Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Blog address

To continue reading all my stories, go to Marcel's HQ Blog

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I was completely "baba"

In French they say: ‘J’étais complètement baba’. Well I said the same but in English, because I was completely flabbergasted when I received the ‘International Meetings Statistics for the Year 2007’ from the Brussels-based Union of International Associations. For years I was used to following the battle between Paris and London who were fighting for the first place. The last couple of years I often saw Paris come out best while London was sinking away bit by bit. And what do I see now, like a bolt from the blue? An Asian Tiger who has thrown Europe from the circus table. Paris is now second and Singapore first! And London comes only in 13th place. Unbelievable! What has happened?
Because I have the hots for stats I’ve been doing some research. Something must have happened back in 2003. That’s when the numbers of Singapore started rocketing up and it went swift as an arrow in 2005! Unstoppable. In 2007, Singapore hosted 465 international congresses, while Paris came in second with 315 - a difference of no less than 150 events in only two year’s time. I know what it is: vision. Singapore has been following a sophisticated plan for years to attract international congresses, to get the world’s attention. Something’s always happening. They’re not only building, they’re also organising. They’re letting people enjoy themselves. To put it simple: Singapore is one of the few states that work according to a long-term vision, and you see the result.
Who wants to know all the details should come down to Brussels on October 6, because there UIA will officially present its numbers to a fine European crowd during an academic meetings industry session. Another historic fact! On that same day MIM will publish its 100th issue. Drinks of a respected brand and appetizers from the North Sea will be served in the Dinosaur Gallery.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So coincidence does exist

If possible, each year I go to Marrakesh for a couple of days. This year I got the opportunity to see the Festival National des Arts Populaires, a very musical and particularly colourful festival that’s held in the historic Badii Palace. And before I left I was racking my brains over a DMC I know in Marrakesh. “How on earth could I have forgotten that name,” I thought. “Oh well, I’ll suddenly remember it,” I kept on pondering. Right before I entered the Atlas Blue airplane, I made a final attempt to reproduce his name. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. Nothing left then but walk directly to seat 12A and hope that the airplane oxygen would tickle my brain during the flight. The good thing about a flight to Morocco is that you nearly always have the opportunity to sit in the business class of economy class: the emergency exit class! I was in luck, two seats next to each other - 12A and B - with a lot of leg room and no one to bother me. That’s wonderful, flying cheap and chic! And who’s sitting there next to me, yes, who...? Essaid Faiq of Exclusively Morocco, a name that sounds like poetry to many Belgian incentive organisers. Essaid is an extraordinary DMC. A large part of the three-hour flight to Casablanca was spent exchanging thoughts about the relationship Incentive Organiser - DMC, a theme that doesn’t occur enough in conversations, in my opinion. What did I remember? A DMC must be able to take a beating and he especially needs to be a guardian angel. Essaid has these qualities to a high degree. Do the incentive bureaus agree?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do you speak hot potato English?

Of course Thomas Rupperti from Austria Center Vienna was right when he suddenly started talking hot potato English in front of an astonished room during AIPC’s 50th General Assembly in Singapore. If only he had brought the message with a bit more tact. Hot Potato English really exists, as does French Fries English, Patatas Bravas English and Kartoffel English, and so on… It’s a popular phenomenon during international conventions that there are two kinds of participants: English speakers and foreign speakers. The first speak their language without qualms during public sessions, often without taking into consideration the people for whom English is their second or third language. Americans and Australians sometimes talk gibberish and swallow their words.
In all honesty I dare to say that I only understood half of what Professor James Gilmore (From the Experience Economy to Authenticity) said. That’s a real pity, after all, he was a keynote speaker and had a fascinating story to tell. English speakers should be briefed about talking slow, clear and easy English during congresses. And foreign speakers should get the advice to train their English because the fact is that English is the international way of communicating. And who was certainly right during the General Assembly was AIPC President Edgar Hirt. He deserves the credit as a German speaker for setting the best example of how to be a good speaker: in English and understandable up to the final word! Don’t look back, that was his message, but look forward by practicing good English for everyone.
I prefer Patates Frites (English) with mayonnaise. People used to tell me that you learn English the best if you have a hot potato in your mouth. It makes you pull funny faces and make strange sounds. In one word, unintelligible! I think some speakers still have a hot potato in their mouth. ‘Leities end Zjieentlemen, leits tak jin Tudou English’. Tudou is Chinese for potato…

Cats should catch mice!

