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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, Soolnua

That MICE thing again

Every time I use the term MICE to describe Business Events I feel there’s an angry torch-carrying mob about to lynch me and hang me from the highest tree. That the mob contains some of my best MICE friends like Vancouver’s amazing Claire Smith, only fills me with deeper dread. But use it I do because, for me, it’s still the most fully inclusive term, embracing all segments of the spectrum – meetings, incentive travel experiences, conferences, congresses, conventions, events and exhibitions. It’s so widely used – and understood – outside of the Anglophone world. And, let’s be honest, I’ve never been one to shirk a little controversy!

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Back in Bratislava for #MICEday

This week @Supergreybeard and I were back in Bratislava for #MICEday, a conference and series of workshops on how to position the city for “Congress Tourism”. The event was the final act of the first phase of our work with the city and brought a 12 month programme to a wonderful conclusion.

When we started our work in Bratislava it quickly became clear that castles, culture and compactness would not be the thematic pillars around which to weave the intriguing, engaging, compelling story of the city for MICE. Too many other cities tell that story and many of them have older castles, deeper culture and prettier compactness than Bratislava.

From the outset we realised that the Bratislava story for MICE needed to be crafted and told by a broader, more maverick bunch including academics, entrepreneurs, start-ups, engineers, creatives, thinkers and dreamers. We needed to shape the story around themes linked more with knowledge, creativity, innovation and ideas than places, landscapes, buildings and infrastructure. It would be more about the software than the hardware.

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Branding Cities

We met, chatted, drank coffee and sipped wine with a lot of wonderful people and used the learnings from these immensely stimulating conversations to set the agenda for a workshop during which the tagline and brand pillars for the Bratislava Convention Bureau were developed.

The tagline – surprisingly close | exceptionally smart – reflects both the present reality and our future aspirations for the city. The brand pillars – accessibility | innovation | execution re-inforce the tagline and highlight three unique benefits of the city for the MICE marketplace: its hyper connectivity via air, road and rail, its world class innovations in IT, medical and new technologies and its extraordinary traditions in execution and manufacturing.

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Bratislava #MICEday

At #MICEday we had around 100 attendees representing a very broad church from the public and private sectors – government ministries, authorities and agencies, universities and the academic world, researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups as well as the more usual suspects from the tourism and hospitality sectors, DMCs, PCOs, hoteliers, transport providers etc. The simple objective of the day was to link ideas and execution with the view of creating and launching 2 – 3 new conferences in the city. It’s really astonishing what happens with the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

@Supergreybeard and I helped Manuel Aschwanden, CEO of Optotune deliver a workshop on the potential to create a ground breaking conference in Bratislava on Photonics. According to Aschwanden, photonics is as pervasive in our lives today as electronics in previous decades, driving most innovations in technology.

Aschwanden is expanding his nascent firm into Slovakia because of the country’s “untapped talent pool”. As part of this expansion he wants to create a photonics conference that provides a platform for knowledge exchange in this field, capturing the extensive academic research taking place at the universities here and the work of several cluster groups.

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His proposal received an enthusiastic response from members of the academic community, representatives of SARIO, the Slovak FDI agency, representative of Bratislava City Council and, of course, the PCOs, hoteliers and other agencies in attendance. By 2018, “Photonics Bratislava” will be a reality and will target 500 attendees bringing almost €1m in revenues to the city while immeasurably enhancing the city’s reputation as a true knowledge hub.

Concurrently Matej Ftáčnik, co-founder of Vacuum Labs and co-working space The Spot and Martin Jesný, analyst, Slovak Automotive Institute launched similar initiatives for the IT and automotive sectors. Their proposals, too, were warmly welcomed and working groups will shortly be established to give flesh to these great projects.

Created and organised by the Bratislava Convention Bureau, the event was supported by the capital city of Bratislava and the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development. Significantly and crucially, the Mayor’s office was also behind the event, sending the Deputy Mayor to deliver an important address on Bratislava and its aspirations as a smart city.

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Time Flies

Almost 2 years ago, to the day, @Supergreybeard and I were invited by the visionary Martin Horvath, then Executive Director at the Bratislava Tourist Board, to speak at a MICE Conference in Bratislava about branding cities. He wanted us to speak about the city’s competitive advantage in the MICE field. In preparing our input we couldn’t find any competitive advantages, other than its undeniable accessibility. Yes, it had some great new global chain hotel infrastructure – the Sheraton and Grand Hotel River Park (Luxury Collection) properties along the Danube – but it didn’t have a convention centre and its perception / reputation factor was decidedly on the negative axes.

2 years later little has changed from a hardware perspective. There’s still no convention centre and the capital’s railway station – in some respects a symbol of how the city sees itself and how it’s seen by others – still needs more than a lick of paint. However, the city’s software is gradually changing, its constituent parts more connected  and thus more powerful than before. The smart people are definitely now talking to each other and hopefully the city will be given the necessary hydration in the form of resources and funding to continue to compete on this marathon.

Pat Delaney (aka @supergreybeard), Aoife McCrum (aka @aoifemccrum) and Padraic Gilligan (aka @padraicino) run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the important MICE market.

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6 thoughts on “Branding cities for Meetings and Events

  1. Very interesting article, enjoyed reading it! Too many destinations propose similar things as their USP – vibrant food scene, modern venues, shopping opportunities, easily accessible, sustainable, cultural diversity. Sometimes it’s good to have someone from the outside to look at the destination with a new and unbiased perspective and find out this USP the destination itself not always can easily identify.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Irina – interested to see you made it to WebSummit this year. Looks like it was a huge success in its new destination

  2. Michel Couturier says:

    Count me in as a member of the lynching mob against MICE. Horrible! You are a brand specialist! What is going on! The leaders of the industry claim to want a seat at the C table, and we call our selves “MICE specialists! No wonder the C executives are keeping us under the table. You are a leader in the industry, just lead the way by naming our industry: Business Events! So simple!

    1. padraicino says:

      Strong, fighting words Michel! All I’ll say for the moment is what Juliette famously said to Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliette “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

  3. Daniela Raureanu says:

    What a great story, Pádraic! I’d love using it for my MBA research and qoute you accordingly. Do you happen to have any indication on the impact of the initiative? Any guidance would help

    1. padraicino says:

      Hi Daniela – delighted to help in any way. You can reach me by e mail on [email protected]

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