Ahead of Conventa 2022, Kongres Magazine chatted with the stars of the Meetings Star influencer selection. Pioneers and trailblazers, these influencers facilitate the meetings industry’s development. Irina Tomić, Director of Sales and Marketing at Blue Kotor Bay Premium Spa Resort, commented on the current happenings within the hotel industry and why she is optimistic for the upcoming years.

Last year’s selection of influencers by Kongres Magazine marked the eighth year of the distinguished project. The selected influencers are trailblazers in their respective fields and help co-create the regional meetings industry. Kongres Magazine’s selection is, in a way, an overview of who is who in the industry.

Q1: Live meetings are coming back. What is your take on the current situation, and what is your prediction for this year?

Live meetings are alive and have been kicking for the past year, especially if we consider special markets. In Blue Kotor Bay, we had a busy last autumn, and this year in spring, we were joking that it was crowded like during the peak of the season. So, comparing different parts of the world, or even Europe, we see very different activities. That was driven by the regional and national anti covid measures and the pro-activeness of hotels in their wish to push this business segment. As a hotel, we were driven by the fact that the hotel is open all year round and that we are not another seasonal hotel, so we had to reinvent this segment. We followed all the rules, but we noticed that the average number of attendees was always around 30. Even this late spring, we were adapting the rooms according to the covid measures, so we can say that people were still under the covid pressure. My personal thoughts are that it will be a busy end of the year, but also I believe that activities will be coming from the regional corporate market. International companies, though, are already planning 23 seasons. You can feel the difference in their corporate behaviour while organising an event. These numbers are significantly higher than 30 attendees.

Q2: How do you see the future of digital, hybrid and metaverse events?

We are experiencing tremendous meta development, but I have noticed that the leaders and pioneers in meta are always companies which are leaders in their industries. While we have successfully adopted digital and hybrid types of events, I am not sure meta will come soon to this region or this type of industry. However, I am sure there will be some advanced individual companies who will use it more and more. It is only a matter of when not if. Things are progressing rapidly, and from my point of view, experiencing meta just started. I am sure this will be added value to the entire industry; however, with such a quick digital development, we will come up with a tremendous gap between people’s knowledge, experience, and sense of understanding of everything. That is my concern.

Photo Credit: Blue Kotor Bay

“We are facing a generation raised purely in the digital world.”

Q3: We are living in uncertain times; in the past two years, we have learned how to cope with a crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus, and we have found ourselves amid a war recently. How do you face such crisis situations?

During the past three years, I have learned that the most important thing is to think and act quickly, be agile, adapt to the situation, showcase flexibility, and take risks. For the Montenegrin market and for Blue Kotor Bay, working under pressure has been a normal climate from day 1. We opened the hotel at the peak of the covid when the entire world was closed. We managed to fight against all odds. Coping with war, when we lost almost 40% of our market in two hours, was yet another day to go through. It was a rather stressful period, but I knew, in the end, things would turn out just fine. In periods like this, it is of utmost importance that you have all the necessary information, that you are well-sourced, and that you keep up with the world. I knew from the beginning where to target our strengths. Agility was again of utmost importance. It helped to have a vast partner network that I cherish for many years now. Trust and reliability were another deal breaker because many partners did not even have a chance to see the hotel live because of the covid.

Q4: What does the future bring for the meetings industry in the next decade? Which challenges should we address immediately?

Just like everything around us is progressing extremely fast and in front of our eyes, the same will happen with the meetings industry. The users, guests, and attendees are no longer people who were managers when “yahoo!” happened. We are not serving the average population any longer. We are facing the generation raised purely in the digital world, people who are so true to their mindsets about transformation and digitalisation; people who expect these things like they expect to eat. It will be normal to organise a meta event, maybe not everyone will understand it, but it will definitely be a wow effect for all.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that nothing will make up for a welcome cocktail in person when you have live music playing, when you are meeting people you haven’t seen for the past year, and you can hug them all and chit chat or tell them how good their haircut is, about your kids, dog, or car. From my point of view, the challenges lie in education, understanding things, being able to comprehend and finding a balance. Hotels, whose primary business is not only meetings, will have to further invest in equipment and people because there are many more everyday things to implement in order to keep up with digitalisation.

Q5: How do you keep up with the changes transforming the business world, particularly in event organising? What is your advice for our readers?