Now I definitely know, the best congresses are made by excellent speakers. The better the speaker, the better the congress. The past 4 years I’ve fallen silent 4 times during a congress. The first time was in the year 2004 when The Most Revd. Desmond Mpilo Tutu gave a speech during the opening of the ICCA congress. During those two hours it was as quiet as the night with the moon and her stars. His message was clear: equality brings life. A second time was in November 2007 during the Holland Association Symposium in Amsterdam. Professor van Grieken spoke of the miracle of the first republic in the world: Holland during the regency period. You could hear a mosquito fly in the hall. His message was: democracy creates prosperity. A third time, also in 2007, was during the opening of the IFLA congress in Durban. Justice Albie Sachs, the white attorney who lost his arm during an attack, spoke about his battle against appartheid. It was as calm as the wind inside the hall. His message was: freedom stimulates growth. And last month in Singapore during AIPC’s 50th General Assembly it was as quiet as a mouse when Professor Kishore Mahbubani entertained the attending crowd for an hour on The New Asian Hemisphere. And do you know what stuck during his keynote speech? The story of the black and white cat. Whether a cat is white or black, grey or brown, it doesn’t matter, as long as it catches mice. This also appeals to humans. Create a world where everyone can use their brain capacity. That would be a rich country! Even an Untouchable in the Indian caste system could grow to become a director of the National Bank. I know places where minds are locked away. The people in these places know lots of misery and all this because constraint of freedom leads to poverty.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Steven: Cycling Europe for charity

As we reported earlier on these pages, Jon Bradshaw (left) and Marco Barcella (middle) left London on 19th June 2008 on their quest to raise £20,000 (€28,000) for European stroke charities with a goal of cycling 3000 miles (4800km !!!) in 91 days through 9 European countries. After a gruelling 200 km journey from Amsterdam to Antwerp - where Marcel helped them to some champagne and a steak to save them from complete starvation - on Tuesday June 24, they left for Brussels on Thursday. This promised to be an easier ride than their previous one, but without the right directions, they might have ended up in Paris instead, if they had the same luck as two days before. But no worries, I jumped to the rescue, and guided them to Brussels. As the editorial officer of MIM and HeadQuarters Magazine I had read all about their fantastic initiative and was more than happy when they suggested that I could ride along with them when they were in Belgium. I only hoped I wouldn’t add any unnecessary miles to their already enormous route. We got to Brussels in one piece but not without experiencing the friendliness of the bike shop mechanics in Boom... He spent more time in growling that he already had too much work than it would have taken him to release Marco from the squeaking sound in his pedal. What a fun guy... Getting closer to Brussels, the traffic got worse as well. We didn’t need any exfoliating cream afterwards, the heavy trucks and the dust and sand they blasted into our face had the exact same effect, only less pleasant. At the Crowne Plaza Le Palace we received a friendly welcome and the people there were glad they could provide the two heroes with a comfortable bed for the night.
In the evening, MPI held their summer drink in the NH Atlanta Hotel in honour of the two cyclists who were flanked by Willy Devriesere, who now represents STROKE - the Belgian association for stroke victims - but who also suffered from a stroke. Milo Vergucht and his colleagues at MPI had another surprise for us: we could all enter a raffle to predict the score of the Spain vs. Russia game to win some nice prizes. Of course, no one was able to predict the 3-0 but that didn’t matter, after all, the money they collected went straight to the Belgian chapter that helps stroke victims.
And the next day, their journey led Jon and Marco to Aachen, but you can read all about their trip on their website and don’t forget to press the big Donate button!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A female building in Singapore

