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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE

Detroit – the original Motor City

Car manufacturing made Detroit, Michigan into the  “Motor City” and that, in turn, thanks to Berry Gordy Jn., became “Motown”, maybe the most uplifting, life affirming pop music ever to grace the charts and our hearts. Cities, towns, places get known for certain things and that’s what creates reputation. But like the eternal nature v nurture debate it’s unclear what comes first. Does brand follow reputation or is it the other way around? Destination Marketers – and SoolNua stands with these Dark Arts Alchemists – say reputation follows brand. We believe that the way you consciously position your country, city, town or place largely informs what others will think of you.

Bratislava – surprisingly close, exceptionally smart

We’re privileged to be part of a team in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic, that’s moulding the city’s brand and reputation for the Business Events market. Working with an extremely wide group of stakeholders including government representatives, members of the municipality, the rector of a university, cultural scions, thought leaders in business, “creatives” and, yes, some uber-cool Eastern European hipsters with goatees, we’ve developed brand pillars and a tagline that nails the essence of Bratislava.


Accessibility, innovation and execution are our 3 primary pillars reflecting the city’s supreme ease of access via two international airports, her burgeoning start-up / IT landscape and a legacy in manufacturing and execution that’s in the city’s DNA. We express that in a pithy but deeply resonant tagline – “Surprisingly close, exceptionally smart” – highlighting how Bratislava is both surprising and exceptional, easy to get to and get around and, also, one of the smartest minds in the class.


We’re now taking that preliminary work to the next stage and, with the wonderful Gorazd Čad and team at Toleranca Marketing on board, Bratislava Convention Bureau has recently announced Bratislava Motor City to the MICE market, an integrated campaign of on and off line initiatives and content designed to differentiate the city from her competitive set. These past 3 days saw the launch of the inaugural educational trip with the participation of corporate and agency buyers from Russia, Germany, Netherlands and Great Britain, all with focus on automotive.

Bratislava – Motor City?

So what is Bratislava Motor City? In broad terms it’s a simple filter or prism highlighting the uniqueness of the destination as an automotive hub  with particular focus on the massive VW facility that employs a staggering 33,000 souls, directly and indirectly, turning out 2000 vehicles per day and accounting for over 10% of the GDP of the entire Slovak nation. And VW is not the only auto manufacturer to identify Bratislava and environs as a leader in execution – Peugeot, Kia and Jaguar / Land Rover have also established facilities there making Slovakia the undisputed hub of Europe.

Bratislava – 4 key inclusions

Besides a great hotel (Grand Hotel River Park – a Luxury Collection Property) and some truly memorable restaurants (Albrecht Restaurant and the UFO), Our Motor City educational hinged around 4 key inclusions: the Slovakia Ring (Europe’s second longest motor sports complex), X-Bionic Sphere (the recently opened “universe of sports, leisure & recreation”), Danubiana (privately owned contemporary art museum and venue on the Danube) and the VW facility.


Designed by experienced Austrian architect, Hans Roth, Slovakia Ring offers an opportunity for hands-on driving experiences on a truly professional circuit with all the bells and whistles. You can privatise the entire complex for a massive corporate team building activity, rent race cars, trucks or bikes, have lessons from the pros or, as we did, do the Safe Driving Academy and learn how to correct a skid or a spin on a wet road. Whatever you decide to do, this is the real deal, right down to the fuel and rubber smells.

About 20 minutes from Slovakia Ring you’ll find X-Bionic Sphere, an astonishing development of over one million square metres combining elements of a professional camp for Olympians, a magnificently equipped convention centre, a luxury resort with top quality food and beverage.


Owned  by native Slovak Mario Hoffman, x-Bionic Sphere started life in 2014 when his world class equestrian facility opened, a direct  expression of Hoffman’s passion for endurance riding . Since then the facility has morphed into a multi-disciplinary venue combining sports, learning, leisure and recreation. From a hospitality perspective it’s a design-led project with over 300 multi-configurable guest units. The rooftop guest suits would not be out of place at a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton resort.


A short speed boat ride on the Danube brought us seamlessly (if a little wet!) to another stunning Slovak venue, Danubiana. Founded by Gerard Meulensteen of Eindhoven, a Dutch collector and art patron, and Vincent Polakovič, a Slovak gallerist ,this private art museum houses a permanent collect of often challenging and provocative contemporary fine art and sculpture arranged in a modern gallery space on a semi-island in the Danube. It has sure echos of the Guggenheim in Venice although its spaces are even more light filled and voluminous.

And from there we made our way by motor coach along the shores of the Danube to the breathtaking VW factory, located to the west of Bratislava. There we used the extensive on-site conference centre – the magnificently equipped 200 seater AutoForum – to contextualise our educational experience and hear from local analyst and auto industry guru, Martin Jesny.


The VW factory is, pure and simple, extraordinary. This city-within-a-city has its own hospital, a rigorously enforced speed limit of 40km/h (non-compliant employees have speed violations deducted at source from monthly compensation) and a futuristic, brave-new-world environment where men, women and robots of no fixed gender co-habit harmoniously. And we ended, as we started, with a hands-on driving experience this time experiencing the off-road capabilities of the mighty Toureg, one of the very cars manufactured and assembled at the Bratislava hub.

So that’s Bratislava Motor City. If you organise incentive travel experiences for automotive companies then be sure to reach out to Nina Erneker ([email protected]) at Bratislava Convention Bureau for any help and assistance you might require.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney & Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events / MICE  marketplace. 






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