Personally, I love technology, privately and in business. I am always seeking something new to implement. Often, I am boring to others, but to me – I feel modern and contemporary. I have gotten through a transformation in terms of IT. A few years ago, I was reluctant to adapt to anything. I was a teenage girl, seeing on a daily basis how fast the world goes, so I felt threatened by this transformation because I did not understand it quite well. Now, I love it. Again, it is about balance. In the end, you are forced to learn new things if you want to grow. The advice would be to keep everything in balance and use these transformations for a better life and guest service.

Photo Credit: Blue Kotor Bay

“I would definitely state one virtue above all, and that is still communication and empathy. We do not want to lose that in the hospitality industry.”

Q6: Will corporate social responsibility continue to be discussed as a priority at events instead of topical issues, such as climate change or organising events sustainably?

I think this depends on the organisation itself and the topics of the events. There are many topics which can be covered by social responsibility – after all, climate change is one of them. Everything we are doing to influence the well-being of organisations is social responsibility.

Q7: Which trend inspires you the most, and where do you see immense potential for event organisers?

We are seeing growth in the leisure sector. People will work hard during their meetings, but also they will want to spend more quality time and give a certain amount of their time for their own well-being and group well-being. Maybe someone will choose to dive into the sea of Maldives through meta verse, while others will choose to go hiking or take some special massages or life improvement classes. These things are getting more and more incorporated into meetings.

Q8: What perils do new technologies adopted during the corona crisis hide?

Since we were busy working, our focus was on guests and keeping revenue in line during the corona crisis. We did not have a special focus on new technologies during that time only, as this is rather an ongoing process. In Blue Kotor Bay, we have done a lot considering UX, the approachability and visibility of our hotel online, the reservation process and room distribution. We have focused on the digitalisation of the accounting process and handling technical issues in the hotel on a daily basis. Numerous things are handled through different online systems, there are no more hard copies, and you can track each accounting job. When you do this, it is also important to educate people who are dealing with this on a daily basis. We have also implemented digitalised solution for reviews for guests. Our partner, Fast Review, made this very easy through their one-click system. Thus, on guests’ phones, different portals open immediately, and guests can instantly live review on Google, Tripadvisor, Holidaycheck, etc. Now we are planning on changing our locks in order to provide a system through which all rooms can be opened by mobile phones.

Q9: What should the meetings industry do to attract talented individuals among its ranks?

The meetings industry is attractive on its own like it is. You meet many people; you have many different things to handle and many virtues one needs in order to orchestrate a successful event. So, choosing among others, the best individual will be led by the level of experience, knowledge, how adapted that person is to the new era of digitalisation, and how well they are informed and trained. I would definitely state one virtue above all, and that is still communication and empathy. We do not want to lose that in the hospitality industry.

Q10: Have you noticed that work within the industry is not as desired among the younger generations? What could be the reason behind a significant shortage of staff?

From my point of view, this is not true. I am surrounded by many youngsters who sincerely show their willingness to learn, listen, adapt, and be a part of something bigger. I am enjoying every second that I spend with them, and I can tell that I feel much respect from their side, knowing that they have really experienced hotelier in front of them. What has finally changed is our approach towards employees, due to the shortage of workers. Finally, we are creating balance here as well. Companies need to provide valuable conditions to everybody, and the balance between personal and business must be respected, so I am happy that we have more laws, which define the minimum of companies’ duties towards employees, but also vice versa. We need to break down these ideas that being a waiter is easy or being in housekeeping is not worth it because the pure truth is that I could not do my job properly with all of them, and it is just a matter of showing them how important they are. Ongoing training, keeping up with trends, adapting to new technologies, and additional education – if we want to keep a stable environment, are just a few to focus on from the human resource side.

Q11: What is your recommendation for young colleagues starting their professional path?

I would rather have a recommendation for older colleagues than new ones. It is crucial that youngsters have mentors who will be somewhat even protective of them. Fair, of course, above all. I know how hard it can be to work in collectives, where there are many different characters, and people are not always as they are showcasing them. They need to feel secure within the company and on their job. I do not want youngsters to be afraid, even if it seems like that on their first day. So I am trying to loosen them up and to show by example. It is important they get all information to be able to do their job properly and to be introduced to standards and guidelines. They should take from each job as much as possible, be open to different experiences, travel as much as possible, learn about new cultures and the way business is done, and should feel real love for what they do. It is really true that love for your job makes things easier.

Find out more about one of Montenegro’s finest hotels, Blue Kotor Bay Premium Spa Resort, here.

Conventa Week 2022

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