The last few weeks I was wrapped up in the interiors of convention centres from all over the world, while I have to admit that it was their exteriors which fascinated me the most. Just like the way you look at people, right? The architecture of new convention centres, that’s what it was all about, and more specifically the female side of architecture. I have found a lady architect - and there’s only one - who created a convention centre in Cape Town in 2003. Anya Van Der Merwe Miszewski (picture above) was leading designer of the CTICC. You can read the interview with her in HQ Magazine No.27! The talk we had made me think about female elements in convention centres. Or is there something like female architecture? A little research has taught me that The Singapore Esplanade (see picture) has some female forms. And now that the AIPC Annual Conference is held in Singapore, it may be nice to take a closer look to that building. Jackie Craven wrote in ‘Architecture and Sex’ , with obvious references to The Singapore Esplanade: ‘Some architecture critics believe that ‘female’ architecture is architecture that seems to express femininity. There is something womanly about the building's shape, size, proportions, color, or texture. Curved shapes may suggest the womb. Perhaps you long to crawl inside the building and curl into a fetal position. The dumpling-shaped Esplanade in Singapore has a round shape that might be called feminine.’
I must add that the Esplanade is built by men! Can someone see whether a building is designed by a woman? Conference delegates, keep an eye out for that building! Could it give you some inspiration for a congress centre of the future? I could see us all lying there in fetal position during a congress, nicely in the middle of the building!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who is Sir Van Couver?

You’d better address the city of Vancouver as Sir or Ms Vancouver or even as Ms Lee Vancouver, whatever suits you best. Vancouver and Toronto are unique cities of the world where different cultures live in perfect harmony. You can notice a lot of Asians in the city but they are Canadian. After my visit to Vancouver I am definitely convinced that a city with only European citizens is a dull city. Vancouver is the host for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is why I call the city Mr Van Couver. I was in the city for four days for the Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management (ASAE).

Let me introduce you to my host: Richard Yore. He was born in America and raised in Canada. You will find him on the left side of the picture, the person on the right is his boss Dave Gazley. Richard has to promote his city abroad to conference, congress and incentive organizers. He does this with a certain amount of flair, helped by eyes who are colored a special shade of blue. I came across that kind of blue quite often in Vancouver. I have invented a new definition for this particular shade: Canadian blue. Just like you have Delft blue or cobalt blue. Canadian blue consists of more cyanide than just blue, but not too much otherwise it turns green. In Canadian blue there's something naughty, the sparks just fly! That is what makes Canadian blue so attractive. Canadian blue represents tranquility (physiology) and satisfaction (psychology). Why does milk always get wrapped in blue cartons? Because blue is strongly related to purity. Maybe the city of Vancouver should do something with blue, create an image. Build a blue building for instance. Canadian blue, that is what I love.

I was accompanied in Vancouver by one other Belgian who was also fascinated with blue. Luc Hendrickx, director of the IDF congresses told me that every year his company has buildings all over the world turned blue for diabetes day. In October 2009 he will be organizing the 20th World Diabetes Congress in Montreal which will have more than 15,000 delegates from over the whole world. Maybe that's why we were welcomed so solemnly by Her Majesty Queen Liz of Victoria. (Liz is very close to the Queen of England) ‘Your Majesty, can I give you a kiss on the hand?’ - ‘Definitely Sir, as long as you keep it at one kiss.‘
‘Can I kneel for you, Majesty?’ - ‘Certainly Sir, as long as you don’t kiss my feet.’
Luc Hendrickx acted very relaxed in the presence of Her Majesty. He is used to talking to Sheiks and Emirates.
‘Madame, how are your children and grandchildren?’ - ‘Oh, Sir, can we just enjoy the evening?’

