by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
It was a long way to go for a couple of days but the trip to the truly motivational Resort at Squaw Creek was worth it for many reasons. The opportunity to spend two days in creative brainstorming with some of the best minds in the DMC industry was reason alone to be deeply satisfied. Add to that the delights of discovery: we’d never been to the greater Reno / Lake Tahoe region before and, despite the brevity of the visit, still managed to taste a truly inspiring destination. Finally the 24 hours it took @SuperGreyBeard and I to get to Reno was quality time together, a chance to reflect on our second full year as SoolNua and plan for 2016 and beyond.
Passion and the DMC
The DMC industry has been under-going rapid and dramatic evolution ever since the phrase “destination management company” was coined somewhere between California and Sweden way back in the 1980s (check out previous posts on this interesting and controversial topic). However, despite the changes, one thing hasn’t altered and that’s the passion that characterises DMC professionals all over the world: passion for the destination, passion for service and creativity, passion for client relationships, passion for face-to-face meetings and events.
There was passion in great abundance – as well as lots of serious fun – when @SuperGreyBeard and I facilitated at the board meeting of The DMC Network, a consortium of owner-managed, legacy DMCs . We were struck by the high level strategic thinking that typified the dialogue, discussion and debate and by our collective realisation that DMCs, ultimately, are selling peace of mind, not logistics, when it comes to defining their brand value proposition. This was beautifully illustrated by Cynthia Alford’s (Destination South) wonderful story of the Olympics in Atlanta. Her client declined her assistance with transport to an early AM meeting at one of the stadia only to call her in a blind panic just an hour later, stuck in the midst of a barely moving, infinite line of vehicles. Cynthia promptly organised a police escort and her client made the meeting on time.
The route from Reno airport to the Resort at Squaw Creek is a steady upward climb, a classic “long, slow drag” for those of us who road-bike. It’s a drive that takes you from the arid high desert of Reno city to the lush valleys of the Sierra Nevada which cradle Olympic Valley and the immensely beautiful, Lake Tahoe. Like Park City and many of the Colorado resorts, the entire area is outstandingly beautiful with huge appeal, particularly for incentives, both in ski season and throughout the summer months when hiking and biking are de rigueur. We were spectacularly looked after by Lisa and Rhea who run Destination Tahoe Meetings & Events and greatly regretted not arranging to stay longer.
2015: a MICE year
Reflecting with @SuperGreyBeard on our second year in start-up mode brought us back repeatedly to a single thought: gratitude. Gratitude for the chance to remain in an industry that has given so much to us, personally and professionally; gratitude for the relationships that we’ve built and continue to build in this sometimes crazy marketplace; gratitude for the clients who have hired us and found value in what we’ve brought to them; gratitude for the privilege to work in beautiful places – like Lake Tahoe – with wonderful companies and to be constantly touched by great karma, passion and energy.
2015 was the year during which we managed to narrow down and define what market we are in, whom we serve and what we do: we now know that our clients are primarily destinations, hotels and venues but can also be trade shows, DMCs, PCOs, meetings industry associations etc; our fields of work are strategy, marketing and training; our market is tourism and hospitality but with a dedicated focus on the meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) sectors.
2015 for me personally was my final year on the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council (HPAC) of FICP and I’ll greatly miss the many board and HPAC colleagues who have become friends over the 10+ years since I first became involved with FICP (then called ICPA). However, I look forward to my role as a trustee on the SITE Foundation. In 2015 I was fortunate to participate at board meetings in Dubai and Playa del Carmen and am really excited by the scope of work being undertaken by the Foundation and the immense contribution that it’s making and will continue to make to incentive travel.
During 2015 I travelled many times across the Atlantic and enjoyed wonderful stays in Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington DC. If I were to pick a favourite city for 2015, however, it would be Santa Barbara where I attended an FICP board meeting at the dishy, delectable and delightful, Belmond El Encanto. 2015 also involved lots of shorter trips to European cities like Vienna, Milan, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Bratislava, Manchester, London but the stand out trip, undoubtedly, was a deep dive into Slovenia with @SuperGreyBeard in the company of the inimitable Miha Kovačič whose passion for Slovenia is as contagious as a bad ‘flu (but in a good way!).
In 2015 @SuperGreyBeard and I were honoured to speak at various conferences and events and developed an original plenary presentation on company culture which we delivered on 3 occasions in the US, the UK and Ireland. Based on lessons learned from growing a business from 2 to 60 people and working globally for MCI, the largest company in the events industry, we were humbled by the hugely positive reaction to our story. We will continue to refine this presentation and hope to present it again throughout 2016.
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney are Managing Partners at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training.