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. Petra Stušek, CEO at Ljubljana Tourism, discussed the future of destinations in uncertain times and how interdisciplinary cooperation can merge technology and know-how.

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?

This spring has brought a visible rebound of in-person events in Ljubljana. These ranged from several international congresses that had been postponed from 2020 or 2021 and were held in a live format in 2022, attracting between 500 and 1,300 delegates, to regional and national association meetings and corporate events, which are generally smaller to medium-sized. This has created a visible surge in the number of meetings and is reflected in RFPs with a (very) short lead time. It is a combination of the strong desire to meet physically after two years marked by the pandemic with its many limitations and the uncertainty with regard to what is ahead of us – this autumn and next year. This does not only imply Covid-19, but also the impact of the war in Ukraine with its global geo-strategic and economic consequences, which are likely to affect both leisure and business travel, including meetings & events.

On a personal level, I was overjoyed by attending a number of in-person events and, in a way, amused watching the different levels of interaction between attendees, often peers, the dilemma being: physical distance, handshake, superficial hug, diva kiss or proper hug & cheek kiss? I was contented that the latter is still preferred after all personal and business relationships are among humans.

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

As much as I firmly believe in the strength of live events, I can’t imagine the future universal meetings & events landscape without the digital, hybrid and/or metaverse platforms. With their rise, planners and attendees are expecting a certain degree of digitalisation even at in-person events, incorporating such experiences into meetings that are meant to extend the audience, allow fuller immersion, and expand their reach in terms of access to content, networking and engagement time frame.

We might not be aware yet of the full potential that the Metaverse holds; however, shortly, it will likely be an asset for a number of industries addressing the B2C rather than the B2B segment. During the two Corona years, we’ve seen a fast advance in technology, plus new event styles and meeting space concepts as elements of an ongoing transformation. Shall I say that live events and virtual gatherings, each with its own advantages and benefits, can walk side by side, in meta even holding hands at times?

Photo Credit: Vid Rotar

“Contingency planning is a must nowadays. Therefore – no time for siesta, but always on the move!”

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?

There is no single answer to the challenges we are experiencing, and it’s challenging to be one step ahead of new circumstances or situations that can change our reality overnight. However, the pandemic period has resulted in increased adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness to emerging trends we have embraced. Furthermore, we’ve been active in even strengthening relations with industry associations and, through them, international peers’ networks as well as with clients in order to create more meaningful partnerships. Within our destination, we are striving to keep the team spirit alive, also by making an effort to understand, through ongoing communication, the immediate challenges our local providers are experiencing and trying to help them wherever possible.

At the same time, we are (optimistically) developing new projects aligned with our Tourism Development strategy till 2027 while having more than plan A or B up in our sleeve. Contingency planning is a must nowadays. Therefore – no time for siesta, but always on the move!

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

I presume the next decade, especially technology-wise, will be, in many ways, as fascinating as some periods we have left behind. Remember how many times the meetings industry was diagnosed as close to death? Firstly, with the Internet revolution (and meetings survived, even thrived), then the 2008 global economic crisis, which lasted several years and, most recently, with the Covid pandemic. Yet, we see the industry as such, and many people (passionately) working in it, are resilient.

Regarding the in-person format, my take is that there will be more regional, medium-sized events, which gives destinations such as Ljubljana – compact, walkable, sustainable, connected and safe, with a human touch on top – a higher value and stronger visibility than ever before. We strive to see the changes as opportunities that can be used to our best advantage. And that is a win-win situation for the visitor experience, too.

Burning issues: recruiting newly qualified staff in hospitality businesses as, not only in Slovenia, we are struggling to fill vacancies. Talent attraction (and retention) follows next, plus the urgent need to improve the weakened image of the sector, including the meetings industry. Finding a new value proposition to engage GEN Z as attendees or content creators of meetings, as to bridge a generational gap we are starting to notice.

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

Our antennas are up all the time and are turning in all directions. It is important to have a bigger (global) picture, reflecting more specifically on how major changes can impact (y)our own region or country. Yet still, we are constantly at risk of facing new disruptions, for instance, currently in air travel (lack of labour as multiple consequences of Covid, valid both for airports and airlines, rising fuel prices, restricted air routes due to the war in Ukraine, etc.).

In my role as the President of the Board at City Destinations Alliance (formerly known as European Cities Marketing), I have also established a strong connection with many colleagues from the DMMO sphere and industry associations, which is a top platform for knowledge & experience exchange. Last but not least, constantly communicate and listen to clients to better understand their changing needs and be an even more valuable partner in their destination for them.

Photo Credit: Ljubljana Tourism/Blaž Pogačnik

“We definitely have to polish up the image of the meetings industry – you can still find your dream job here!”

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?

In my view, these aspects are interconnected and should not be regarded as separate priorities or topical issues. None of them can provide an instant solution or tangible result. From the destination perspective, we see them as long-term commitments that are also related to helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Continued awareness-raising, education and consistent action based on strategy are the basis – at an individual and collective level – to move things forward.

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

I am confident that the meetings industry can be a catalyst and driver to the regeneration of cities in the post-Covid times. Sustainability is another key factor; even more, it is becoming a basic standard. Regeneration is the new black, i.e. green. I feel lucky and privileged to live in and work for a city that has placed sustainable; yet, smart development at the core of its medium-term vision, which has already resulted in a number of international awards and recognitions.

I also see future potential in events merging different experiences together with a change of the space format – incorporating more outdoor surfaces. Newly generated events involving creative industries could also be on the rise.

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

With the many benefits that helped us survive, also business-wise, during the pandemic, we talked of “skin-hunger” (one of my favourite new corona-related terms, meaning the lack of human touch); deeper social alienation (even pre-corona, I guess you saw kids and adults sitting together, each of them watching their mobile phone screens), which is enhanced to a certain extent by remote work; blurred lines between job schedules and private time (all those Zoom meetings across different time zones), as well as the so-called Zoom fatigue. The list could be even longer…

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

Companies, as well as DMMOs, should strengthen their cooperation with the academic sector, considering a broader range of faculties is going beyond the hospitality sector alone.

We operate in a multidisciplinary environment, anticipating that the future of meetings and events organisation will require teams with a stronger bond between technology, marketing and human resources. Internships and seasonal student work can be a first touch point. Above all, it is in the interest of employers to create a highly stimulating work environment that will be perceived and recognised as such in order to attract young talented professionals. And we definitely have to polish up the image of the meetings industry – you can still find your dream job here!

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?

The image of jobs in the hospitality businesses, including the meetings industry, is not perceived as glamorous anymore. Once, it represented a door to step onto the international sphere, develop cross-cultural skills, and travel. Today, young people live in a much more global world thanks to modern technology, also applying to their work environment and the possibility to develop cool business and career opportunities working remotely. Our sector generally stands for long schedules at work, often including weekends, average (or lower) wages, and moderate opportunities for professional career advancement. Core values have visibly changed when looking for or considering a job, giving priority to work-life balance. However, once they step in deeper, they become hooked as the industry does have its many bright sides – and the possibility of changing the world for the better is very appealing to these young adults.

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

Be open to new knowledge, nurture your communication skills (not only in the digital world), keep some of your genuine childlike curiosity, don’t be afraid to speak out and put your ideas forward, be proactive, innovative and respectful; try to think outside the box from time to time; an optimistic outlook and a pinch of passion can also be of tremendous help. And do not forget to listen to yourself – your well-being should never be neglected because of career ambitions. Be patient, and don’t forget – each day when you don’t learn something new to make you a better professional or person is a wasted day!

Find out more about Ljubljana Tourism here

Conventa Week 2022

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