The first step I take in the elevator of the Pan Pacific Hotel of Vancouver, makes me suspect that it’s Wednesday. With a difference of 9 hours between the North of Europe and this part of North America it’s very easy to lose your way. We always know what time it is abroad but sometimes you don’t recognize the days. ‘Once there was a elderly lady from NY visiting’, Marie Rogers, Manager Public Relations, told me, ‘who asked the receptionist why all our four elevators carried the name Wednesday. Because it is Wednesday today Madame, the receptionist answered. So tomorrow there will be a carpet with Thursday on it? Most definitely Madame, seven different names a week!’
I’ve asked my three hostesses if the carpet could also have a different color for each day. I will let you guess which day will be blue. In October during the ICCA congress in Victoria BC, about a half an hour flight with the Seaplane from Vancouver, I pop into the Pan Pacific Hotel again to check which color Saturday and Monday are. I think Canadian blue? Do you know why I think that? You’ll have to ask me in a comment (see below)

If you see the chef of The Fairmont Hotel Of Vancouver in action, then you will definitely be in a good mood and you will be hungry! Who isn’t hungry will surely grow an appetite in seconds and eat in any case! That man just oozes strawberries and chocolate!

I am ashamed that I haven’t written one word about the conference I was invited to. Shame on me! Please forgive me, I had problems with ‘blog weakness’! Queen Liz just remained in my memory. Every year Team Canada organizes a conference in cooperation with ASAE for what has become the premiere learning event for senior-level association executives. Montréal will host the 6th Invitational Forum in 2009. There were exceptional speakers but only one person stuck to my writer fingers: Donna Wilson. She is playing a key role in helping the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) define and develop its culture. I asked her a question: ‘Madame, in Europe people think very positively about Canada, but in the meantime there also exists a perception about Canada as being far away, cold and boring. How are you going to change this perception in 2010?’ Her answer was unexpected: ‘Canada is specialized in the cold and knows how to deal with it, also for its visitors. After 2010 no one will think that we are situated far away or that we are boring. We will show them an image of a country that sets an example for the world in the fields of quality of life, social responsibility, green management and sustainability.’ Now I am also convinced!
During the Forum I always saw two cheerful and smiling faces: Dan Melesurgo and Luc Charbonneau. The first one was ecstatic because he had achieved a successful forum in cooperation with ASAE as Executive Director Meeting, Convention & Incentive Travel Sales . The second one was so happy because he managed to bring in a big international congress: the 20th World Diabetes Congress in Montréal. And we as Headquarters Magazine are very proud of that too!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Looking for Congress Pearls

Last year after my visit to ADNEC in Abu Dhabi I wrote something bad about the European Convention Centres. I was specifically talking about the buildings and the architecture and not about management. The article said: About Palaces, bunkers and hangars. ‘If I look at what people generally build in Europe, I must say I start to blush. Most exhibition centres - and a lot of convention centres as well - in Europe and elsewhere look like bunkers, I feel.’ But oh lord, that didn’t go down well with some people. ‘What do you dare to write, Marcel?’
I know, there are a lot of exceptions but I have to repeat that in a few continents more attention is paid to the architecture of the buildings than in Europe. Or let me put it this way: countries that recognize the (big) value of a nice convention centre, also invest a lot of time in the shape and the content of it all. New convention centres have become market places of people’s minds instead of man-made goods. Real intellectual meeting spots, I call them. Or am I mistaken again in this matter?
The last example I’ve found could even be called an experimental building. Really unbelievable. In Ras al Khaimah plans are made for a dramatically iconic congress centre that could even have its place in space. The mixed-use project designed by Rem Koolhaas (OMA) features convention and exhibition facilities, hotels, offices, dwellings, shops and restaurants. The proposed form is dramatically iconic. An interior that takes the form of a sphere can be considered as a minimalist approach. The sphere as an exterior form however, is absolutely iconographic. No doubt about that. It already starts with the fact that OMA themselves named one of the images ‘Deathstar’, after the space city in the film series Star Wars.
I would recommend to read the next HeadQuarters Magazine that will be introduced in June during the annual AIPC congress in Singapore. In there, me and Rémi Dévé have done some investigative journalism for the first time in the meetings industry. You will find some juicy details on Convention Centre architecture, interior design, green management, services and catering. And this time, I hope you won’t be mad at me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The hardest worker at IMEX

