Q: After more than 34 years of service at the Vienna Tourist Board and 27 years of being the Director of the Vienna Convention Bureau, a department of the Vienna Tourist Board, you are retiring in February. There will be a huge gap in the regional meetings industry since for decades you have been a recognised and respected engine of it, not to mention that you were one of the main factors in positioning Vienna among top destinations for international conferences world-wide. What were your beginnings in the meetings industry? How did you start?
I started back in 1977 as a volunteer working at conferences. And in 1978 I started as an employee in a Viennese PCO Company, learning by doing the meeting industry, the way it was perceived and handled at that time.
Q: How would you compare the meetings industry of those days to today?
It is not comparable anymore. I started when Meetings were by the organisers as well as by the industry’s outsiders perceived as a thing of high-class tourists spending little time in meeting rooms. This has disappeared completely; today conferences are platforms for postgraduate education, networking, learning and personal face to face meetings in order to develop new partnerships in projects etc.
Q: In the last three decades, what have been the greatest challenges that you have faced in your work?
The most interesting challenge was and still is to be a mediator between professional staff in head offices of associations and the volunteer leadership – there is still a gap what could be achieved and how knowledge should be presented nowadays to make participation of people a real experience.
I saw so many young people motivated, interested, ready to start a bureau, but a few months later the politics changed, and these people disappeared from the industry.
Q: Which of your achievements make you proudest?
There are probably two I want to mention. The first one is the establishing of the Vienna Meeting Industry Report that includes on one hand statistics about all meetings (associations and corporate) taking place in Vienna, while on the other hand introduction from the beginning of the economical evaluation of this business.
The second one is the creation of AC Forum, a dedicated association of large associations in Europe. I felt that large associations needed a platform for exchange but also for learning and benchmarking, thus I founded the forum in 1999. The ACForum celebrates 20th birthday in 2019 (in Vienna, of course) and it is still growing.
Q: Do you regret anything? Or better, do you wish you would have done anything differently?
Not really, sometimes I wanted to be even more active in various forums where people further develop our industry, but our days only have 24 hours so sometimes you have to say no.
I am probably the proudest of establishing the Vienna Meeting Industry Report and of the AC Forum.
Q: Is there any story that you and your co-workers talk and laugh about by a glass of beer?
We are quite often celebrating business victories in our team, and irregularly, during the working hours, we feel that we need to chat and also have some fun – this is key in order to manage stress, client requests etc. And of course, a lot of funny stories happen among ourselves but also with clients, and that is always worth a smile or even laugh.
Q: What, do you think, are the trends that will shape the meetings industry of tomorrow?
It will further develop in the direction of staging knowledge in a different way, bringing in experiences from theater but also it will further focus on human psychology and behaviour – we are still at the beginning. And I strongly believe that meetings will look differently in 5-10 years from now.
Q: What would you recommend to young people (millenials and generation Z) that would like to succeed in the meetings industry?
Be open, build up a global network, do not be shy to contact »senior« people in the industry and definitely the most important is to work and to live your network. And never finish to learn, to be interested and to try understand the world of associations and corporations.
MILLENIALS AND THE Z-GENERATION: Be open, build up a global network, do not be shy to contact ‘senior’ people in the industry …
Q: Your legacy in the regional meetings industry is immeasurable. Will you still be in any way connected to the industry? Maybe as a hobby?
I will definitely be around in the meetings industry in different roles, but as long I am interested in what is going on and what is changing, I will be a part of it.
Q: What is the first thing you will do in your retirement?
I leave on January 31, on February 1st I have already another meeting and a farewell party in the evening and my diary for that week is already full of appointments.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add/share with us?
I think one of the big issues in our industry is still that Convention bureaus are seen as tourism departments and very often local politics play a game not understanding that our business is a real long-term business and the worst for clients is the ever-changing staff in bureaus, depending on the changes in local politics. Thus, you can never build up a real relationship with clients that would benefit the destination. I saw so many young people motivated, interested, ready to start a bureau, but a few months later the politics changed, and these people disappeared from the industry.
That’s something I do not understand, especially considering the investment that was put in these people.