by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Sunset in the desert
I was caught in the gaping gap between deep philosophical ponderings, practical commercial considerations and the overwhelming beauty of the moment. I couldn’t get W.B. Yeats’s apocalyptic poem out of my mind as I watched the bearded falconer spin his bait with ever-increasing speed in an ever-decreasing arc:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
[“The Second Coming”]
These profound and, admittedly, gloomy impulses alternated with the happy coincidence of witnessing – live – the perfect business analogy: the falcon is a piece of useless beauty until she is truly motivated – she’ll just sit there, preening herself. Once she is incentivized, however, she’ll take it to the skies and dance the light fantastic. I don’t think there was a single person amongst our group of Site Board members and Foundation trustees that didn’t see how the falcon analogy stated perfectly the business case for incentives.
And, finally, there was the magnificent magic of the moment as our “frail travelling co-incidence” (my favourite quotation from Philip Larkin) sat together in God-sized wonder and tried, vainly, to capture on cameras and smart phones the sun dissolving, with grace and elegance, into the desert sands.
It was a fitting finale to 4 delightful days in a resurgent Dubai during which we could testify to the relentless ambition of a destination to stand proud and tall amongst the leading locations in the world for meetings and incentives.
Seminar on Incentive Travel
The Site Executive Summit brought together a star-studded cast of global leaders in incentive travel with a strong and diverse regional community from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and the greater Gulf region. Corporate end-users from Microsoft and Informatica joined leading incentive companies like Maritz, Aimia and Events In and out to highlight the business case for incentives and leave a thoughtful audience with no doubt as to the real impact of incentives on the bottom line.
Best practice advice and input was provided by leading DMCs and Hotels on how to conduct a successful site inspection, how to work effectively with a DMC and on Apps for meetings and events (we’re all addicted to Action Movie now, thanks to Olga Navarro of ITB DMC). Other incentive specialists like Carina Bauer (IMEX Exhibitions) and Jonathan Richards (Maui Jim) and this writer presented on Social Media and on cross-cultural communications.
J.W. Marriott Marquis
The venue for the Seminar, and for the wider Executive Summit of which it was part, was the JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai’s tallest hotel by stature and biggest hotel by guest room count. The striking thing about our experience there was the prevailing sense of intimacy in a big box behemoth, due, undoubtedly, to a strong brand value proposition on the part of the JW Marriott and a thoroughly impressive living out of that brand promise by Bill Keffer (GM), Marc Danton (Director of Sales) and their 1600 associates.
Amongst many truly motivational moments were the highly personalized nightly room amenities that displayed an uncommon level of creativity and attention to detail on Marc’s part and an extraordinary lunch which was pure culinary theatre featuring impeccable presentations from 4 different ethnic kitchens.
Throughout our 4 night stay Bill and Mark demonstrated how a large meeting property with 1600 rooms can also deliver an impressive, impactful incentive and how the small things don’t have to disappear just because you’re a big box venue.
Melia, The Palace and Four Seasons Dubai
As part of the official Site Executive Summit, we were fortunate to be treated to wonderful lunches, dinners and receptions at 3 other hotels of the 450 that account for the (almost) 100,000 rooms in this bourgeoning city. Our friends at Melia Dubai – an exclusive downtown boutique property – provided a sumptuous buffet and entertained us with sultry lounge and jazz sounds at the exclusive nightclub at the property. It provided the perfect moment for our very own Paul Miller to show Michael Buble how “Feeling Good” should really be sung.
Site President, UAE , Sian Thomas and her team at The Palace Dubai – one of the 7 Address properties around the city – meanwhile, staged a magnificent lunch for us on the terrace, overlooking the hotel pool and located, spectacularly, at the base of the towering Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was yet another highpoint amidst a vast range of peaks that defined our Dubai immersion.
Four Seasons Dubai opened in late 2014 and David Crowl, Corporate Vice President of Marketing for the EMEA region joined our own Lynn Pavone and the team at the hotel to host a truly memorable evening of renewed friendships and fine food on the backdrop of the iconic skyline of this astonishing city. The hotel styles itself as an urban resort, located, as it is, right on the warm waters of the Arabian gulf yet only minutes from the city’s lures.
Dubai for Incentives
Steen Jakobsen, Director of Dubai Business Events arranged for us to test drive some of the unique incentive level activities available in the city. One group of us took to the skies in a Seaplane for a bird’s eye view of the city; another went to the spectacular Atlantis Dubai and swam with dolphins; I was fortunate to be part of the group that went to the Autodrome for a fully loaded, maximum adrenalin-rush in an Audi R8 around a professional F1-ready circuit.
And that leads me back to the desert where the local MCI / Ovation team arranged a magical evening commencing with Jeep Safari across the dunes, a falconry display at sunset and a fitting finale to a spectacular destination experience, a 5 star Bedouin-style banquet under the stars.
Thanks to all the sponsors, especially to Dubai Tourism, for the investment in this event. Thanks too to the Site Board and Foundation Trustee who made it meaningful, memorable motivational but also magical: Kevin Hinton, Janene Chan Powers, Philip Eidsvold, Kurt Paben, Pam Shepherd, Lynn Pavone, Carina Bauer, Aileen Zerbonia, Olga Navarro, Rhonda Brewer, Jonathan Richards, John Iannini. Michele Samoulides, Aoife Delaney, Paul Miller, Julia Santa Cruz, Daryl Kenwood, Anna Maria Ruffini and Jane Schuldt