Who worked the hardest at the last IMEX fair in Frankfurt? Who do you think? I strolled past the stand of Cycle Europe 2008 a few times and for two days in a row I was confronted with a strapping young man who was riding his bum off on a bike. His name has an Italian ring to it but I assure you he’s pure Scottish. He has the body of a young muscular lion and according to my psychological instinct he has a heart of gold. On the last day of the fair I went to ask him how far he’d actually got. Panting and sweaty he told me: ‘I… I… pffeew… think I’m in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam.’

In those two days he’d travelled 140 km. And all this for charity! Marco Barcella works for a charity organisation and in June he’s going to cycle in total a distance of 4800 km through 9 countries in 13 weeks, all this by initiative of Jon Bradshaw – also an Adonis type but a good cyclist too and he’s the Sales Manager of IMEX. The aim of this grueling physical challenge is to raise 20,000 pounds for stroke charities throughout Europe that fund the physical and mental rehabilitation of younger stroke victims. I told Jon, because he’s the leader, that he has to come to Antwerp after his visit to Amsterdam, to come and pick up another little cycling wonder, my Editorial Officer Steven Kins (see picture on the right). Jon, you have gained a new sponsor: HQ Magazine! And to whoever's reading this: go to the Cycle Europe website, get out your money and donate.

The Russians are coming

What I’m about to tell you doesn’t have much body, not even literally. I must confess that during a fair I’ve never visited a Russian stand before. Maybe I might have glanced over a few brochures about Saint-Petersburg but I’ve never been interested in Moscow. I convinced myself that on a level of meetings industry there’s not a lot to experience in Moscow. Sometimes I hear these weird and wonderful stories. Too expensive, too mysterious, too cold and too much vodka. Until that second day of the IMEX fair when I nearly bumped into a practically naked Russian couple - half naked to be more precise. I’ll call him Boris. He could have just walked out of the red Army. Wide trousers, long boots and a torso that even Putin would have been jealous of. The girl I baptized Lara. Fine, slender and a bosom like ripe pears that were only covered by a layer of body paint. You could have thought she was from the Bolshoi Theater. On their bare stomachs and backs the letters DMC were written in large. I’ve even forgotten the name of the DMC because I was so taken aback from so much beauty. And then it happened. I dared to jump into the Russian stand and practically ended up in the arms of a bubbly Russian lady. Larissa is her name, and dressed from top to bottom in black. She’s charismatic which evidently is also the name of her company Charisma Travel. After the fair she wrote me an email, saying she will show me Moscow in a Russian Fun with Moscow Flavor kind of way. The moral of the story: What use are nudity and beauty without the right pray!

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Have a Dream

In the same way magpies are attracted to everything that glitters, I often see marketing agencies, so-called high profile consultants and even trade magazines move heaven and earth to get the new group of association customers in their power. Websites are put together, digital newsletters are sent out, speaker opportunities are created, and World Association Congresses are invented to raise the interest of association executives and bring in quick cash. Or, as I’ve said before: we’ve reached the period of the worshipping of the golden calf. And who doesn’t let himself be seduced by golden Easter eggs? To put it very clearly, after Easter but during the high season of association congresses and association days I want to announce a proposition that I’ve saved in my ‘I have a dream’ drawer.
I know only few specialized organisers who succeed in launching a solid association congress, but there’s one exception: Kellen Europe’s annual EuroConference, which had its 8th edition this year. The best forum in all of Europe! No association day or meeting fair can compete with that. Since last year ESAE is also striving for the same quality - a beginning annual ESAE congress with a lot of potential for the future. The EMIF Association Days have always been doing well too. And then came my dream: why not start a step by step forum for one joint European Association Congress in the capital of Europe? One single annual Top European Congress, so charlatans won’t get a chance anymore. You can read more about this dream in HeadQuarters N°26.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pleasantly surprised by Vanessa and Nina

