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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Following a couple of decades bringing meetings, incentives and events to destinations, @SuperGreyBeard and I are now working with these destinations, helping them identify and communicate what makes them different. To do this successfully we have to try to become insiders, immersing ourselves in the destination, getting behind the scenes, talking to a wide cross section of locals while accepting, ultimately, that time will never permit us to get deeper than a cursory piercing of the surface. But that, too, is part of the benefit that we bring. As outsiders we bring detachment, perspective and context. Crucially we can see the destination as it will be seen by meeting professionals and then build a compelling narrative to convince #eventprofs to bring their business there.


It was particularly gratifying last week to find ourselves in Bratislava with 20 European meetings planners and to hear their largely positive reaction to the brand value proposition that we helped the Bratislava Convention Bureau and its MICE stakeholders to create. Following a wide consultative process early in 2016, Bratislava: Surprisingly Close | Exceptionally Smart was launched around 3 brand pillars – accessibility, innovation and execution. The Familiarisation Trip for the 20 buyers, organised around these themes, thankfully, drew widespread positive reaction for the participants.

Surprisingly Close

A unique advantage for Bratislava as an aspiring meetings and events destination is its proximity to 2 international airports – Vienna (40 mins)  and Bratislava (20 mins). Most of the Fam attendees flew into Vienna thanks to BCB’s partnership with Austrian Airlines and found themselves checking into one or other of the Starwood properties that hosted us less than an hour after arrival. The city’s own airport is a Ryanair hub. @Supergreybeard and I have flown the direct route from Dublin many times with seamless efficiency. What’s more, the flights are always full!

BratislavaOur guests also appreciated how close everything is in the city and beyond. For the arrival evening we visited and ate at a magnificent vineyard high on the hills overlooking the city. It seemed we were deep in the remote countryside such was the quality of the air and the sense of being far from the madding crowd. Yet after a rather stunning dinner with magnificent wine pairings (courtesy of Sharkam Catering) we were back in the rarefied environs of the Grand Hotel River Park or the Sheraton in less than 20 minutes. Surprisingly close, indeed!

On the main day of the Fam trip – it was a Friday – we managed to visit Europe’s largest car manufacturing plant, walk all around the Old Town and raft on a world class white-water facility on the Danube and still have time to shower before our evening activity. In an age of hyper-congested, snarled-up cities, I can’t think of any other European capital with such easy access to so many unique and unusual attractions with no traffic delays. If the unpredictability of traffic is a Top 5 challenge for #eventprofs then considering Bratislava for your next gig might just be the solution!

Exceptionally Smart

BratislavaThe term “Smart City” is already a cliche even though, in real terms, there aren’t too many real metropolises with seamless internet of things integration. We debated at length whether “smart” was the right word to describe another of Bratislava’s differentiating factors, one that combined exceptional execution and genius-level innovation. In Bratislava we found a unique legacy in precision engineering, its apotheosis being the astonishing, gargantuan Volkswagen facility. We also found an uncompromising focus on creativity and innovation as expressed by start-ups hubs like The Spot, eventtech companies like and recent ICT successes like ESET (valued at over 1bn and ranked amongst the Top 5 antivirus softwares in the world) and Pixel Federation (which makes games for Facebook).

Bratislava Convention Bureau arranged for us to view the production line at the VW facility up-close-and-personal and it was a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The facility gives direct employment to 10,000 workers and another 4,000 indirectly. It also boasts the most cutting-edge robotics technology in the world. Everything is organised to “just-in-time” principles and you have to watch yourself as you walk the factory floor as small. silent driver-less trains routinely make JIT deliveries to the assembly line.  If they don’t knock you down then it might be a bicycle or tricycle, the preferred surface transport mode for non assembly line workers! This facility produces 5 different cars including the new compact e-Up, Volkswagen’s electric car which BCB arranged for us to drive back to the city centre.

BratislavaThe super-smart Mayor of Bratislava, JUDr. Ivo Nesrovnal, then addressed us in impeccable English and displayed an unusually sharp understanding of how beneficial MICE is for a city. The team at Enjoy Slovakia, one of 3 local DMCs who participated on the fam trip, then took us around the historic city using iPads before we had a truly inspirational lunch at The Spot, Bratislava’s first and still thriving start-up hub. Matej Ftáčnik, director at The Spot, then address us on Bratislava as an innovation hub and introduced,  a Bratislava born and bred cloud-based platform that facilitates audience engagement for meetings and events.

Following all this smart stuff, it was then time for some luxury relaxation (a speed boat dash across the Danube) before a thrilling white water raft experience using the facility where the Gold medal winning Slovak Olympic team trains.

Variety is the spice of life

In one full day in Bratislava we  experienced as much, if not more than you’d experience in 3 days elsewhere. The ease of mobility in this most compact of cities helped enormously but so too did the broad range of activities available from high culture to soft adventure. Most of all this was a true engagement with an emerging destination, a city that’s breaking free from a recent past of farcical bureaucracy and taking its place as a leading city of the European Union, surprisingly close and exceptionally smart.

Pádraic Gilligan, along with Pat Delaney and Aoife McCrum, runs SoolNua a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training.




3 thoughts on “Bratislava – Surprisingly Close, Exceptionally Smart

  1. Well summarized Padraic. During the trip, the three DMCs: Tour4U, Emerge and Enjoy Slovakia in cooperation with the Bratislava Convention Bureau showed only some of the highlights of Bratislava and its surroundings, yet 88% of the 20 participants got convinced within 24 hours that Bratislava is a MICE destination. The next fam trip – will be the post-EIBTM Barcelona 2016 organized by Tour4U and Emerge under the umbrella of the Slovak Convention Bureau – with a focus on meetings planners. Looking forward!

    1. padraicino says:

      Frantisek – this is great news! Thanks to Tour4U for some great surprises during the Fam Trip particularly the wonderful trip by Vintage Bus through the Old Town and the truly inspirational trip on the Danube by speedboat. We were all so impressed to hear that tese special activities can also cater for large numbers of incentive qualifiers.

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