The Slovenia Times

More than Meets the Eye



When congress manager Tatjana Radovič of the Ljubljana Convention Bureau takes a look at the calendar of business events she sees a schedule that is more packed than before. The meetings industry, often referred to as MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) is evidently on the rise in Slovenia.
"The current confirmed event bookings and requests promise the continuation of a positive trend," she says. "Due to the effort and investment of some suppliers over the past few years who build up their presence on some markets, encouraging results started to show in 2010 and 2011."

Dark clouds

Radovič will only speak of "moderate optimism", however, thanks to the deteriorating economic outlook. Providers in the meetings industry notice a downward pricing pressure on their services. "Customers shop around," she says. "And there is an overall decrease of budgets per event for the corporate meetings segment. Furthermore, associations have strong concerns about how to maintain the expected delegate attendance at congresses and there is less success in attracting industry sponsorship due to economic cutbacks. In the national sphere, there is a visible decrease of business hospitality events organised by local corporations and organisations."
"The number of events is not the only parameter of success," explains Radovič. "The income side might not be that reassuring, as the strong price sensitiveness of clients and a demand for added value on top of the standard services are reflected in the generated turnover. This does not necessarily correspond to the increase in percentage of the number of events."


Late last year Miha Kovačič, the director of the Slovenian Convention Bureau, said that he was only seeing minor improvements in the number of meetings and events in comparison to 2010: "The world, European and Slovenian economies are all facing difficult times and this also has a negative effect on meetings and events."
The crisis of 2008 and 2009 already led to changes in the meetings industry. Kovačič: "Some people say it will never be as it was. Meetings have also changed due to the development of IT. Face to face meetings are important and will never disappear but they have and will change. Clients are looking for return on investment or return on objectives and budgets get smaller."
Yet despite these difficult times all signs are pointing to further growth for the industry. The Ljubljana Convention Bureau aims to strengthen its marketing activities this year as well as cooperation with the venues, the Slovenian Convention Bureau, and other players on the market. These efforts should address an oft-repeated problem.
"The largest unused potential is the synergy that would be generated if the meetings destinations would start to work together," says Kovačič. "At this moment players in the destinations are not cooperating properly. They are not aware that the client is first buying the destination and only then the individual property."
It is not just local cooperation which is being looked but international too, as reflected at the fourth edition of Coventa. Held last month, the tradeshow for the meetings industry in South East Europe had a record number of attendees.
Yet those in nearby countries are not just potential partners for the Slovenian industry - they are also potential rivals. "Neighbouring countries like Italy, Austria and Hungary hold, especially with their capitals, a strong position on the European and global meetings market," Radovič says. "We are constantly keeping an eye on Zagreb and Belgrade, as well as some destinations that have a similar ranking as Ljubljana on international meetings statistics. Benchmarking is a must, together with the necessity to follow new developments in these cities."

Spread throughout

But Slovenia has its advantages; not least the variety it has to offer. It's not just that there are venues of all sizes, but that there are so many different settings throughout the country, says Kovačič: "We have established meetings destinations such as Ljubljana, Bled and Portoroz and we just welcomed new destinations such as Laško, Bohinj and Bovec but also many others. The advantage of the meetings industry is that it is spread throughout the country."
Kovačič adds that the country holds another trump card: the fact it is relatively unknown; always a plus for clients looking for an exciting new destination. "But we are also an experienced country which gives more confidence to the client. We are lacking on resources for international promotion but we are also aware that small countries have to compete differently. We are proud that each potential and existing client that comes to Slovenia is very much surprised on the positive experiences generated while staying in Slovenia."
Happy clients and an increasing number of meetings on one side and pressure on earnings on the other. The real challenge of the meetings industry this year seems to become the quest for more income.


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