I know a few fellow journalists who didn’t sleep at all one night because of Vanessa Mae. But I can't tell you too much about that. The celebrated pop and classical musician concluded the GIBTM gala evening in Abu Dhabi with an exciting surprise show. No one could expect that the UK’s wealthiest young entertainer would be performing for us in the Al Raha Beach Hotel. Although... in Abu Dhabi almost anything is possible. And indeed, Vanessa, no less, was there. Hosted buyers and exhibitors, they were all pleasantly surprised! But GIBTM had another surprise. Unexpectedly, a lot of people showed up for the seminar ‘Meet the influential editors behind leading meeting industry publications'. Nina Gardiner, managing partner at Cut Communications, showed great skill to challenge Rob Nicolas, Ruby Gonzalez, Hunter Slaton and myself to find out the truth behind the meeting magazines. And what is that truth? We work in one of the few industries where people think it's not required to subscribe to a trade magazine, and by that I mean, actually pay for it. That's why it's hard to find good journalism in our trade. Magazines are slaves to their advertisers and can never really tell the truth... Or have we reached a new era? Nina promised that we will continue this discussion next year. I can't wait to get back into the ring!

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Award for Cécile’s MIM

The final day of the Brussels Meetings Week ended in one exuberant party. On Good Friday about one hundred and fifty guests enjoyed the presentation of the Brussels Tourism Awards. No less than 13 prizes were awarded. BITC President Philippe Close announced MIM Magazine as the winner of the special award ‘Best Press Coverage of Brussels’. A crystal trophy was handed over to Cécile Caiati-Koch for her project ‘Brussels in the MIX’, an issue of MIM Magazine completely devoted to the versatile and trendy aspects of Brussels.
Cécile Caiati-Koch: ‘Every year in December I create, together with a small team, a special about one particular aspect of Brussels. This time I had selected the subject ‘Brussels in the MIX’, with which I wanted to demonstrate that Brussels can offer a wide variety of activities to meetings and incentive organisers. The response I received from companies and organisers was overwhelming. Through the familiar Fax Back form that we sent along with the magazine I received 1800 requests for further information or for extra brochures. The year before we received 1300 requests for the ‘Touch down in Brussels and discover’ issue. With the next issue in December 2008 I will make Tripadvisor change its opinion with a complete MIM Magazine devoted to ‘Fun in Brussels’.
‘Each year I have a similar project for the cities of Antwerp and Ghent and for the Walloon region. This year I’m even making a special supplement on two cities at the same time: Liège and Ghent, highlighting the convention facilities for associations. Our readers are keen on our special MIM supplements because they’re brimful of new ideas for corporate events.'

Oxygen and monks

Sometimes I get a writing shock. And now and then I even get a philosophical impulse. The more I hear and read about Tibet and the Olympics, the more I’m amazed at how few people dare to take a stand. I think I haven’t heard a single sound from the side of the meetings industry but I do hear that the Olympics have a stimulating effect on incentive trips. I’m not so sure about the effect on meetings. People say that in China a 100 convention centres are being built. I hope that there’s at least one where a congress on Tibet can be organised. Meanwhile I’ll suggest the theme:
‘People who clear out forests and jungles take away the oxygen of the earth. Forests are nature’s lungs.
Governments that clear out monasteries take away the spirit of the earth. Monasteries are the spiritual breath on earth.
Whoever touches these sources and values can count on an answer from nature because the earth can always overpower mankind.’

