Q: Can you give us a brief introduction to the review of the position of Slovenia in the international meetings market and the role of a partner on the way to the first congress league. What or how your company can contribute to the full implementation of the Slovenian meetings industry?
In recent years Slovenian congress tourism has been experiencing a huge boom. Each year a series of high profile international events that shine a light on Slovenia are held In Ljubljana, Portorož and Bled. Hotels continually strive to upgrade their accommodation and congress offer and are raising the quality of services, specialized agencies are enriching their programs with innovative and unconventional elements and solutions, Slovenian Convention Bureau is carefully planning and implementing effective marketing and promotional activities … All this to put Slovenia side by side with established and recognized destinations that rule the international meetings map.
In 2012, Sava Tourism d. d. with the brand Sava Hotels & Resorts connected 6 destinations across Slovenia – from Prekmurje to Ptuj and all the way to the Alps. All destinations boast unique thermal water that was the basis for building new hotel complexes. The MICE sales department was centralized with the merge as well – we set up a system to provide top-notch services and tailor-made events regardless the destination the meeting planner chooses. In Bled, a destination with rich tradition and history of hosting a wide range of domestic and foreign events where Sava has 6 hotels in 3-5 *category, we further strengthened our market position by close cooperation with the local community, creation of integrated destination products and strategic partnerships. Internally we did it with enrichment of congress offer and by raising the quality of services. Destination originally known as “the postcard with a beautiful lake and its island,” is consequentially gaining in value and visibility. We are participating at trade shows, fairs and presentations. We are inviting representatives of foreign corporations or specialized agencies to study tours and strategically looking for associations and societies, which by their nature are consistent with Bled. On top of that, to raise visibility, we also offer a production of events.
All this in order for Bled to attract more business guests who generally spend three times more money than leisure guests. Last year we were intensively involved with the establishment of Bled Convention Bureau, which will open its doors in 2017. In this context, we have set ambitious marketing goals, which will result in an increased number of newly acquired events. On the other hand, we have been paid paying attention to the visibility on the domestic market at our Pannonian destinations (Radenci, Terme 3000, Moravske Toplice and Ptuj). Along with “team-building” and “incentive” agencies we created attractive programs that persuaded meeting planners to organize events also outside the renowned triangle Bled-Ljubljana-Portorož.
Q: What sets the Slovenian congress product apart from the competition?
Slovenia is still considered a new destination on the world congress map, which is at the same time our strength and weakness. An attractive location in the heart of Europe, an extremely rich and diverse offer in a small space, a good balance between quality and price and friendliness of the people are just some of the reasons why it attracts more and more international meeting planners.
Director of the Slovenian Convention Bureau, Mr. Miha Kovačič, in one of his interviews said that “Slovenia was born for congress tourism,” and I believe that’s true. We still have untapped development potential and all we need to stand side by side with the world renowned Congress destinations.
Q: What are the key challenges of the Slovenian meetings industry?
Targeted and intensive promotion is the key to get to the stage where an international meeting planner – either a specialized agency or client – thinks of Slovenia as one of the potential destinations to hold his next event at. Both in terms of the visibility of the place itself, as well as in terms of its positioning. Here we are talking about long distance race which requires a lot of perseverance, the right people in the right positions, and of course substantial financial contributions. Immediately the following though of the meeting planner is “how to get there” and here lies our next challenge associated with a network of flight connections.
Q: What do we still need to do to be able to hold A-production events? In your opnion what convinced Jaguar to have chosen Montenegro as a destination for their event?
Slovenia certainly boasts natural beauty without comparison. We are put alongside the world’s top destinations, social networks are flooded by photos of Bled, one of the most idyllic places in the world (by Forbes magazine). However, natural resources are not sufficient for the placement of destinations on the world congress map. A targeted promotion, good airline connections, the presence of internationally renowned hotel chains and other conceptual premises that contribute to building up the image of a destination are also critical. In the case of Montenegro as the host of Jaguar Car Launch, the Local tourist organization didn’t play an active role. Aman St. Štefan convinced them with the infrastructure, focus on the details and a mix of prestige and locality. With this collaboration, Jaguar and Aman multiplied the positive effects, the target audience intertwined and the result was a top story, which will be told for several years.
Q: In your opinion what is the next big thing in event planning?
Meeting planners are constantly looking for innovative ways to attract an audience to participate, while keeping the audience’s attention throughout the duration of the event. Traditional concepts with unprecedented control over participants and a lack of creativity, technological solutions and environmentally friendly practices are in decline. In the forefront are revolutionary events designed in a way to leave a lot of freedom to participants. New age events are inviting participants to interact with the speaker and share their highlights via social networks. Even the choice of venues follows this trend – unconventional setting is being chosen over classical setting, of course, where the profile of the event allows it. Regardless of trends, I doubt that virtual events will displace traditional formats. Personal contact with a handshake is still unique and irreplaceable.
Q: In your opinion what is the key competence that a meeting planners must possess?
On the first place I would say is knowing how to deal with different types of people. Meeting planners must be open, curious and communicative, but also a good listener with a great deal of empathy and good negotiating skills. As the name implies, planning skills as the key to success, particularly because this work is still associated with a number of people involved in organization and strict limits – related to time and budget. Ideal meeting planner remains calm in spite of all the pressure. To exceed the limits of the expected and create unforgettable events one needs to be creative and full of enthusiasm.
Q: Which event left a mark on you in 2016?
Last year was in terms of congress tourism a record year for Sava hotel Bled. Congress tourism used to be characterized by considerable seasonal fluctuations, which is no longer a trend. We hosted high-profile events during the high summer season, as well as in the winter months. The event that stood out to me was the Kuwaiti wedding, which was held at the Grand Hotel Toplice in July. It attracted 400 foreign guests. Interior image of the hotel was for this purpose completely changed – rooms were decorated in modern style with white couches and designer tables, hallways were covered with white flowers and candles. The celebration lasted for 3 days. You can only imagine the scale of the event when I say that a ten-member team was handling only the hair and makeup of the bride and her invited guests. Bled has been chosen as the wedding destination by the bride Farah, who has several times during her childhood visited the town with her grandmother. All invited guests were enchanted by the beauties of Bled – by the unspoiled nature, fresh air and friendly people. Employees at the Grand Hotel Toplice were preparing for this event all year. In any case, it was a big challenge that took a lot of time, organization, pretreatment, planning, as well as experienced staff, which has quickly adapted to different cultural traditions.