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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Busy Times

We’re heading into a really busy time for MICE professionals. Site’s annual conference in Rotherdam kicks off today leading straight into EIBTM in Barcelona on Tuesday next. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, over 600 members of the Financial and Insurance Conference Planners (FICP) are gathering at the Hilton Waikoloa Village for their much anticipated annual event.

We gather at industry events for a variety of reasons. While business opportunities and networking will always rank high, the most consistently ranked explanation for our attendance at industry events is learning and development. At industry events we’re given privileged access to education that can inform us, form us and, sometimes even transform us.

Things I learned at Site Canada

I experienced this personally two weeks ago during a wonderful day long conference organized by the Site Chapter of Canada at which I was both an attendee and a speaker. About 100 meetings and incentive professionals from all over Canada – and some from the US too – assembled at the excellent St James Cathedral Conference Centre for a deep dive into matters of concern to us as MICE professionals. Mindful of the need to look outside our industry for ideas and innovation, Site Canada also invited Canadian brand guru Ron Tite to talk to us about the Expression Economy.

Is Mike Dominguez the Coldplay of the Meetings Industry?

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 17.27.55The day started with MICE industry superstar Mike Dominguez who is the U2 or Coldplay of the Meetings Industry. Mike has as many meetings industry accolades as Coldplay or U2 have Grammys. He serves as Senior VP at MGM Resorts , as International Chair for MPI and on the Board of Directors of the hugely important Meetings Mean Business initiative. Mike presented his legendary and updated state of the nation address to the meetings industry from the perspective of the hotels and lodgings sector. The key, undeniable take-away is that guest room prices are rising exponentially and roles have switched 180 degrees. It’s now a sellers’ market again and will remain so for the next 3 years, at least.

Mike’s data is incontrovertible as far as the US is concerned. Little or no development happened in the hotel sector there during the frosty years of austerity and in the intervening years demand has sharply spiked due to better domestic economic conditions and a dramatic increase in in-coming visitors. The US is finally emerging from the lock-down position it assumed in the wake of 911 and the rising middle classes in Brazil, China and elsewhere now have the disposable income to visit.

It will be interesting to see how this prevailing scenario in North America plays out in the UK and, especially, in Europe. RevPar in major cities like London, Paris, Brussels, Zurich has certainly bounced back and rates are as high as ever in these cities. However second and third tier UK cities and even many first tier cities in Europe remain in the doldrums. Maybe now is their chance to target business from the corporate and association buyers who are being priced out of the US, London, and Paris?

Mike also shared some insights on how cultural and demographic changes are impacting hospitality and the meetings industry. Re-branding is not enough in this brave new world: it needs to be an all-out re-invention. That’s what toy company Lego has done. Rather than resist the move to digital, Lego has found a way of bridging the physical and digital worlds – now you build the physical  castle, upload your picture of it to the game platform and finally feature your castle in the digital game you play with an opponent 300 mile away!

Exceptional Execution, Memorable Moments, Strategic Alignment

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 17.28.40Patricia Kerr, after years with ManuLife Financial, is now AVP of Meeting & Event Planning at Nationwide Insurance. Another veritable giant of the Meetings Industry, Patricia skillfully distilled down a lifetime’s experience as an events and meetings buyer into three clear steps to success – exceptional execution, memorable moments and strategic alignment.

She stressed how planners take step one for granted: exceptional execution is not actaully exceptional, it’s the sine qua non expectation that planners have in all their dealings with accommodation providers, DMCs, venues and other destination suppliers. Memorable moments are  ultra-creative touches, the aha moments. They define the travel programme for an attendee or qualifier as a bona fide incentive experience offered by the sponsoring corporation as a direct result of his or her exceptional sales or other performance. Finally Kerr highlighted the absolute need for strategic alignment – everything that the planners does must be hard-wired back into corporate goals and objectives as otherwise the travel experience is meaningless. Kerr’s input was tremendously valuable coming, as it did, from such an experienced buyer in the MICE industry.

The Expression Economy

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 17.29.02Ron Tite (of the eponymous Tite Group) had endless energy, a bit like the Duracel bunny. He ranged and roamed around the room and effortlessly emitted story after story of how  the “expression economy” (his term) is turning marketing communications upside down. Due to the digital revolution we now live in a world where the passive consumption of other people’s content is as dead as the fax machine. Now we create and consume our own content and have become masters of our own expression. This poses a big challenge for corporations and brands whose messages now compete for airtime with our own highly customised content.

Ron brilliantly showcased how savvy brands are cutting through the clutter not by shouting louder but by focusing on values. Brands that demonstrate authenticity and genuineness are prevailing in this increasingly noisy marketplace. Hard sell is decidedly out, soft sell is in. Ron illustrated his point with reference to a brand that SoolNua greatly admires, Camper. He had the same experience in Berlin as Pat and I had a couple of years ago when we discovered Casa Camper, the shoe company’s entry in to the world of hospitality. The company’s core values – health, simplicity, design – were seamlessly carried into the hospitality space to create a hotel experience beyond the norm, disruptive and engaging, one that certainly cuts through the clutter. Ron also showcased how WestinGrand in Vancouver uses Social Media to listen attentively to guests and potential guests and generate extraordinary guest experiences, that surprise and delight.

Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua. He facilitated a panel discussion at the Site Canada Education Conference and was thrilled to interrogate Mike Dominguez, Patricia Kerr and current Site President Paul Miller. His interactive session on Ethics generated much buzz in the room.

Pádraic would like to thank current Site Canada President Jennifer Glynn of Meeting Encore and Board Member Susan Bernad of ALHI for inviting him to be part of an amazing event.

DISCUSS...

2 thoughts on “What I learned at the Site Conference in Toronto

  1. Jeff Volmrich says:

    Another insightful beauty of an article Padraic!
    Well done and thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks, as always, Jeff. Hope all is well with all of you guys

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