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Visiting Nelson Mandela

There was no appointment made. I also wasn’t informed that it could happen. Together with some fellow editors in chief, I was visiting Johannesburg for something completely else: the ‘Meetings Africa’ conference and exhibition, and some ‘BusinessUnusual’, which isn’t too difficult in South Africa. On a nice and sunny Thursday morning I had the unexpected privilege to explore Jozi, Jo’burg, or whatever name you wish to give to the ‘Golden City’, together with Kerstin Hoffman and her seductive smile. She’s the Editor in Chief of CIM Magazine. We were feeling great in the car with MT, a cheerful guide of JMT Travel & Safaris. We were driving on 13th Avenue, in the fancy and well-armoured Houghton district when suddenly our guide came to a sudden halt to take a better look at the residential home of Nelson Mandela. And you know what happened? The heavy gates of the white presidential villa swung wide open and before we even know what happened, a friendly security guy invited us to drive in. Kerstin’s and my blood pressure was rising to a higher than normal level. At least mine was. To be invited on the property of the former president of South Africa just like that… That’s something the best incentive organiser in the world can’t pull off, we thought.We positioned ourselves on the steps and we took pictures for ages. And again I saw that broad smile appear on the not so German face of Kerstin. We felt like young doves in this quiet and deserted spot… Nelson Mandela doesn’t live there for quite a while now but it was his official residence from ’94 to ’99 when he still was president. Now he lives a bit further but our visiting schedule didn’t allow for us to have coffee there. Still a big thank you to MT for this wonderful incentive moment! What journalists have to endure in their hard life!

With a tear in my eye

Last week I wrote a nice article about Nice, Hong Kong and about my very own home town - Antwerp. What do these cities have in common, you might wonder. Well, I’ll tell you. From the mid 80s till the late 90s, people were looking full of admiration to three convention bureaux that were doing well all over the world. Even better, they were top-class when it came to communication and promotion. Nice had the wonderful Acropolis convention centre, which opened in 1984, with ‘grande dame’ Jacqueline Pietri. Antwerp had the Antwerp Convention Bureau (founded in 1982) together with the GOM (Regional Development Company) and director Agnes Steenssens. Finally, Hong Kong had a wonderful convention centre at the harbour - HKCEC, which opened in 1988.
At the time, those cities were ‘hot’ because they were managed in a particular way. Afterwards, they rested on their laurels… Until now! But in Nice, a little new meeting flower is blossoming at the Boulevard des Anglais; in Hong Kong another saucer has started twirling on a little stick in the ‘Fragrant Harbour’ and Antwerp had almost found its diamond gloss again… Unfortunately, Inge Van Gaal (see photo), who’s the present director of the Antwerp Convention Bureau, has said goodbye to her ‘cake town’. That’s the reason why I’ve had to wipe away a tear on Leap Day, February 29. It’s a pity. The waiter she introduced (see photo) is still holding open his dish but Inge is no longer in it. Maybe she’s having another dish now?
When I interviewed her in August 2006, she gave me a nice metaphor of a city as a waiter: ‘Service should receive the full attention in a city. That’s why I like to use the image of the ‘waiter’. A man or woman who meets visitors with a natural smile and sets them at ease, and who serves them ‘friendliness’ above all. All the other things we already have in abundance anyway.’
Inge, I hope that your successors can live up to this image in the future, because Antwerp deserves its spot on the international meetings globe. You leave behind a waiter who could only open his dish for 65 degrees, but when will I be able to see Antwerp like it was in the 90s: open at 90 degrees, in all its splendour? I will look out of my window every day to see if a wind of change is blowing, even if I have to turn my neck 180 degrees for it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tea Chat with Lady Jean

This year I was really pulled out of my hibernation by the voices of two charming ladies, whom I was very honored to meet in the beginning of 2008, however unbelievable this may sound to some people. Actually there where 3 ladies but I’ll come back on that later on. The first one was Preeti from Hyderabad in the South of India, but I already informed you about her.

And last week I was having tea with Jean Evans, Chief Executive of the Dublin Convention Bureau. For the occasion and because of the setting, I gave her the title of “Lady Jean”. Imagine the golden yellow armchairs, red and yellow tulips, Irish tea served in pure white Irish porcelain and the company of a lady who’s loved in the whole of Dublin because of her efforts to give the city an inviting destination appeal. And then I did not even mention the location: The Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin. What more could you want? And did you really think we were chatting about the fact that last year Lonely Planet proclaimed the Irish as the most friendly people of the entire world. No, we were talking about the construction of the new Convention Centre in Dublin, designed by the 80-year old Irish born architect Kevin Roche. The following quote describes him adequately: “The worst thing you could ever do is to retire”. I will act upon his advice in the literal sense. The opening of the Convention Centre Dublin is expected in 2010. I still hear Jean saying: “We are already waiting twenty years for this big moment. Everyone who even has the slightest connection with the meeting industry in Dublin is wildly enthusiastic about it.”
I can still hear myself thinking: “If only there were more cities that had such residents. Feeling happy because a new style of commodity exchange is built, this time not to trade goods but human intellect. A Brain Exchange Building!”

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Land of PCOs

I’ve been able to survive the European winter by going to the south of India around the turn of the year. It was heavenly warm over there around New Year. 28 degrees Celsius on average. In Hyderabad I was introduced to the Indian Meetings Industry for the first time in my life, more specifically, to the only Indian purpose-built convention centre and to a lovely meetings host. Her name is Preeti Sood. She’s marketing & communications manager at HICC, or Hyderabad International Conference Centre, where ICCA will hold its annual congress in 2010.
Preeti showed me the new airport that’s being built - a unique project - and the Novotel airport hotel that’s also under construction - her new working environment in 2008! And I’ve been travelling through the new Hightech City of Hyderabad for half a day. You don’t know what you’re looking at! But there’s one thing I can see: now I roughly know how India’s Meetings Industry of tomorrow will look like.
But I didn’t know that India had the largest number of PCOs. Everywhere at the side of the road they’re announced. ‘Look, there’s another one!’ Preeti kept on saying. ‘Where?’, I replied all the time. ‘There’, she kept on saying. And another one, another one and another one… Private Communication Office or Private Call Office! Nice try, Preeti!

Winter sleep

At the start of 2008 I’ve dreamt more about hibernating than ever before. Immediately I have to add that I live in Belgium, a country where winters are dull, grey, shivery, cold and often without snow, which makes the winter time even more frosty. I’ve been able to shake off that nasty feeling by thinking about squirrels, hedgehogs, hamsters and bats. During winter they retreat to their warm nests and holes and they keep sleeping until they set off for spring time, wide and awake. I’d actually prefer to be a dormouse (see photo) during winter, because he’s supposed to be the best hibernator. He sleeps long and deeply and only gets out of his nest when spring has fully begun. Unfortunately that kind of blessed sleep is not granted to human beings, at best a bit of a longer sleep by going to bed early and getting up late… Hereby I declare that my dream sleep is over and I’m back again with more warm stories about the meetings industry!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In 2007 I was impressed by: (final part)

Grand opening: ABBA museum in Stockholm
By the end of 2007, Stockholm intrigued me during a presentation in Brussels. Ewa Wigenheim (see photo) announced that she would be opening the first ABBA museum in Stockholm together with her husband. On the 3rd of June 2009! 4000m² of ABBA pleasure will be shown for thousands of fans. But also for curious congress delegates!

From Zulus to Vikings
I caught - like a fever - the best incentive experiences of 2007, with the Zulus in South Africa (see blog) and with the Vikings in Iceland. On a fall day, Olöf Einarsdottir of Mountaineers of Iceland placed me on a snow mobile on the biggest glacier in Europe. I melted of pleasure in the ice! If you keep a list of all the things you would like to do in your life, add ‘A Multi Day Super Jeep Expedition’. Even if you’re wearing Italian fashion shoes, you can still experience an ice adventure like this! That’s how strong the glacier outfits are, that you get from the mountaineer guides. But, in this outfit you can’t go shopping in the shopping mall in Reykjavik!

Extra: in February 2008, number 25 of HeadQuarters magazine will be published. A celebration, a special edition... Meeting Trends. Keep an eye out for that issue if you want to know what lies ahead in 2008 and later!