Exclusive interview with Bohdana Szuhaj, Director of Sales and Marketing at AC by Marriott Hotel Bratislava Old Town on Bratislava as a meeting destination, how events can change and how they have managed to merge the digital and analogue world at her hotel.

“Slovakia, especially Bratislava, was heavily affected by the pandemic”

Q: What characterizes Bratislava as a meeting location, what advantages does it offer?

Bratislava is modern and at the same time an authentic destination. During past years, the trend of meeting industry was moving towards searching for new destinations and Bratislava is the one with great, still undiscovered for some markets MICE potential. Next to its accessibility (Bratislava international airport or Vienna international airport (only 40 min drive), the Slovak capital offers modern hotels with meeting facilities, creative outside meeting venues (for example it is possible to use the museum of wine as a venue or to privatize a real medieval castle near Bratislava). Imagine spending a few days surrounded by rich history dating back to Austria-Hungarian empire times and engaging with modern activities like racetrack ride on Slovakia ring or visiting the modern Volkswagen factory. Sounds unexpected for some of you, right?

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected the meetings industry in your country?

Slovakia, especially Bratislava, same as other destinations where MICE and corporate individual travel were the key revenue generators for hotels, was heavily affected by the pandemic. The meeting industry went down to the slowest pace in terms of live events, and online meetings were used mostly by the companies.

Q: How much damage has the epidemic caused for your company?

Our newly branded hotel, AC Hotel by Marriott Bratislava Old Town, is only planning to open in January 2021 despite the unfortunate turn of events during this year. We believe in better 2021 with the hope for successful vaccine implementations and that travel will start to pick up. I find the fact that a new hotel is opening in the city during this time as a positive sign, it is a challenging and fascinating project at the same time, and I am delighted to be part of it.

Photo Credit: Marriott International

Q: What has the epidemic taught us about the current state of the meetings industry?

As any crisis, it taught us to adjust and look for new possibilities. I was glad to see event planners and hotels to change their way of thinking, their strategies, restructure and react fast and create offers suitable for the situation. We can share best practices between hotels within the Marriott family, and I often admire my colleagues from all over the world for their creativity during this challenging time. This year we learned that the majority of events can be arranged virtually, although we get feedback from our clients that they cannot be compared to personal interactions and they can’t wait to hold live events again.

Q: What are some alternatives to live events? Are live events a thing of the past?

Even though online meetings may be more popular in the future, they are not able to replace the physical experience of live events completely. Looking at some of the world’s leading companies implementing VR offices, using latest technologies to recreate offices just like their real ones, arranging online after-work parties, we still can read about employees reporting to feel lonely and isolated. Virtual events are the solution for the time when travel is not possible. In my opinion, the most important question when choosing a destination for live events next year will be safety. Companies and individuals will study carefully about COVID safety standards implemented both from the organizer and the meeting facilities sides. Live events will be present in the future, just with a different focus than in the past.

Q: How would you assess virtual or hybrid meetings, what solutions are practicable?

Virtual or hybrid events are very useful for certain types of events, like B2B for example. When hosting a live event with participants arriving personally in combination with using a virtual environment to create a community before, during and after the event – that enables us to get more reach. The event organizer can sell live event tickets plus virtual tickets that will increase the audience as well as the revenue. From my perspective, this will happen more in future.

Photo Credit: Marriott International

“Companies can build more successful leadership during live events with their employees and partners”

Q: Do you think online events can replace the physical experience of live events?

Although I believe virtual or hybrid meetings will become part of the event industry in future, they are not able to replace many live events, like exhibitions, corporate parties, private events and celebrations, training, incentives, business conferences. Companies can build more successful leadership during live events and interactions with their employees and partners. When working in sales in hospitality for the past years I myself have experienced much greater clients’ involvement as well as return on investment during face-to-face meetings compared to online presentations.

Q: How have you managed to connect the digital and analogue world at your hotel?

Our AC Hotel by Marriott Bratislava Old Town offers state-of-the-art equipment and modern technologies for events. One of the AC by Marriott brand pillars is flexible and innovative solutions for meetings, therefore even for the times when virtual or hybrid meetings are more requested our inhouse built-in technologies, as well as portable solutions, offer the possibility for our guests to connect with their audience from different parts of our hotel. In the case of special requests, we can always fulfil the client’s requirement with help of external partners. Our hotel is fully prepared to arrange a meeting by implementing all the currently applicable COVID standards.

Q: What kind of conference would you like to host in your hotel if you could choose?

Our hotel is perfect for business events up to 320 participants, if not to count with restrictions connected to COVID. Thanks to its open vibrant social spaces, like the AC Lounge with Spanish inspired tapas and signature cocktails, or our modern conference floor, where our restaurant is located – the hotel offers the ideal environment for both private celebrations and business events. If I could choose, I would prefer to see both corporate meetings and private parties in our hotel.


Q: What will we be discussing over coffee at the same time next year?

2021 will be a transformational year when we’ll have to try new things and analyze which ones work the best for the industry. I believe next December we will be summarizing our best practices in the meeting industry and in tourism in general.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for events in these tough times?

Mostly in communication with colleagues and clients from the industry from all over the world, many of us became friends during the years of working in the same field. During these difficult times, I find people becoming even more supportive, we share practices, experiences, our visions, and challenges that we face nowadays.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life? 

My inspirations come from my closest people – my family and friends, from art as I like to create paintings and yoga & mediation that I try to do every day. Books also inspire me a lot, help to calm down my mind and transfer into other realities for some time.

This article was implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.