[pullquote]People love to cultivate their curiosity and bring home stories about their experience, and Iceland certainly has a lot of places that can take your breath away.[/pullquote]EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THORSTEINN ÖRN GUDMUNDSSON
MANAGING DIRECTOR, REYKJAVIK CONVENTION BUREAU
Q: How has the Reykjavik meetings industry evolved over the past years and how do you think it will continue to develop?
In 2014, 80,000 MICE guests, together with their entourages, visited Iceland. This is 13.9% more than in the preceding year. This represents 8.3% of the total number of travellers passing through Keflavík International Airport. According to surveys and the estimates of Meet in Reykjavík, just less than 39,000 conference guests, together with their entourages, visited Iceland in 2014. There were just more than 19,000 incentives visitors and around 22,000 event and exhibition guests during that same year.
Compared to 2011 there has been a 38% increase in conferences and 159% increase in incentive groups among our associated partners. These statistics indicate a steady annual growth.
Q: What are Reykjavik’s unique strengths and are you promoting any niche MICE offerings?
Our competitive advantage is firstly the strategic location midway between the U.S., Canada and Europe, secondly the rugged and unique nature in the close vicinity of the city, and thirdly the fact that Iceland is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. People love to cultivate their curiosity and bring home stories about their experience, and Iceland certainly has a lot of places that can take your breath away. History has also shown that Iceland usually attracts more conference delegates than previous conference destinations, indicating strong power of interest towards this strategically located island midway between North America and Europe.
The power of Iceland lies in the energetic source of nature, culture and local mindset. All these elements serve as the perfect backdrop for a memorable and effective event. Visitors claim it is the country´s energy, diversity and authenticity that gives the island an otherworldliness and spiritual inspiration.
The capital city Reykjavik is nestled by stunning nature and planners can choose from various meeting facilities that offer revitalizing views. Just outside the city limits are natural wonders waiting to be explored.
Meet in Reykjavík has prepared short presentations titled GET ENERGIZED. These presentations are offered to planners of large international conferences in Iceland. The purpose is to mirror the Icelandic energy through culture and local mindset. The goal is to raise energy levels among conference guests and create stories for them to talk about.
Q: Within Iceland’s MICE sector, which niche are you finding to be most popular and why?
Although we are looking at a huge increase in international conferences it seems that incentives are the winners. It is likely that the nature and adventure are the pulling powers, as well as short distances to unique sites and natural wonders from the city. Unfortunately we don´t have as precise statistics over the growth in international events. Iceland is steadily gaining a reputation on the foodie scene and more MICE guests are looking for cultural experiences to feel the local taste and atmosphere.
The founding and buildup of Meet in Reykjavik as a public-private partnership in 2012 plays a large role in strategic destination marketing with a very clear focus on the MICE market. We use multiplatform marketing emphasizing personal contacts and service. The strength of the public-private partnership model is very valuable, as it drives long term funding stability from the official side, strategic drive and vision from the bigger companies and immediate business demand from the smaller partners. This combined dynamic with more agile operation and decision making profile creates a very strong long-term model to maximize value creation within this highly important market.
Q: In terms of infrastructure what are Reykjavik’s strengths and what do you feel needs further development?
The city itself feels like a cosmopolitan capital with its modern infrastructure and vibrant art scene but has, at the same time, the sense of a relaxed harbour city. Iceland is said to have a bit of quirkiness mixed with authenticity, an experience welcomed by many MICE guests. Reykjavík is also a very secure and peaceful city and everything you need is within reach.
There has been an increasing demand for luxury and lifestyle hotels. The hospitality industry has responded quite dramatically and there are several luxury and lifestyle hotels to be opened in the next years. There are also many 4 star hotels to be opened this year and in the coming years to accommodate the steep annual increase in general tourism. Forecasts assume that the volume of tourists in general will increase by 29% in 2016.
Q: Which markets and countries are you primarily targeting with your marketing?
The main focus is on cities and countries with direct flights to Iceland, such as North America, Scandinavia, the UK, Germany and the Benelux countries. More distant markets are being studied.
Q: Where is the greatest competition and how do you address this?
The greatest competition is to work with the misconception foreigners have of Iceland. Many people think Iceland is very cold and hard to access and have no clue of how advanced the MICE infrastructure is. Our task is to inform and educate MICE planners.
Iceland is located midway between North America and ideally located to “MEET IN THE MIDDLE”, with only a 5 hour flight from the east coast of North America and about a 2-3 hour flight from Europe. There are actually daily flights to 35 destinations in Europe and North America. During the summer this number rises to 65. As many as 25 airlines have scheduled flights to Iceland in 2016.
Regarding the weather our winter temperature is around 0° C and it is often warmer than in nearby countries. Regarding the infrastructure please refer to question about infrastructure
Q: What is the secret of a succesful MICE destination?
Every succesful MICE destination needs to offer good accessibility, service quality, a great selection of accommodation, unique venues, good food and security. What differentiates us is the authenticity, diversity and energy in nature, culture and local mindset. Not to forget how strategically well we are located connecting America and Europe, which is very convenient for international companies and associations.
Meet in Reykjavík also believes in collaboration and recognises the power of joining forces with all local relevant players and stakeholders that promote Iceland as a MICE destination.
Q: Do you have any advice for new convention bureaus emerging in Eastern Europe?
As we are a relatively young professional organisation with a broad public as well as private backing, we are flexible and dynamic and in a position to shape our future by listening and reacting quickly to marketing trends and changes. Our three most important assets are:
- Human resource – clear vision, broad professional background, drive and aspiration
- Knowledge and community building within the MICE industry in Iceland
- Flexibility and short communication lines
Q: What advice would you give to your younger colleagues in Europe?
Always strive to strike a good balance between disciplined professionalism within the MICE market and a clear eye for your destination’s characteristics, culture and strengths. One without the other could end by being either too sterile and potentially boring or too loose and leisure-like.
Q: Your best incentive idea in Reykjavik?
Combination of teambuilding activities in Reykjavik, including great food and gala, and challenging nature activities, including snowmobiling on a glacier, ice caving and similar activities.
Q: On a personal note, what would be your ideal event to host in Iceland?
We were the runner up in bidding for the World Out Games 2017, so I guess winning that event at a later date would be an ideal event to host in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Q: To change the MICE world you need to…?
Love what you do, strict adherence to professional standards and endless drive and aspiration.