damjana_domanovac

Interview with Damjana Domanovac, Fair director of International tourism fair PLACE2GO. In 2008, Damjana sold her entire wedding-focused enterprise to Croatia’s largest publishing house, Adria Media. Damjana publishes the tourist magazine PLACE2GO which in addition to Croatia, produces a franchise edition, for distribution in Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Slovenia and Serbia. Since 2012, she has organized the largest tourism fair in Croatia PLACE2GO, hosted annually in March in Zagreb.

“There has been a major reshuffle in the event industry”

Q: Is there anything that can still surprise you in the current situation? How have you reacted to the situation from a business and personal perspective?

Although I always believe that nothing can surprise me anymore, after 25 years of my independent business path, I always see the opposite happening. It is the same with the new situation caused by COVID-19. After more than a year of adjusting to the “new normal” and hoping that the “old normal” will return, I am surprised by the large percentage of people who are slowing down the process. Now that we are nearing the end of this agony, and the vaccine is becoming available to everyone, many refuse to get vaccinated and prevent us from going back to normal life. Of course, this approach affects all of us who organise events, because we find ourselves in a situation where the process of returning to normal business is delayed without good reason. In such situations, it is sometimes difficult to make meaningful decisions. I am particularly struck by the double criteria that can be seen all around us: on the one hand, crowded trams, and on the other hand, limiting the number of people at business events to 25. There are numerous similar examples.

Q: What are the wishes of your clients – do they wish live events to return, or is the scale in favour of digital events?

Our audience is eager to meet in person. I can say this with absolute certainty. There have been several virtual events lately, and some were more successful than others, but now it is obvious that the audience is a bit fed up with everything because there are too many such events daily. Have you ever heard that some great business deal in tourism happened without the two sides meeting and getting to know each other? It is this personal contact that instils greater confidence.

Q: We cannot overlook the question regarding the future of the industry. Is the future of the industry bright? Do you personally believe it will come back stronger after the crisis?

There has been a major reshuffle in the event industry. Unfortunately, some strong and successful companies did not survive because they had large debts during a time of high income. 2020 should have been the BEST for all of us. It should have brought the best deals, the highest turnover, the most exhibitors, the most visitors, all the best, until at one point, as I like to say, someone turned off the lights. At that time, those who learned to see better in the dark and were not drowning in debt quickly managed. Hence, today we have successful examples that have emerged from the crisis. Unfortunately, there was no salvation for some, for whom I am very sorry, considering that I am part of the industry myself. When we talk about predictions for the future, I believe that everything will go back to normal; however, it will take time. We now need to work harder to build trust in every area, both towards business partners and the general public, as we did when we started the project because many of these partners (companies) are unfortunately no longer there.

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“It is personal contact that instils great confidence.”

Q: Can you give us a good practice case of organising events during the corona crisis?

There have been such positive examples, and I was part of one of them myself. When all our events were cancelled, my colleague Ivana Kolar, the organiser of the conference Can Croatia 365, gathered 3 women – Lejla Krešić (HTI conference of health tourism), Ingrid Badurina Danielsson (gastro festival Taste the Mediterranean) and myself as the organiser of PLACE2GO international tourism fair – for one of the first virtual conferences called Smart Tourism. It was a wonderful experience at the time because after quarantining during the first lockdown, we finally got out – at least virtually. So far, my colleague Ivana Kolar has organised the conference three times, and we are always the ones who support her and participate in the event.

Q: What is the best-case scenario for events in the second half of 2021? How will you ensure that events will be executed safely?

I think it will be much easier to organise a safe event in the second half of the year. Furthermore, I believe events can already be organised. Yet, there is one problem: we as organisers can do our best to implement all measures and respect all epidemiological requirements, but what can represent a problem is the indiscipline of people. As we are a Mediterranean country, we bring with us a certain dose of more casual behaviour, which does not help us in such situations. We are preparing for the fair in October (October 8-10), and we hope that the situation will work out for us because this year, unfortunately, we have had to postpone the date twice already.

Q: How effective were measures put in place by the government in your country? From the viewpoint of an event organiser, what did you expect?

The government has generally withdrawn anti-corona measures that could also be named firefighting measures. Why? Because by saving working places, it was destroying employers. In other words, a company that cannot work cannot even pay its rents, phones, leases, and all other costs. It was also necessary to think about rescuing companies because the moment the government stops paying salaries to workers, the whole system could collapse. As for helping event organisers, help was unfortunately absent. Apart from the salaries for the workers, we did not receive any other form of help. We found ourselves in a situation that no one would have wished for. We had to cancel the fair 3 days before its start at the time when the pandemic was declared (March 2020) and at the time when our trucks with all materials and workers were already in preparation in Arena. Thus, we got into the situation that we advanced most of the costs (because the fair was already in the process of realization), and the sponsors did not pay us the funds because the fair was not held. A very unfavourable situation for any organiser.

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Q: How has the public opinion regarding events and event organisers changed during the corona crisis?

Unfortunately, the corona crisis also brought some new rules of conduct. You know what they say: do not go there, as there will be a lot of people… we used to look forward to meeting, and now they have taught us to shy away from it. To separate people, arrange them, count them… from the viewpoint of the event industry, we are not content about such measures. We entered this industry to connect people, to get to know them, because we are such by nature – social. Therefore, this situation is hard for us.

Q: It seems that the crisis is creating a gap between the creative and logistic part of the meetings industry. How do you see this situation?

You noticed that well. It is hard to be very creative with the small budgets now available, and with those same budgets, you cannot hire the best logistics. Also, if there are no events, there will be no companies dealing with logistics and vice versa. We are all dependent on each other, but now we are in a situation of deciding what to save on: creativity or logistics.

Q: During these times, what does your regional area represent to you? In this context, how does the slogan “think globally, act locally” apply?

As we organise our PLACE2GO fair in a small market such as Croatia, it has been difficult to act globally through all these years. We tried to bring as many foreign exhibitors as possible because we created a certain tourist product and brought new “tourists” to the city, but this slogan seemed to be the direction we were destined for. Simply because of the size of the market, we have to think that our neighbours are the best and most important partners, and all those who come from afar are dear guests. Because the neighbours are always there.

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Q: What do you see as your greatest achievement? What are you particularly proud of, and how would you describe your exit strategy in a few words?

Our greatest success in these times is that we are still here. The magazine is published regularly, we have not skipped a single issue, we have kept the editorial staff and associates, and we are waiting to be enabled to organise the fair. We are especially grateful to our partners for trusting us by giving us a part of their marketing budget. That should not be forgotten. In this period we went through, we gained some new knowledge. For example, I learned how to make websites during the lockdown. This makes me especially happy because I have never had time for it before. We have also launched a new 50plus digital project that addresses the middle generation audience and develops it as a platform to bring the community together through future events.

Q: One last question, which we ask all our colleagues – High Tech or High Touch?

In my case, it is High Touch, as I am still the middle generation, and I believe in a firm handshake and an eye-to-eye look with the interlocutor away from the screen.