Doing meetings and events “Off- the beaten-track”

by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Pádraic Gilligan

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I’ve been posting most weeks at the site for over 3 years now and am thrilled to say that I’ve had north of 50,000 readers. Every so often I check the  metrics available via WordPress (the platform on which it sits) and I’m always amazed by what I see there: the posts that I take most time with, and am most proud of, don’t get the readership I think they deserve, while less well written and interesting posts – as I see it – become evergreen, attracting readers every day.

Off -the-Beaten-Track

My most popular post is “Dublin – 10 things to do off-the-beaten track” from January 2014.  To date it has has almost 7000 readers. Most days someone reads it. There are many other posts with “Dublin” in the title [I even posted a follow up, Dublin: more roads less travelled in January 2015] but none gets anything like the same readership. I’m now thinking it’s because this article promises to take readers “off-the-beaten-track” and this, along with “authenticity”, “gritty and edgy” and “behind-the-scenes” are the zeitgeist terms for the travellers in the MICE industry today.

From Luxury to Authenticity

In the past MICE travel was synonymous with luxury – you flew first or business to your meeting, you were transferred by limo to your hotel, you used the air conditioned shuttle to reach the conference centre, your favourite tipple was dispensed  without fuss at the international lounge of your chain hotel, you ate dinner in the panorama restaurant on the twentieth floor. They called you Madame or Sir and  you fell asleep to Sky or CNN in a guest room that resembled every other guest room you’d ever slept in.  You kept the destination at arms length, observing it with detached, bemused interest the way children  watch their parents dancing at a wedding.

Seismic Shift

I doubt anyone can pinpoint the precise moment when meetings and incentives pivoted from luxury to authenticity, from passive observance to active participation, from sanitised explanations to real experiences but there has been a seismic shift. Like all evolutionary processes this is on-going and gradual but it does have huge implications regarding destination selection for MICE with new and emerging destinations coming more and more to the fore.

Advantage for Slovenia

This brings immense opportunities for places like Slovenia where a previous weakness – lack of brand profile and awareness – becomes a current strength as planners constantly seek out accessible, safe, new locations that meetings and events attendees haven’t yet been to.

Slovenia’s location to the South of Central Europe bordering Italy, Austria, Croatia, Hungary and the Adriatic Sea has been seminal for its history | heritage and its national identity but also for its present competitive advantage. Slovenia is a Slavic cocktail heavily infused by Mediterranean and Germanic flavours. Even when it was part of Communist Yugoslavia it maintained free borders and this has ensured an open, extrovert, tolerant national personality that’s combines many diverse characteristics.

Your Slovenian Cocktail

Your experience in Slovenia today as a meetings and events delegate will have familiar and unfamiliar elements to it. It will sometimes feel like Italy, particularly around the Goriska Brda region – which is actually part of the wider Collio Goriziano wine region – but it’s not Italy and the very subtle differences are clues as to what constitutes  Slovenian identity. There’s a tidier, more ordered aspect to the Slovenian villages, for example, that suggests a pride in external appearance, a diligence and care about things looking right.

Slovenian Istria – Portorož and Piran

Slovenia has a short coastline on the Adriatic. Only 42km in length, it connects Italy with Croatia and makes up the North West part of the Istrian peninsula which is shared by the three countries. Slovenian Istria, which includes the towns of Portorož and Piran, represents another  “to be discovered” gem for Meetings and Events organisers. Free from the crowded notoriety – and the higher prices – of the better known Italian and Croatian coastal towns, Portorož and Piran combine to offer the charm of an historical maritime village with impressive facilities for mid sized meetings and events.

The Grand Hotel Bernardin, located midway between Portorož and Piran, has 241 guest rooms with sea facing balconies. Built in 2004, it is  the largest convention centre in Slovenia with capacity for up to to 1,100 participants in a purpose built facility with ceiling height of 4.75m, integrated translation booths and an amphitheatre configuration. Flooded with natural daylight and with uninterrupted views over the Adriatic to the Croatian coast, the Grand Hotel Bernardin offers a truly unique delegate experience.

Back down the hill, in the town of Portorož itself, LifeClass Hotels owns a total of 7 hotel properties including the period Palace Hotel which is under the separate management and operation of Kempinski hotels. The remaining 6 are conveniently and cleverly interconnected and offer a seamless meetings experience incorporating 800 guest rooms and countless indoor and outdoor events spaces. LifeClass Hotels specialises in wellness programmes and has developed interesting product for meetings and events featuring their  brain power booster programme.

The Kempinski Portorož, built as the Palace Hotel in 1910, is Slovenia’s only truly 5 star deluxe property and anchors the entire MICE product in the Portorož | Piran area. Re-opened in 2008 following a 4 year refurbishment programme the hotel lovingly retains all its period detail and marries it harmoniously with great contemporary design. It perfectly follows the core Kempinski philosophy of highlighting the authenticity of place and location. All of the Portorož hotel properties are within walking distance of each other and, combined with the dedicated convention centre at the Grand Hotel Bernardin offer association or corporate clients the exciting prospect of taking over an entire town.

Within walking distance of Portorož you’ll find Piran, a magnificent intact mediaeval village. Piran is all about Venetian architecture, narrow cobble streets, tiny private churches, great contemporary restaurants and stunning seascapes. It’s as special, charming and picturesque as you can possibly image and decidedly open for meetings and events business. Our advice is get there soon while it’s still the meetings industry’s best kept secret …

Hey! I am first heading line feel free to change me

Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney are Managing Partners at SoolNua, a marketing, strategy and training agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on MICE related business. They have been retained by the Slovenian Convention Bureau to help grow business from the MICE sector.

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