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Learning round the clock

The 32nd Summer School of the European Cities Marketing association started early in the morning with lectures and questions and ended late in the evening with discussions with the faculty and classmates. 62 students from 18 countries keen on learning made use of every opportunity to expand their scope of expertise.

t was 08:00 hours, and Sunday morning started off with a steep learning curve. The majority of students hadn't slept a lot, but not because they had been partying Friday and Saturday night, but because they had been kept awake by other guests celebrating Greek weddings at the Porto Palace Hotel Thessaloniki. Something everybody learned the hard way: sleeping and partying under one roof can bring about a conflict of interests. "As organizer of the ECM Summer School, I'd be furious," said one student. Her neighbor sleepily agreed that this was an aspect she would have an eye on later in her career.

They were all on time, the 62 students from 18 countries and the 15 faculty members, to attend the 32nd Summer School staged by European Cities Marketing from August 25 through 29 of this year. The ambitious program had scheduled 18 sessions, nine workshops and a group seminar as well as a final assignment: Thessaloniki's application for the Service Design Global Conference 2019. Christian Mutschlechner in his introduction lecture 'The Meetings Industry – definitions, players, tools' gave participants an idea of what this event was all about. The head of the Vienna Convention Bureauhas been operative in the meetings industry for 40 years, and he assured his listeners: "To ask a question is not a mistake, not to ask a question is a mistake."

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Build your network: #ECMSS18 in Thessaloniki

The program provided ample opportunity to ask questions, including the 'Menti' polling tool during the sessions. Course instructor Pier Paolo Mariotti introduced this tool for engaging the audience und assessing their level. The students had their smartphones switched on anyway and used these frequently. In the session 'Marketing and Promotion of your City/Region', Sam Johnston elaborated on the seven main considerations of planners: safety, access, appeal, infrastructure, value, meetings infrastructure und financial report. "Safety became the biggest concern," emphasized the manager of Dublin Convention Bureau. "A few years ago we didn’t speak about safety, but unfortunately this has changed dramatically."

The students were an attentive audience, and they input their ideas and concerns to the subsequent panel discussion:"@Sam: Safety and security remain big issues for clients, what are the best ways to ensure that they can distinguish between the reality, fake news and perception?" was one of the issues raised to the Irishman, and he responded "Invite them, show them around in your destination. You have to stand up and answer the questions, it can be tough questions." Moderator Pier Paolo wasn't able to put forward all of the students' inquiries and he referred them to the intermissions. The speakers/lecturers were not at all aloof and available to students at all times; that's an essential part of the ECM Summer School concept. This was also a characteristic feature of the five parallel hand-on workshops on 'Qualifying clients with the ICCA Association Database', 'Exhibiting at trade exhibitions', 'Working with the press to put your destination on the map', 'Using social media to tell stories' and 'Dealing with clients requests'.

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”We are a city of youth and innovation-friendly,” says Eleni Sotiriou (on the right). The Director of the Thessaloniki Convention Bureau is thinking of the 150,000 students at four universities and nine colleges as well as the many startups. The mission of her Thessaloniki Convention Bureau is to position Thessaloniki as a world-class congress city. Greece's second largest city offers in the city centre the Helexpo International Congress Center with 4,300 sqm for conferences and the Thessaloniki Concert Hall with a plenary for 1,400 persons. 39 of the 135 hotels with a total of 7,500 rooms offer conference facilities.

Come Monday morning, 08:30 sharp, they showed up in person: the clients. Mathias Sondermann, Senior Director SAP, Global Events, talked about the RFP and Decision Making Process for Corporate Clients. SAP hosts a total of 2,000 events per year. "Compared to other technology companies we are investing the double in events," said Sondermann. SAP's Vision is to deliver gold-standard experiences that engage and inspire its audiences. The 2,897 suppliers for events need to understand the intentions and purposes of SAP events. "Venues can make a big difference," he said. "If you think of your venue, think of it as a five-star hotel." Sondermann informed himself about Cvent and agencies, tradeshows and trade magazines, recommendations and networks. He agreed with Sam Johnston that safety has become more significant. The lead times for SAP-events do not exceed twelve months, he told listeners. Sondermann added: "We are in a very volatile environment. So, we have to be flexible."

The next speaker gave his listeners an insight into the enormous range of conferences. Kyriazis Pitilakis is a professor at the department of civil engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and he had managed to get the 16. European Conference on Earthquake Engineering from June 18 to 21, 2018 to his city. "It is important to have a local chapter," said Pitilakis, and referred to lead times of up to eight years for scientific congresses – which surprised the students. "The focus should be on excellence. The main issue is always the scientific one," said the professor, emphasizing that this had nothing to do with tourism. He considers Convention Bureaus to be his partners, and he does not want to be seen as customer. Pitilakis: "Don’t take my conference as business! Get involved and take it as your personal event. You must be really involved and give all your power!"


Veit Schröder (left) and Eike-Christian Fock, students of the ECM Summer School 2018PHOTO: TASH/LTM
Veit Schröder (left) and Eike-Christian Fock, students of the ECM Summer School 2018
by Veit Schröder, Manager Schleswig-Holstein Convention Bureau at Tourismus-Agentur Schleswig-Holstein, and Eike-Christian Fock, MICE Manager at Lübeck und Travemünde Marketing

#1Connect to the local experts in your destination to match them with the needs of potential clients for important knowledge transfer!
#2 Don’t just present general data but take the view of the meeting planner, deliver tailor-made solutions that match within your destination!
#3 Always go the extra mile, the meetings industry is a professional service industry!
#4 Make use of the unique spirit and vast knowledge of the event profs in the meetings industry, your international network is crucial!
#5 Keep up with the rapidly advancing digital developments and determining factors for meeting planners!
#6 Do not compare your destination with others.
Focus on your strengths and enhance them!

Daniel Waigl also looks for support from destinations. The executive director of the Cardiovascular & International Radiological Society of Europe (CIRSE) explained: "Conferences are a big part of the scientific work, but they are a financial risk for our association." The students rapidly grasped the context, and they wanted to know about the significance of financial backing for applications. "We are a big fan of financial support, but it is not the final factor. It should be part of the package," Waigl explained. "For example, if we know transportation is weak and we need to carry 3,000 delegates, then we appreciate financial support."

Veruschka Rugbeer was one of the students eagerly taking notes. "This learning coupled with healthy discussions provides knowledge which when shared with like-minded individuals is always more beneficial," is how the young woman with the South African National Convention Bureau summed up her impressions. "It’s been an exhilarating experience sharing best practices in the meetings industry with our European colleagues." She's one of five Africans to travel to the Summer School. Said Rugbeer: "Meeting experts in the field and sharing knowledge by getting involved in practical activities in a free and open space, is invaluable for our growth. #Meet #Share #Grow."

She's grateful for being exposed to such a phenomenal opportunity and looks forward to an advanced level of ECM Summer School or a coaching or mentoring program in the future.  KERSTIN WÜNSCH

“When I registered for this Summer School, I was wondering how relevant all the lectures were going to be for me. As an event organizer of academic conferences, working at a University, I am not selling a venue or a city, and it looked to me that the program was going to primarily focus on that. Instead, the Summer School appeared to be so much more. It gave me a broader understanding of the meeting industry, but it also inspired me with practical examples of ways in which to improve. But most of all, this Summer School was a constant reminder how much I love my job and this industry.”
Dominique De Brabanter, Conference and event organizer at KU Leuven University