by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President Ovation Global DMC and Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI
Snow in Astrid Square
When snow falls and sticks it alters perspectives. It rounds off sharp edges, fills voids and cancels colour. For those who live in moderate climates where snow is a rare occurrence, it evokes the magic and wonder of childhood and reminds us of unexpected pleasures like days off school. On Wednesday morning, day two of Site EMEA Forum, we awoke to find Astrid Square in Antwerp all white as if it were a Christo and Jean-Claude installation. For adults, however, wondrous beauty has its price and, for us, it meant a re-designed education programme as Fried Ringoot, our scheduled opening speaker, was backed up, along with tens of thousands of others, on snow-bound Belgian roads.
Break, Burn or Ban the Box
However, Cyriel Kortleven, scheduled for a break-out session later in the morning, stepped in and delighted a packed audience with his workshop on creativity and innovation entitled “Break, burn or ban the box”. His energetic, highly interactive presentation included an exercise on “Yes, but …” v “Yes, and …” during which we experienced directly the dampening, dulling impact of naysayers on the creative process. “Idea killers” who meet every proposal with “Yes, but … we don’t have the budget” or “Yes, but … we don’t have resources” condemn innovation to an early grave. “Idea boosters”, conversely, add incrementally to the process by augmenting the initial inspiration with a “Yes, and …” response and, inevitably, they reach new levels of creative endeavour. Kortleven demonstrated all of this with references to a plethora of case studies and business campaigns including the clever, and hilarious, Pepsi advertisement for the Asian market. He also encouraged us to give value to the “nearlings”, i.e., to those people or projects that were “nearly” successful, arguing convincingly that innovative effort should be rewarded intrinsically and not only when it leads to tangible results. I thought of Keats’ “… better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.
Technology for the Meetings Industry
Dario Cherubino of Azimut Events in Sicily then led us on a fascinating journey through the labyrinthine lands of new technology for the events and meetings industry. While most of us are convinced we need to be here, we’re lost and lonely sheep without a shepherd wondering whether it’s safe to eat the apparently luscious grass that surrounds us. Dario was a trustworthy Buon Pastore who led us along the paths of righteousness directing us to the technologies and apps that can genuinely impact in a positive way on our business. His short list of tablet and smartphone apps for site inspections was particularly helpful and included: MagicPlan, an iphone app that generates floor plans from measurements taken directly by the phone; Point&Measure, an all-system app for measuring sizes and distances; and MeetingSpaceCalculator, a UCLA developed app that calculates meeting and banquet capacities based on entered measurements. Dario was an accomplished, knowledgeable and, above all, generous presenter sharing insights and expertise with his Site colleagues.
Walkabout in Antwerp
Our afternoon was a field trip or a “Meeting Hunt” designed to showcase Antwerp’s potential as a meetings destination both in regard to infrastructure and cultural appeal. Lethal, icy footpaths and freezing, sub-zero temperatures somewhat limited our urban immersion but most of us got it anyway: Antwerp is clearly a valid meeting and incentive destination with on-going infrastructural investment (a 2000 seater Convention Centre will open next year), a growing constellation of unique and unusual venues and an edgy urban setting caught nicely between its strong cultural /artistic legacy on the one hand and a robust, buzzy commercialism on the other. We started in Astrid Square, a typically European civic space of contrasting architectural statements, the magnificent, Beaux-Arts railway station on one side facing the mis-match, eclectic, Michael Graves designed Radisson Astrid Hotel on the other. The station is a monumental structure dating from 1905, conceived as a gateway and space of patient expectation for the wondrous new experiences that train travel offered its patrons over 100 years ago. Many of the waiting rooms and public spaces can be rented for receptions and functions.
We then took the underground tram to Old Market Square to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady and, in particular, to get up close and personal with two important paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, the late 16th Dutch Master. Displayed either side of the main altar, The Elevation of the Cross and the Descent from the Cross are profoundly symbolic woks that recall Caravaggio for their use of light and shade. Close to the cathedral is De Groote Witte Arend (the Great White Eagle) a restaurant with a legacy dating back to the 15th. There, huddled for heat in a pretty period courtyard, we eagerly downed shots of jenevers (a liquor made from juniper berries) while systematically freezing our under-carriages off in the sub zero temperatures. Some solace was found at Elzenveld, an ancient religious edifice now tastefully re-modelled as a contemporary convention centre (with accommodation) conveniently located near the centre of Antwerp. We left the calming introspection of the cloister for the clamour and clatter of commercialism as we ambled around the fashion district, verifying way Antwerp has captured the hearts and minds of global fashionistas. All the global brands are here – from Paul Smith to Giorgio Armani – along with the even more exciting upcoming local Antwerp designers.
The decade that fashion forgot
Speaking of fashion, this was strictly NOT in evidence during our Gala evening at Horta, a restaurant complex with great private function space. Themed around the decade that fashion forget, our 70s party was a raucous affair due, no doubt, to the fortuitous alignment of 3 stars: copious adult beverages, a competitive table game and the pathological extroversion of over 100 meetings industry professionals gathered under the Site banner. Pedantic Padraicino did have some issues regarding the definition of “70s” and, of course, the use of “Eye of the Tiger” as a musical sting throughout the evening (it was a hit for Survivor in 1982!) but this was not a night for picky pedants! EventMasters, the Belgian based team building company, did a super job with their wonderful iPad table game which ignited the competitive spark amongst us while presenting some hilarious YouTube footage Peter De Wilde, Administrator-General for Tourism Flanders and main sponsor of Site EMEA Forum 2013 hosted the evening and welcomed us to Flanders highlighting the the seminal importance of tourism for the economy – it produces twice the economic impact of the chemical industry.
Big respect to Barbara Jamison, chair of Site EMEA Forum along with the local host committee at Site Belgium for putting together a great event. With events of this quality Site secures its position as the association where global connections around motivational experiences generate business results.
Padraic Gilligan is a former president of Site and currently works for MCI where he heads up Industry Relations and destination services with his partner Patrick Delaney