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by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Roger Dow: From Life Guard to Life Saver

Roger Dow’s presentation to FICP on Tuesday AM was informative, inspiring and visionary and highlighted just how lucky the meetings and events industry is to have such a figure amongst its ranks. As President of USTA (United States Travel Association) Roger led the pan-industry campaign around the economic value of meetings and events which was initiated in the wake of the infamous AIG effect just over 4 years ago in September 2008. It was fascinating to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of how this bitter PR battle was eventually won, all the more so as the tale was told by one of its creators. A bit like having Winston Churchill appear in front of you to explain how he rallied the troops during WW2.

Roger also shared some inspiring insights gleaned during a 30 year + career with Marriott into the nature and purpose of service. A gifted story teller, Dow’s graceful wisdom was delivered with gentle humour and powerful humility supported visually by some great video clips (and, mercifully, no powerpoint!). Finally he sketched out some future scenarios for us around supply and demand in the lodging and the airline sectors, underlining, once again, the enormously important advocacy role played by organisations such as USTA. Worryingly he predicted a lack of available guest room and meeting space in hotels in the US within 2 years due to lack of infrastructural investment since 2008 and marked increase in leisure travel, particularly in tier one destinations.

Open Space Technology

We come to FICP for great education and this was provided abundantly by Roger Dow in his brilliant address. Following the plenary session, I returned, again, to Terri Breining for further lessons in meeting innovation and enjoyed a highly interactive, pedagogically satisfying 90 minutes on Open Space Technology. Unlike traditional meetings formats where content is delivered “top down” from experts with powerpoint presentations, Open Space turns the conventional methodology on its head and gives the focus to the participant. Thus participants decide on the meeting agenda and gather in clusters in de-constructed meeting rooms around topics of common interest, coming and going as their interest is piqued or not. Our hands-on experience of the format was thoroughly satisfying and, besides learning from each other, we forged new relationships.

Fairmont for Family style service

Isobel Mahon and team from Fairmont / Raffles / Swiss Hotel bought us lunch which, once again, was prepared and presented with great innovation and creativity. A full deli sandwich and salad menu was set out family style in the middle of the table and conversation flowed easily as we passed the platters between us. It was lovely to meet Lori and Maggie from Wells Fargo along with HPers from Hilton, Omni and Gastaldi DMC in Italy. This, in ways, is the essence of what FICP offers – a vibrant community of meetings industry professionals gathered family style around a table building relationships around mutual trust.

The Mentalist

I walked with Bonnie Boyd and Kim Bradford to the afternoon breakout session and discovered en route that none of us had a clue what our session would be about. After 30 unpromising seconds in the room we agreed to give to two more minutes and then we were out of there. Had we bailed as planned we would have missed a truly astonishing hour with Jon Stetson, variously described as mentalist, comedian and entertainer. It seems we owe our hour in Jon’s presence to former FICP president, Sharon Chapman, who has hired Jon on a number of occasions for her meetings and events. His slick one-liners and hilarious put-downs were only outdone by his amazing mind reading capabilities which included knowing the birth dates, names and favourite movies of people in the room. Apparently it all pivots on micro-observation, being able to see and interpret the normally undetectable “tells” that we subconsciously reveal to each other all the time.

Glitz at the Gala

There was a palpable frisson of excitement in the lobby bar from 5:30 onwards as we gathered suitably booted and suited for the Gala event at the legendary Beverly Hilton. In early evening traffic it was quite a hike across to Beverly Hills but the event that unfolded made the long transfer worthwhile. In the footsteps of so many stars, we walked the same red carpet and had prom shots taken before dining on the same sumptuous menu that was served at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards Show. Dinner entertainment was provided by The Tenors, from Canada, who ended a triumphant set with a stunning version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Then we descended on the dance floor and danced ‘til late to Grooveline who belted out flawless versions of  Kool and the Gang, Abba, Queen, Bon Jovi and that magic one-hit-wonder, Tommy Tutone.

A real Jewel

e8600f9355a39f9c8a7333e13c273f0bThe final keynote, which followed this AM’s Starwood sponsored breakfast, was the perfect ending. Arm-pit high and alone on a vast stage, singer-songwriter Jewel held our hearts in the palm of her hands for 90 minutes as she told the extraordinary story of her 38 years. Expecting an earnest and sincere performance from this most introspective of artists, we were blown away by her story narrated, amazingly, with hilarious self-deprecating humour and beautiful powers of observation. She came across as a genuinely nice person, who knows who she is and where she comes from, unaffected by the toxic side effects of fame and fortune.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, a destination services network with offices at over 100 locations worldwide. He has just be selected to join the FICP Hospitality Partners Advisory Council for a three year term until 2015.

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