Interview with Špela Terpin, Strategic Marketing Director at GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Q: You have been working in the MICE part of the GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Congress Centre since its beginnings. In that time you have seen GR grow into one of the two most important congress centres in Slovenia. Could you describe the development of GR, or rather the steps that your team had to take to bring it to the top?
Things begin and end with people. It began in such a way that we decided that part of the GR team would leave the trade fair team. To begin we offered just a limited range of services on the domestic market, mostly halls. Then we gradually enhanced our offer, we installed additional equipment, began to work with a network of quality partners so that, in line with our motto ‘Everything is possible’, we are able to offer our clients practically everything. By establishing the mixed company Dekon.si last year, together with our partner Dekon, we can now offer professional conference organiser (PCO) and destination management company (DMC) services. We are increasingly searching abroad for clients, especially in the market of associations and the corporate segment.
Q: 2018 is a record year for GR in terms of hosting large international meetings – there will be 12. How do you attract organisers to choose GR? What strategy do you use to convince them?
A prerequisite for successfully marketing GR is the placement of Slovenia, and in particular Ljubljana, as a destination on the map of desirable congress destinations. In convincing clients, the most important element is trust – those who are in contact with potential clients must be competent. Positive references also play a large role in this business.
Q: GR organises and hosts different types of events. For association meetings it takes 3-4 years between the negotiations and the opening day of the event. How many (and which) events have already been booked to take place at GR in the next few years, and how far do the current bookings go – to what year?
Often the first candidacy is not successful and lengthy delays can result before venue selection. However sometimes, due to a web of various circumstances, we can be chosen as a venue for an event practically overnight. Currently we are up to about the year 2023 with offers that we have provisionally made for bookings.
Q: When an organiser chooses to host an event at GR, what is it that convinces them? Is it just GR’s offer or are they also attracted by Slovenia itself and what Ljubljana has to offer?
Of course the entire destination is important, its accessibility, safety, availability of hotel capacity, the price/performance of the whole offer. Any limitation is always the weakest link, whether this is too few airline connections, or not enough available rooms. It is true that agreements usually begin with the venue – the congress centres – and if our offer is accepted, expectations begin to spiral ahead.
Q: According to your observations, what are the current trends in organising large business meetings? Is there anything particular that makes clients ready to commit regardless of the cost?
I’m not able to point out any particular content, especially not one that clients would want regardless of the price. Everything must function according to expectations. These days everyone expects efficient internet, a technical team that knows how to react in demanding situations, good quality catering that includes local specialities, support for exhibitors of the congress prior to and during the event …
Q: What are the advantages of Slovenia, and in particular Ljubljana, for the meetings industry, and what are the short-falls?
Slovenia, and its capital Ljubljana, represent a safe, well-organised and efficient destination which is something fresh in the congress world. The two very different congress centres means we are able to attract and cater for congress events for just over 2,000 attendees. Slovenia is also attractive for tourism, which can be an additional stimulant for congress guests to take part in a congress event in Ljubljana.
Increasing the range of hotel accommodation is in the pipeline as is, we believe, the number of air links, which would make the destination even more attractive.
Q: For a few years now GR has been hosting huge exhibitions. For example, among many others, in 2013 it hosted the exhibition ‘Da Vinci – The Genius’, the biggest travelling exhibition in the world about Leonardo Da Vinci. How does GR manage to attract such exhibitions?
International exhibitions are one of the areas of our work of which we are very proud, since by hosting such exhibitions, we offer both Slovenians and tourists interesting content. We are currently preparing a big new exhibition titled ‘BODY WORLDS VITAL’, which we will open on 20th October this year. Through plastic replicas of original human bodies the exhibition will show the various effect of lifestyle on the body and its organs, shown in various states of wellness and ill-health.
We encounter a problem with such global exhibitions, because the extent of the potential number of visitors in a country with a population of 2 million means it is difficult to cover all the costs of the exhibition. Therefore we must really carefully choose the content, and it must be particularly interesting in order to attract enough visitors.
Q: How, if at all, does GR’s strategy vary in terms of attracting such exhibitions compared to that for attracting congresses? And when negotiating such exhibitions, are you in competition with Ljubljana’s museums?
The battle to win visitors begins with the acquisition of exhibitions. In acquiring congresses, therefore, we are mainly concerned with ensuring the highest quality of execution. We are not in competition with museums and galleries, however, we can complement what they offer.
Q: According to data, GR does not really profit from such exhibitions, so why does it seek to attract them?
The Ljubljana Exhibition and Congress Centre is majority owned by the local community, and so making a profit is not our basic and only aim. We want to offer the local community content which enriches them, whether its in the fields of economy (fairs), culture (exhibitions, concerts…), or science (congress events).
Q: GR hosted the 13th Meeting of the Ministerial Council of OSCE and the 15th session of the ACP-EU. These are completely different sorts of events compared to usual business meetings. Why was GR chosen as the venue? What strategy did you use? What are the challenges for GR in the future?
You mentioned two larger events, and we are also currently preparing for the European Commission event ‘TEN-T Days. In autumn we hosted the Eurocities conference of major European cities. In terms of content, these are very different events, perhaps, though they have some parallels. For us as executors, they are very similar to other congresses – communication with the client and fulfilling their expectations, wishes etc. The acquisition process is also similar to other events, networking and searching for contacts, and then, when you get RFP (Request for Proposal) and prepare the first offer, things start flowing.
Q: What is your vision for GR’s future?
Of course, continued development, which will be key if we are to succeed in acquiring an even more diverse range of events. I hope we will succeed in getting an additional, new, modern hall, achieve growth in the newly-established mixed company Dekon.si, as an international PCO, and thus be able to also offer these services.
Q: What has been your favourite project so far?
Perhaps it would have to be the aforementioned Da Vinci – The Genius exhibition, as well as last year’s Auto Salon, whilst in terms of congress, those where Slovenian researchers have taken part who I also know personally.
Q: What most motivates you in your work?
Satisfied customers, happy colleagues, positive feedback from events held in our halls are probably the most important elements that motivate me.