INTRO 1: How would you describe your destination if you could only use two to three words?
Diverse, hospitable and stimulating.
INTRO 2: Which destination do you believe is your biggest competition?
At first sight, the easiest answer is Lisbon, for geographical reasons and because it is the capital of Portugal. However, as Porto and North of Portugal is a region with so much diversity and offer, I believe that we naturally end up competing with other destinations in Europe and the world, such as those that also have UNESCO Heritage Sites, wine regions, rich gastronomy, award-winning architecture… And these are just a few examples.
INTRO 3: Which destination is an inspiring role model to you?
Many destinations are an inspiration for us, but I would start by mentioning Hague (Netherlands), for the way it has managed to segment its offer; Vienna (Austria), also for the way it has segmented its offer, especially in its communication and finally Prague (Czech Republic), for the way it has managed to take tourists out of the centre and let them get acquainted with other parts of the city.
Q1: How do you see the recognition among the top ten meeting destinations evaluated according to the Meeting Experience Index?
All these distinctions make us proud and bring a feeling of a duty fulfilled. Of course, this recognition from the Meeting Experience Index is no exception. We are very grateful because these things happen in the sequence of all the work done in recent years and in the bet we have made on the MICE segment.
Q2: What sets your destination apart from your competition, and what will ensure you have a competitive edge in the future?
All destinations have their strengths, but I believe Porto and North of Portugal are increasingly distinguished by their hospitality and authenticity. We are a region known for knowing how to welcome the people who visit us. This important factor, combined with the fact that we are part of a safe country with an excellent climate, unique venues, a qualified workforce and excellent services, sets us apart.
In addition, in recent years, we have made major investments in the area of content (no one is indifferent to our charismatic event planner Ofelia de Souza and that is why she has won so many international awards). We have worked hard to establish partnerships in the area of prospecting for international events. All these factors have made us grow, and proof of this is also our rise in the ICCA ranking. In 2019, we were in 39th place in the ranking of destinations with the best conditions to host events in the MICE segment and in 2022, we were in 14th place at a European level and 16th place worldwide.
Regarding the second question, I believe that our commitment to sustainability will guarantee us a competitive advantage in the future. We are increasingly committed to ensuring that our region becomes an example in this area. We have thus already taken some steps in that direction, such as the “Movement for Sustainability” we are working on. The project brings together our public and private partners so it can help them accelerate and densify sustainable transformation processes within their scales and capacities. In the short and medium term, the goal is to certify the region as a more sustainable destination, both environmentally, economically and socially.
Q3: We live in uncertain times; in the past two years, we have learned how to battle the crisis caused by the corona crisis and face the economic crisis caused by the war. How does your destination cope in such challenging times?
Turning difficulties into opportunities. This expression sums up perfectly what we decided to do at the time of the pandemic. We knew that tourists would return to Porto and North as soon as they can. So we took advantage of the fact that the world was “on pause” to focus our attention on a product that we knew had great potential: the MICE segment. For this, we invested in new content and developed a very strong campaign (once again, I’m talking about Ofelia de Souza) to promote the destination in this segment, which is now bringing us results, as I mentioned before.
Being such a difficult time for the tourism sector, we also wanted to do everything we could to ensure that we were helping the region’s businesses and professionals. We built more proximity with stakeholders and worked on new sources of funding, such as the “Norte Mais Forte”. At the same time, we had to adapt to the situation. As we didn’t want to be left behind in the sudden evolution of digitalisation, we invested in hybrid and virtual events.
Q4: How do you foresee the future of the meetings industry in the next decade? What topics must the industry address immediately?
As I mentioned before, I think sustainability will be very important in the next years of tourism, not only leisure tourism but also MICE tourism. I think that in the case of the meetings industry, the assumption that events will always have to be organised with a very clear purpose will become more and more prevalent. There will be great care in the use of resources and the impact that events will have on an environmental, economic and social level. As such, digitalisation will be another determining factor, not only in the planning of events but also in the participants’ own experience before, during and after them.
Q5: How does your destination stay up-to-date with the turbulent changes sweeping the meetings industry? What is your advice for our readers?
As an industry that is constantly evolving, we cannot afford to wait for things to fall into our laps. We try to make as many partnerships as we can – whether with municipalities, other public and private entities, national and international. We try to stimulate cooperation and bring everyone closer together. That is why, during the pandemic, we created a strategic council with the main stakeholders of the various areas of tourism. That is why we are currently also part of several relevant international networks, such as the ICCA, the City Destinations Alliance and MPI.
Considering the experience that the pandemic brought us, we also want to accelerate such a crucial process as digitalisation. That is why we are developing the first regional e-Marketplace, which will aggregate all the tourism offers of our region, allowing tourists to access all the products, choose, book and make the respective payment in an easy and simple way.
This will enable us to fairly present the destination’s diversity of products and services, compensating for the reduced online presence of smaller operators, as well as the inability of some to sell online. In addition, there is the possibility here to collect a wide range of important data from which we can make great use. As for the second question, my advice is to be connected. Invest in proximity and communication with others, get to know each other, make new contacts and new relationships and attend as many events as possible, whether they are fairs, symposiums or debates. All this will go in your favour in the short and medium term.
Q6: What should the meetings industry do to attract talented individuals? What is your advice for young talents starting their careers?
The meetings industry is made of people. It is an industry that aggregates various nations, cultures, beliefs, and genders. Therefore, it is fundamental that the industry works to attract, besides talented people, professionals who are open, inclusive, curious, and dynamic. If the industry can attract and keep these people, it has everything to grow by leaps and bounds.
As for the second question, I have a lot of advice: be curious, creative, dynamic, proactive, and charismatic. The first impression counts a lot, and, in this industry, it can open many doors. And, of course, don’t forget to work on your multitasking skills. You will most likely need them often (or most of the time).
Q7: Where are you positioning your marketing efforts this year and the next?
Our marketing strategy involves developing a new promotional campaign for the destination more focused on the Leisure segment; renewing the concept of the campaign “The Majestic Adventures of Ofelia de Souza”, which was a national and international success; investing in more content (video and photography) of certain territories in the region; investing in co-branding campaigns to support the operation of airlines flying to Porto (we believe that 2023 will break the record for the number of airlines flying to the region) and, as I have already mentioned, the launch of the Movement for Sustainability and the Marketplace.
Q8: Your partners are possibly the most demanding meeting planners. What is it like to work with them and meet their needs?
It is always a challenge, which involves a lot of work and dedication from our teams, but very worthwhile. It is very rewarding to see events taking place in our region, being so successful and seeing participants amazed by our region. This requires two key things: understanding the culture of the event and adapting and leveraging our local resources/stakeholders to achieve the best possible event.