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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

For 50 years Avis, the car rental company, used “We try harder” as its tagline. It was a piece of brilliant disruptive marketing, fashioned under the leadership of CEO Robert Townsend, aimed at taking down Hertz, the dominant market player at the time. Instead of bland, vacuous hyperbole laying claim to dubious benefits, the Avis copywriters made a full frontal assault on Hertz by subtly suggesting its limitations:

Avis is only No 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try harder. (When you’re not the biggest, you have to)

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 15.47.00The Avis approach is worth recalling by any business or enterprise that finds itself competing with apparently unassailable competitors. It’s particularly pertinent in destination marketing where many city destinations are the second or third city in a country with a high profile capital or leading city. It’s certainly worth recalling if you’re Cork, Ireland’s second city after Dublin  – or third after Belfast and Dublin if you include the entire island of Ireland. And, judging by my recent visit there, Cork is ready to make a major push as a serious contender on the island of Ireland for meetings and events.


First you assemble the Team

For a city to advance as a destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) there must be a leadership team comprised of players from the key stakeholder communities in the city. Under the Chairmanship of Seamus Heaney and the Management of Evelyn O’Sullivan, the Board of the Cork Convention Bureau is such a team with representatives of the city and county authorities, the state tourism agencies, the chambers of commerce, the transport and accommodation suppliers. When SoolNua met this group recently to discuss how the city might position itself better to capture MICE we were hugely impressed by their openness, passion and expertise. What is now required, clearly, is a dedicated strategic plan for MICE that dovetails with the brand value proposition and the wider tourism / business policies currently being developed by Cork City Council.

Next you assemble the assets

To attract MICE there must also be strong resources and assets around the city, along with definite plans to address any resource or infrastructural deficiencies. A cursory stroll around the city centre with the ebullient Evelyn O’Sullivan convinces you that Cork is heading in the right direction and beginning to join the dots from its proud heritage to its impressive recent development and onwards to some key strategic projects, most notably a multi-purpose events location. Highlights for MICE from our Cork walkabout were the following:

The Clarion Hotel and adjacent development

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 09.23.17The Clarion Hotel is a contemporary steel and glass property with just under 200 bedrooms located quay-side, overlooking the River Lee and Cork’s impressive, neo-classical City Hall. Its purpose built meetings and events suites, accommodating up to 350 delegates, provide the city centre with a dedicated MICE hub that connects easily with the airport, train station and socio-cultural life of the city. Clarion is the anchor tenant in a quay-side development that along with one of the hotel’s 3 restaurants also includes two additional restaurants, The Club Brassiere and The Boardwalk. These often combine to provide pleasant water-side dining for larger conference groups.

The English Market

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 09.19.56Brought to the world’s attention by the visit there in 2011 of Queen Elizabeth II, the English Market has been at the heart of commerce in Cork since its inception in the mid 1800s. Following fine damage in 1980 and again in 1986, the market was tastefully restored by Cork City Council to its full Victorian glory. Today it’s a showcase for Cork as “food capital of Ireland”, bringing into one central location the rich diversity of artisan food producers that are scattered around the county. The Market also makes a spectacular venue for evening functions with catering by Rebecca Hart of Farm Gate Restaurant. Occupying the upper gallery of the market, the restaurant is worth a visit in its own rights for its innovative “poetry wall” that features hand written poems silk printed on brown vellum by local, national and international poets.

The Crawford Gallery

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 09.20.45Art Galleries can be overwhelming for their size and sheer volume of works on view. There’s so much to see, you don’t know where to start. Galleries like the Crawford are a breath of fresh air in this regard as they tend to have carefully curated collections more limited in size and scope. You can spend a profitable hour there and feel that you’ve actually interacted with the works because you’re not rushing on to the next big thing. The AIB Collection, spread over two rooms of the upper floor, is a wonderful introduction to modern Irish fine art and includes important painting by the likes of Patrick Scott, William Crozier, Colin Middleton and, of course, Jack B Yeats. Location-wise, the Gallery is very central positioned on a new pedestrianized plaza close to the Cork Opera House. The Gallery is available for hire for receptions and events.

And to come …

There are currently two sites under consideration for a multi-purpose events centre, one on Albert Quay (close to the Clarion cluster) and one on the former Beamish & Crawford site. Both are €50m investments in support of a 6000 person-capacity venue and are set to receive €16m in government and council incentives.

The Cork City Council Tourism Strategy focuses much attention on the Elizabeth Fort initiative. Dating originally from 1601 the Fort has immense potential as an important visitor hub and, according to the strategy document:

lends itself quite readily to public performance and exhibition, offering a unique backdrop to the staging of plays, musical events, markets etc

What next?

The next steps are crucial. The city is currently working on an overall brand value proposition which now needs to be interrogated and expanded in relation to MICE markets. Then a 3 year strategic plan for MICE needs to be developed and adequately resourced. A core aspect of this strategic plan will be an innovative, disruptive campaign to position Cork as a “must consider” destination.

PG_bwAlong with his business partner, Patrick Delaney, Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique on and off-line marketing agency working with destinations globally on innovative projects. 









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