WHAT’S COOKING IN THE BALKANS CONGRESS POT?
I’ve just returned from an event that was held in a quite retro hotel resort, reminiscent of the hotels from a bygone era. Interestingly, the event was considered to be extremely successful and very pleasant, one in which authenticity and atmosphere replaced the usual hotel glamour. It was an event where the content was the focus rather than the form, the latter being something that we are daily exposed to through the aggressive marketing of the more glamorous convention destinations.
Not a year passes without some new tourist paradigm, effectively the recycling of old concepts and ideas, appearing on the market. This year’s hit is nanotourism, with almost all of its outward expressions based on an interpretation of the phenomenon of our postmodern times, one that tends toward individualism and self-organisation. With this also being the case in the field of congress tourism, a whole range of new needs and different types of buyers has been appearing on the industry landscape – there is a new definition of luxury taking shape.
The region of Southeast Europe is one that is full of specialised, niche destinations that are a refreshing counterbalance to the more developed congress ‘factories’, whose participants are often just mere numbers. More and more organisers and participants want new, original adventures bringing them into close contact with nature and culture, as well as with elements of edutainment, a topic that we covered in the most recent issue of the Kongres magazine.
Since, however, there is no clear definition of precisely what a BOUTIQUE MEETING DESTINATION is, I am going to try to toy with a few criteria that can at least vaguely plot out what this concept is about:
STANDARDS – a destination with a large number of congress products that are different from the norm. This can include design, eco- and other boutique hotels, specialised incentive agencies and special venues.
ACCOMMODATION – The number of boutique hotels that offer a genuine personal experience, atmosphere, and a highly personal approach.
FOOD – a superb culinary experience that may not always be able to be measured in Michelin stars, but rather by its quality and sincere efforts to satisfy the congress guests.
ATHMOSPHERE – created by the surroundings, by nature, by the cultural heritage and the ensemble of which suggests a feeling of familiarity and prestige, but that at the same time has that ‘surprise’ factor.
IMAGE – particularly that generated outwards by the tourist promotion and policy, which currently, unfortunately, has the situation of a predominant image as low-cost option.
PERSONAL APPROACH – whereby a boutique congress destination can afford to pamper each guest individually, making the congress participant much more than just a number.
SPECIAL STORIES – providing original, well prepared and superbly implemented congress stories.
Many readers may roll their eyes at all this and think that we are still pretty far from being the boutique destination, but let me draw your attention to some facts in support of what I have outlined:
Firstly, in the catalogue of incentive ideas for the region of South-East Europe we gathered more than 250 unique incentive programmes that you will not find anywhere else in the continent. When we investigated boutique hotels suitable for smaller conferences, we were faced with the major challenge of how to choose the best from more than 80 quality proposals. There are also some peculiarities of the region that are world phenomena and offer unique experiences, no less so than the case of hosting events in the heart of the Postojna Cave. Then there are the the culinary jewels, such as Franko’s House, La Subida, or Batelina by Banjole, all of which need no further superlatives lavished upon them. And for an event in this region you can even privatise an island off the Croatian coast – where else would that be possible?
With such riches at our disposal, the weakest link in the entire operation is image, where we sway between one of mass tourism and one with a little bit of thinking about being boutique. At some point it will become necessary to take a decision.
The greatest luxury we have in the region, however, is that we are truly genuine and can offer a ‘lived’ congress story for congress participants, so much so that the bond between organisers and participants can make the farewell at the end of the event a heart-breaking moment. Creating boutique events will be the next challenging, but richly rewarding, journey for our region.