by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President MCI and Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Ole, Ole, Ole
London’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, ExCeL, is etched in the hearts of most Irish people. For a period last summer it often appeared that the entire facility had been colonised by the Irish such were the ubiquity of tri-colours and spontaneous intonations of “The Fields of Athenry”. Those were the glory days of the summer games and, for Irish people, Katie Taylor’s world conquering gold in women’s boxing. It was nice to be back there again, this time for CONFEX, celebrating 30 years as an exhibition dedicated to the meetings and events industry. It was also nice to be back in London, still basking in the after-glow of its successful hosting of the Summer Olympics. Having participated last week at Barbara Jamison’s excellent presentation at Site EMEA Forum on the legacy of the games I arrived in London with a heightened sense of expectation.
The journey from Heathrow to ExCeL is neither straightforward nor speedy. You make best time by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington, the Bakerloo line to Baker Street, the Jubilee Line to Canning Street and the DLR to ExCeL. Or, if you can, just fly into London City airport and it’s a 10 minute walk to the centre. We took a cab from Paddington to ExCeL and it was a costly mistake – over 90 minutes in the cab and a total fare of over £80. Once arrived at ExCeL, however, James Samuel, International Director for CONFEX, ensured that our onward journey to Battersea Evolution for the M&IT Awards dinner was both inspiring and motivational. He arranged for us to be transferred by boat, providing us with magical views of London as we cruised along the calming waters of the Thames. This un-congested journey offered a unique perspective on one of the world’s truly great cities and brought us privileged accessed to such icons as Tower Bridge which opened, as if by magic, as our boat approached. Meanwhile on board I had privileged access to Tracy Halliwell and Pat Holmes of London & Partners who shared intriguing “behind the scenes” stories of the games. When I asked for “off the beaten track” venues and activities Pat Holmes, a true London insider, gave me the following cool and unusual things:
1. Attend a performance at Wilton’s Music Hall (she described a night there when the entire cast and audience were in period costume for The Great Gatsby);
2. Go for drinks at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town (you enter though a fridge door, apparently)
3. Stay at the Boundary in Shoreditch where there’s a rooftop bar and all the guest rooms are individually designed
4. Visit Denis Servers House – 10 rooms that will beguile and entice your senses;
5. Go to “Sunday Shoots” Each Sunday photographer Seamus Ryan invites visitors to Columbia Road Flower Market to participate in his ongoing series of portrait projects. Shoots take place between 11am and 3pm
Another lavish bash
The M&IT Awards banquet brought 1000 industry players together in the spectacular and, ultimately, flexible space of Battersea Evolution, a “temporary structure” located in Battersea Park. With overall management of the event under the highly experienced and competent baton of Ali Wrighton of Ali Wrighton Events, a flawless night was ensured. Tourism Ireland, headline sponsor of the event, delivered a pulsating opening sequence courtesy of Ragus, one of the many excellent shows that celebrate Irish music and dance, all spawned in the wake of the phenomenally successful Riverdance. David Boyce of Tourism Ireland gave a spirited address assuring all participants that Ireland was indeed “open for business” and continued to be a compelling destination solution within the meetings and events sector. Banquet-wise, service was swift, food was fantastic and wine was wonderful. There were no gaps in table conversation either with Sam Coates, Global Head of Events at Thomson Reuters on one side and Richard Foulkes, late of Imagination and now with The Paradise Experiment, on the other. The event lacked nothing as an outstanding, energetic face-to-face encounter but could possibly have been used to showcase the impact of Social Media in a live event environment with clearly publicised hashtag and a ticker tape tweet feed. Next year?
Meanwhile back at the ranch …
Next day CONFEX hosted a briefing by Nick De Bois MP on the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Events industry. De Bois, a passionate supporter of our industry, highlighted our need to present evidence-based data and to speak with one voice in our submissions to the APPG. This, he said, was the carpe diem moment to ensure that the events industry was given proper focus and attention by government to realise fully all its innate potential as a veritable economic driver and powerhouse. Events, said De Bois, encapsulate all the key elements that governments seek in their pursuit of economic growth but our industry needs to pull it all into a single compelling story. De Bois inspiring intervention was followed by a hosted lunch during which we listened to truly motivational pitches from Kari Laurila (Team Action Zone), James Rock (Musion), Alex Poulson (Appshaker) and Ben Fender (Drive Productions) on the impact of technology in live events. Stand out presentation came from James Rock and Ben Fender who work in complementary event spaces in Holographic technology and Projections. Rock shared the astounding story of a recent political campaign in India where his technology enabled one of the candidates to appear simultaneously in over 20 locations as a hologram. Fender, meanwhile, told us how projection technology is getting both faster and cheaper to the point that last year’s 2 day mapping exercise could now be completed in a matter of hours. Suddenly “Beam me up Scottie” seemed like more than a trite cliché.
On the show floor there were some nice innovations. The on-going co-location of Live Experiences with CONFEX made for a colourful show floor featuring products and services associated with outdoor events and festivals as well as destinations. The Destination Village co-ordinated by M&IT was a novel way of getting DMCs front and centre as destination marketeers and not merely service providers in locations. The educational sessions were fresh and engaging especially a robust debate on accreditation in the events industry featuring a fiery and combative Jennifer Jenkins, my MCI Colleague who heads up our UK operation.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI.