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.