik is becoming one of the world’s best-known great film set locations.
We, the DMCs, welcome new flight connections and we quickly include destinations with new flight connections into our programmes.
Nuša Šolar, the active creator of Union hotels’ new story, was “infected” with the meetings industry as a student at Cankarjev Dom. As an inveterate sportswoman, she swears on long distance runs, which certainly help her with her demanding work. We all appreciate her efforts to connect Slovenian, and in particular Ljubljana’s, meetings industry.
Dream event: I wish for events similar to the SITE Incentive Summit. Let’s try to get conferences that associations like MPI and ICCA organise. These are the events that will raise our visibility.
In three years, together with the Slovenian Convention Bureau, we have made real progress in the visibility of Slovenia, that is still a pretty unknown destination among meeting planners. We are cooperating closely with the bureau in all of the marketing activities. The fact is that we don’t have enough people to start preparing candidacies together as a destination.
Saša Zor, a hotelier in her soul, says the hotel industry is more than just a job, it is a lifestyle and passion. She is especially attracted by the luxury tourism segment, including the meetings industry. For several years she has been participating as an expert in the work of the Slovenian Convention Bureau. At her work she strives to create new marketing tools, being especially enthusiastic when it comes to sustainable congress tourism.
Dream event: A dream event is connected to a dream budget. I wish it would be an event held at Bled that would include a sustainable approach and that we could later on use as a good, proactive example of how luxury and sustainability go hand in hand.
A sales department is rated by the number of acquisitions, sales calls and attendance at trade shows, while a marketing department creates stories, is harder to measure for its results, is time consuming and costs a lot, but the synergies are created when sales and marketing work together. Today invisible meeting planners are present everywhere, are looking for hints even before the demand is created. Thus thoughtful and subtle provision of information and creating stories is critical.
An example of this is how Bled can be promoted as a green, sustainable destination among the meeting planners through a good story and activities – where in the destination we invited meeting planners to sow the seeds of herbs characteristic of the destination. We urge them to write a positive thought on the herb’s pot to encourage the plant to grow. Later on we send them a photo of the plant and remind them that it grew from the seed that they planted. We invite them to return to our destination and see it in person.
Iztok Bricl, a graduate economist, started his career in the food industry and was for many years chairman of the Žito board. With his arrival at the Gospodarsko razstavišče Ljubljana, it became Slovenia’s central event centre, which hosted diverse events of mostly fairs and congresses. Besides his regular work, he is dedicated to the development of the Slovenian meetings industry and its momentum and internationalisation.
Dream event: A large congress in the field of medicine or pharmacy.
Congress activity at GR began to develop in 2005, although we are basically a fairground. Nevertheless, the number of congresses held at GR is increasing each year. It also depends on the support of the city and the Mayor of Ljubljana.
We need large congresses with more than 1,000 participants. In the strategy we wrote that we need them 6 to 8 times a year. Lobbying with different professionals from international associations that can bring congresses to Slovenian is needed.
Miro Hribar is a director and founding father of Intours DMC agency, which in an extremely short period of time became the focal DMC agency in the Adriatic region. Miro is famous for his positive approach, experience and calm approach, as well as his complexity to partners and subcontractors. Intours has specialised in incentive programmes, whereby it can be considered as a true ambassador of Slovenia.
Dream event: A gala dinner from 500 people with a budget between 500,000 and 1 million EUR or the launch of a prestigious yacht or motorbike.
There is still a lot of work to be done, even though we have made a huge qualitative leap and learned a lot in the past few years. For incentive events the criteria are quite different, higher than for congresses, and we still have problems with accessibility as well as with infrastructure.
This year will be the most successful year for Intours DMC, mostly due to events in Croatia. We will also record growth In Slovenia compared to last year.
I would wish for Slovenia to be presented to the American market at IMEX in Las Vegas.
Miha Kovacic has over 20 years working experience in the travel industry. Tourism is part of his family, being already the fourth generation working in tourism. He started with Kompas Tour Operator but soon got infected by the meetings industry. He continued with Kompas, the Destination Management Company and Professional Conference Organiser, later joining Grand Hotel Union, the largest convention hotel in Ljubljana. His current position is CEO of the Slovenian Convention Bureau.
Dream event: One dream event has already happened – the SITE Incentive Summit meeting in Ljubljana. I believe that very soon we will be able to add new events to our wish list.
The manifesto was a bold document that connected the meetings industry with the Ministry of Economy and Slovenian Tourist Board. We managed to include the meetings industry in the strategic documents of the Slovenian Tourist Board.
The role of the Slovenian Convention Bureau is to increase the visibility of Slovenia and the success of its members by enabling them to meet potential new clients.
I can see we have reached a certain level of recognition in the past ten years. We no longer walk through the trade shows holding a map of Slovenia in our hands. We cannot catch up with Vienna, Prague or Budapest, as they are a league of their own and we are considered a “second league” destination. However, we can reach our goals with strong connectivity and by being proactive. We need to be open to discussions, define the challenges that we want to overcome today, in two years or in five years. I am certain we will gradually manage to overcome all challenges. We will reach a breakthrough if we are able to connect the destinations, enter the key markets as one and be present with activities for several consecutive years. In the last year we have made a giant step forward when it comes to social media and we believe our work will pay off in the next years.
Ninoslav Vidovć is a graduate art historian from Slavonski Brod, Croatia, but for almost his entire career he has been in leading positions of tourism enterprises in Rovinj and Poreč. Upon his arrival in Maribor he has fundamentally restructured the sales of Terme Maribor and helped the crisis management of last year’s ski season.
Dream event: I would like to see some kind of a ministerial meeting in Maribor where they would sign an agreement for Peace in Syria. Broadly speaking, for Maribor I would love to hold a world championship boxing match.