Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lille, as seen on meeting pictures

Last week, I took the high-speed train from the northern Belgian city of Antwerp to Lille, in northern France. And still I was riding south! How comfortable, those fast trains in Europe! I went there to meet an old - but still young - meeting friend of mine. He always wears his bow tie around his neck and has a noble smile on his face: Charles-Eric Vilain XIIII. He's the brand-new managing director of the equally new 'Lille Métropole Europe Convention Bureau'. At first glance, that's a job that suits him perfectly. After all, he received education at an excellent meeting school: Brussels International Tourism & Congress (BITC). Charles taught me something: pictures, purposive meetings industry pictures! What's lacking in many convention bureaux, is good photo material. From the moment he took office, he assigned an architectural photographer to photograph Lille as a meeting destination for an entire year. Meeting photos, a new concept! I have to say, the first pictures I've seen by the inspired photographer Maxime Dufour are not to be sneezed at. This initiative will certainly make the life of a meetings journalist easier. Don't forget to tell me in the comments section if you like the pictures.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin

It should never happen, but it even happens to the most experienced of travellers. Last Friday, I checked into a well-established hotel at the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, the most beautiful central point of the city. The hotel receptionist asked me twice if she could check my electronic key card. I thought: 'OK, well, why not?' Everything went smoothly, even opening my door automatically. And what did I see to my utter amazement? Someone had left his fancy suitcase on my bed. 'Darned', I thought, 'now what? There must be another visitor in the room. Ha, you see, that's why they had to verify my key card twice. Now it all makes sense,' a voice in my head said. So I went downstairs with an angry look on my face, but politely I said: 'come on, how is that possible?' The receptionist responded very friendly: 'are you dreaming, are you tired, is something wrong?' - 'No, miss, someone left his suitcase on my bed.' - 'Impossible, that cannot be', her soft voice answered. But OK, I'll send someone along and we'll see.' The door was opened again and yes, the suitcase hadn't moved a bit. 'But Mister Vissers,' my hostess shouted releived: 'You're mistaken, that 's a gift for you from the new low-cost carrier Air-Berlin, who is the main sponsor of the Meeting Place Berlin event that you're invited to!' Then I got it. I'm so sorry, Mister Ronald A. van Weezel - the freshly appointed director of Hilton Berlin - from now on I will think twice before I do the same.
I immediately told my story to Heike Mahmoud, Director Conventions of the Berlin Convention Office. She burst out laughing! And she told me the real answer: 'Marcel, do you know the song by Marlene Dietrich 'Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin'... That's our marketing story... Always coming back to Berlin, because there's a suitcase waiting for you there.'
By the way, it's a very nice, high-quality nostalgic suitcase that I will keep forever. Believe me, I'll never forget Berlin!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

What an ambassador can do for you!

I can't think of any other industry in which there's more talked about ambassa-dors than in the association meetings industry. In the first place, I'm talking about professors who act as ambassadors of a convention bureau. Some big cities even have an Ambassador’s Programme or an Ambassadors’ Club. More and more Top Association Executives are talking about curtailing the influence of such a professor/ambassador because they want to limit the emotional factor when picking a destination. The choice for a certain congress place should primarily be based on objective criteria and not the other way round. I firmly support this idea, but I didn't start this blog entry to talk about this ambassador issue.
I'm talking about real ambassadors, like the Dutch ambassador Dr. Hugo Hans Siblesz (right), Her Majesty's ambassador in Paris. Last week, he welcomed about twenty Paris-based associations in his Residence in the heart of Paris. Hôtel d’Avaray is a wonderful setting to make wonderful new contacts. And I have to say, it didn't leave me cold to be invited for this 'linking lunch'. I also saw sparkling eyes among the Dutch suppliers who were almost as well represented as the associations. Well done, Renée Cohen (left), director of Destination Sales at the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions. That's what I call lobbying at a high level. And I heard a lot of Dutchmen talking good French as well. That's nice! In the garden of the ambassador it came to a fine discussion about the motives that some associations have for organising their convention in this or that destination. Sometimes, that can hang by a thread and no ambassador, minister or president can change that. After a lot of conversations with association excutives, I collected a couple of those threads:
1. We only take our conventions to resorts, other destinations don't stand a chance.
2. If there's no boat available at the destination that can accommodate 150 people with a copious dinner, forget about it.
3. We never use purpose built convention centres, only universities with good meeting services.
4. We never go to destinations where there are less than 5 five-star hotels at walking distances.
5. We never go to a Central European country, a metropolis, a Scandinavian country, an Arabian country,... and the list goes on and on.

My question to destination promotors: do you know all of this? Or do you only take the ICCA database into account? My good advice: go into the human portrait of an association as well.