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

A new Ireland product for a new audience, a single hotel contract for city wide conferences and a clarion call around sustained, consistent and wide reaching sustainability – just 3 highlights from this year’s Business Tourism conference that saw over 200 MICE professionals from the entire island of Ireland gather in Dromoland Castle for two days of debate, dialogue and discussion on the topic of “Future Proofing Ireland as a MICE destination”.


With help from Ireland’s national tourism authority, Fáilte Ireland, and the ongoing support of SITE’s very strong Ireland chapter, AIPCO’s annual gathering, aimed initially at its own members and partners, has grown into the single biggest gathering of MICE professionals on the island of Ireland. This year, with Advantage Group‘s Ronan Flood in the Chair, a stellar cast was assembled and the overall performance certainly did not disappoint. Here are 4 things we learned from its latest and greatest edition:

A lot done, a lot more to do – Number 1

Paul Mockler, Head of Business Development at Fáilte Ireland provided an encouraging report on the 5 priorities crowdsourced at the last year’s Business Tourism Conference in Lough Eske, Donegal. Last year the assembly  called out Gala Dinner Venues, Brexit, Regional Growth, Destination Awareness and Tourism Careers as the top 5 priorities for 2019. Paul’s upbeat presentation showed “a lot done, a lot more to do” across the 5 areas with significant increased funding now available for Business Events initiatives.


We’ve used the “Ní neart go cur le chéile” (“No strength without unity”) phrase for a few years now in Business Tourism but this was a perfect example of alignment between public and private sectors. This collaborative approach is the secret weapon in the arsenal of our destination marketing and one we need to use increasingly in this massively competitive marketplace.

Ireland for Incentives – Number Two

Rhea Stagner, CIS, CITP, Vice President of Supplier Relations & Sourcing at Maritz Travel delivered a highly engaging presentation on the criteria for destination selection and then applied these filters to Ireland as a destination. Ireland ranked well for access, infrastructure, MICE infrastructure (good DMO and DMCS), subvention (financial supports) and safety but received a decisive “could do better” for value and appeal.


Rhea was candid and straight-talking:

Ireland’s appeal might be strong amongst the Irish diaspora but there’s work to do with cohorts and communities with no Irish connections who’ll find tier one countries like France, Spain and Italy far more appealing. Ireland used to be a great value destination where the experience always exceed the price you paid. That’s no longer the case as hotel costs, in particular, start creeping up towards levels more associated with London and Paris.

Sobering comments, indeed, for a destination that has experienced unprecedented demand over the past 3 years from the incentive travel sector. But therein the point. This demand has – maybe? – caused a degree of complacency to set in and Rhea’s caveat is indeed timely. Let’s heed it now before our golden goose gets blinded by the dazzling light of our own arrogance!

Ireland for Conferences – Number Three

Jurriaen Sleijster’s company, MCI, is a multi-disciplined, global organisation of 2600 souls with a robust institutional division working with associations across a variety of areas, including all aspects of large scale conference organisation. In this regard Jurriaen was the perfect resource to rely upon for advice on  Ireland as a destination for conferences and congresses and how we can increase our association business.


Crucially, during the Q&A session, he highlighted how a destination like Dublin, for example, with few big box hotels can add immense value for associations and PCOs by creating a single, city-wide hotel contract that all properties agreed to be bound by. This immediately circumvents the massively time consuming challenge of having to co-ordinate legal arrangements with multiple smaller properties. It’s a “congress-in-a box” solution that significantly increases the city’s overall value proposition.

New products and services – Number 4

Rhea Stagner has been programming Ireland for many years and knows the destination better than most planners. However, it was interesting to spend time with her prior to the Business Tourism Conference and show her some of the new products that have come on stream since the last time she was here, 2 years ago.


We spent a morning on the North Docklands and I think it’s fair to say she was impressed  by the overall scale of the infrastructural developments there, especially the new hospitality and tourism products. The Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) used to stand out like the over-sized 13 year old in the photo of the school rugby team. Now the entire team has caught up and it sits, snugly and seamlessly, amidst a growing row of tall and stout glass and steel structures.

Equally, the chq building has turned into a busy hive of activity anchored by EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum. Rhea was enthralled by the quality of the visitor experience there as well as the after-hours potential for private events. Add in the large capacity food and beverage outlets at Ely and Urban Brewery and it’s clear we have a newly emerging North city “hub”.

In addition I took Rhea to see PressUp Entertainment’s latest opening,  The Mayson next to the Landings development at the 3 Arena. With stunning views along the Liffey estuary and across the Dublin skyline to the Wicklow mountains, this (almost) 100 guest room property is certainly the finest hotel in PressUp’s extensive portfolio. With its perfect traditional pub (see picture above), extensive food and beverage outlets and the best gym in Dublin, The Mayson would make the perfect host property for an incentive travel experience for any of the tech companies that’ve put down roots in this dockland neighbourhood.


On the other side of the Liffey, meanwhile, Rhea was amazed by the rapidly expanding “Whiskey Quarter” supported by brand new hotel properties, Aloft Dublin and Hyatt Centric. Having checked out the newly opened Gravity Bar extension at the Guinness Storehouse (it’s awesome!), we visited Pearse Lyons Distillery and discovered great events space, wonderful whiskey and layers of stories to entertain and regale.

So how’s in Ireland on the future proofing stakes? Based on the outcomes from Business Tourism Conference we’re advancing nicely along the road. We’re definitely not there yet but we’ve a lot of the heavy journey done. Now it’s about finessing, going from good to great.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney & Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels, venues, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training for Business Events. Padraic is also honoured to have been asked to moderate the Business Tourism Conference. 

Photography sponsored by Paul Sherwood Photography via Kevin McFeely, Photographer 








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