by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Passion and Energy in Limerick
The Association of Irish Professional Organisers (AIPCO) made its annual assembly into a pan-MICE gathering this year and attracted almost 200 meetings and events professionals to Limerick, City of Culture. The entire event was characterised by palpable passion and energy, evidenced by the great response to the “Solutions Clinic”, an interactive, participative session where small, mixed groups of hotels, venues, PCOs and CVBs brainstormed and shared around specific challenges facing us as a destination. There was a striking but, in a way, unsurprising unanimity about the outputs: we all agreed that small peripheral destinations like Ireland require, above all, a common, collaborative approach from all MICE stakeholders if they are to prevail against high profile European locations like France, Italy and Spain. That was the unequivocal take away from this great event but it wasn’t the only one. Here are some more things that AIPCO14 brought into relief:
AIPCO has vision and reach
Industry associations are crucially important as they aggregate communities around specific concerns that, on our own, we could never address effectively. Thanks to the leadership at AIPCO – and I think it may be down to the “strong women” that 2014 president Susan Nolan mentioned in her welcome speech – this association has assumed a seat at the negotiating table and is a powerful and impressive advocate not only for its specific sector – Irish PCOs – but for MICE business at large on the island of Ireland. So thanks again to Nicola McGrane (Conference Partners), Marina Finn (Abbey Conference and Corporate), Susan Nolan (Odyssey International) Jane Gallagher (Greenlight Events) and to Sandra Cummins also of Conference Partners who project-managed a seamless event.
It was an inspired choice to locate AIPCO14 in Limerick City and for us all to experience, first hand, how the city has undergone a steady but sure metamorphosis over the past number of years. City-wide meetings and events infrastructure is excellent thanks to the addition of some truly impressive properties in the last number of years, not least the Strand Hotel which played host to our event with remarkable brio and panache. Add to that the boundless energy, contagious charisma and killer communication skills of Karen Brosnahan of Meet Limerick Shannon and you start to understand why Limerick rocks! Karen’s story of Limerick’s bid to host The World Gay Games 2018 epitomised not only the power of collaborative efforts but also the lasting value of relationships – even when you come second!
We have some great supporting collateral
The GlobalGreening campaign highlighted on a universal scale the creativity and thought leadership that abides within our national tourism offices. Twitter was lit up in green throughout the St Patrick’s weekend with Ireland front and centre as a desirable destination to visit. We may not have high profile, iconic built heritage but we can light yours up in green on St Patrick’s Day! At AIPCO14 we were shown more examples of this visual creativity and I know most of us experienced that special frisson of pride when we watched the Wild Atlantic Way presentation. A striking feature of the excellent videos produced by Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland is their use of great new Irish bands with great tunes by Heathers, Two Door Cinema Club and, most recently, This Club being showcased. I think Noel Toolan started that trend way back in the 90s when he used The Cranberries in the Tourism Brand Ireland campaign. Check out both Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland for superlative video presentations.
Nature v Nurture and Networking
AIPCO brought in author and sales specialist Sean Weafer to help us with that most difficult and sometimes embarrassing of tasks – effective networking. If you’ve ever seen an Irish delegation at a MICE tradeshow (IMEX, EIBTM etc) you’ll know we’re wonderful at networking with each other but pretty dismal when it comes to “getting out there” to build and forge global relationships. Worse still many of us will be offended by this criticism because we actually believe we’re expert networkers … Sean Weafer deconstructed the process beautifully and provided us all with proven steps to success. I loved his “parking technique” for politely and kindly getting rid of the dreaded “Cling on”. And, yes, he’s on the nurture side, believing that networking is a learned behaviour.
Tutto il mondo é paese
I love this Italian phrase. It means that things are basically the same no matter where you go in the world. That’s precisely what we discovered at AIPCO14 with important inputs from global players, Michel Neijmann of K2, Istanbul (and incoming chair of IAPCO) and Ben Goedegebuure of Maritz Travel Company (and formerly of Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre Glasgow). Both are ex pat Dutch who have worked all over the world across the full spectrum of MICE endeavour. They have unparalleled experience and both merit the epithet “Meeting Industry Guru” so when they say “it’s all about collaboration” you listen attentively!
MICE is worth the effort
Paul Mockler of Fáilte Ireland made a nice presentation during which he outlined the agency’s plans for the MICE sector. In the course of an engaging, compelling conversation he provided a perfect framework for valuing this sector. To the Irish economy, one MICE visitor ( a MOUSE?!) is worth the same as two leisure visitors. This value increases again when you add in seasonality and sustainability – MICE visitors travel off peak and leave fewer footprints. Thus it’s a high value market segment and deserves attention, focus and investment from both public and private sectors. Let’s not forget MICE = quality, not quantity.
For years we’ve been saying that our competitor is not the other PCO or hotel or venue but the other destinations that insinuate themselves better into the mind of the MICE buyer than we do. Now we need to stop saying this and start to live it. We need to raise our game considerably as a unified entity by pooling our resources to create a single, compelling message around Ireland’s unique value proposition for MICE. The Task Force for Dublin 2020 has already made great strides in this regard. If you haven’t read the superb document go to the Failte Ireland website and do so.
With his business partner Patrick Delaney, Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy offering marketing and training for the meetings and events sector. He also occasionally moderates at conferences like AIPCO14.