André Vietor, Managing Director of Barceló Congresses, speaks about the professionalization of the MICE sector, strategies for capturing large accounts, how to manage congresses for up to 32.000 participants, how to achieve success and what a PCO has to offer in order to adapt to the new situation, amongst other things.
Read the full interview and discover everything he told us.
– After more than 27 years dedicated to the management and leadership of sales teams, what are the most relevant changes to affect the professional profiles that you look for in the MICE segment?
André: Change is part of life and without it there would be no evolution. If I look at the question from our clients’ point of view, and in our case we are talking about scientific associations and societies, we have noticed a greater professionalization of the sector as the clients have adopted more professional business structures and models moving away from a purely voluntary management.
This professionalization means that our clients have greater knowledge about the organisation of their congresses and so this has created greater expectations regarding the work of the Professional Congress Organisers (PCO) like ourselves. In some cases, the clients themselves have created a specific department for event management and planning within their own internal structure.
This professionalization means that our clients have greater knowledge about the organisation of their congresses and so this has created greater expectations regarding the work of the Professional Congress Organisers.
This evolution of the market forces us to adapt, or more importantly, lead the changes that are on the horizon. Now, a PCO cannot just offer a range of services related to the organisation and logistics of congresses, we need to supply solutions that go much further than these organisational aspects. We must be consultants and strategy advisors for our clients in areas such as promotion and 360° marketing, taxation, applied congress technology and sustainability amongst other aspects.
– Making the most of the opportunity, we would like to pass on to our followers a little of your professional experience and “know-how” from Barceló Congresses. We think it would be very interesting to know if there is any formula or strategy that works best for capturing accounts that organise large congresses.
André: The best strategy is to be professional, honest and transparent, but above all to manage to exceed the client’s expectations. A satisfied client will recommend you to another. Building a reputation as a PCO is a task that takes many years, but if you follow this pattern you will reap the benefits in the medium and long term.
In our sector the quality of the services provided depends upon people. People are the most important asset in business, and this is multiplied exponentially in the service industry. We have to do everything within our means to look after and retain “the talent” in the company.
In our sector the quality of the services provided depends upon people. People are the most important asset in business.
I want to reiterate the importance of having a very clear idea of what in strategic business plans we call the “Sandbox”. It is vital that you know in which geographical area you want to operate, which services and products you want to offer, and above all, who you want to offer them to. There are many different formulas and all of them can be successful. For example, you can decide to position yourself in a very small niche within the market or aspire to being a global player, both options can work and are perfectly valid.
– In your professional career you have been responsible for managing congresses that have hosted up to 32,000 delegates. What do you need and how do you coordinate an event of that size?
André: The belief exists that to organise a congress for 100 people or one for 15,000 is exactly the same, but on a different scale. This belief is completely misguided as for the very large events you need to have specialised teams in each area of their organisation. Also it is tremendously important to define all the processes involved and have a good communication system as much internally as externally with the client.
Within our role as a PCO we understand that we are the ones that have to have the initiative and propose ideas, actions and solutions to our clients for their congresses. If we fail in the processes and the communication system, we will have a dissatisfied client. We cannot allow that to happen in a market segment as small as ours.
– How do you evaluate the level of maturity of the PCOs in Spain with regards to other markets?
André: That is an aspect that I am unable to and would not want to evaluate. In our case, the benchmark was always the highest international standards and for that reason we became members of IAPCO more than 20 years ago to demonstrate our eagerness to guarantee best practice within our professional field. This association has only 120 members throughout the world and represents a group of PCOs of very select quality due to its strict admission criteria.
– Where do you think the sector is heading and which type of PCOs are best prepared to adapt to the future?
André: In my opinion it is clear that clients are increasingly looking for more “added value” from the company that assists them with the management of their congress. This added value and distinguishing factor lies with the ability to advise on all the matters that most worry or are important to them. Logically these added value factors could be completely different depending on the client profile and their requirements. Our duty is to identify them. Which are the most common factors that concern our clients at the moment?
· Promotion and a 360° marketing strategy in order to maximise attendance taking into account the generational differences within our target audience.
· The search for sponsors and collaborators so that the congress is financially viable.
· Advice on the design of the programme structure and the format of the sessions using the latest technology available at the congresses.
Clients are increasingly looking for more “added value” from the company that assists them with the management of their congress.
If we are unable to provide this added value or offer new products from our service portfolio we will be forced to enter into a price war.
– The choice of venue to host an event depends on many factors, but we would like to know if there are any requisites that are more important when making that decision and whether at Barceló Congresses you follow any specific criteria before presenting your proposal to a client?
André: Obviously, the destination is the first thing to be chosen, however, in many cases the suggestion of a suitable venue for the congress at a destination is often an important factor when making the decision.
As we all know, the average attendance at national and international congresses is below 600 people and so it is no surprise that hotels are more often chosen as venues rather than conference centres.
It is no surprise that hotels are more often chosen as venues rather than conference centres.
Although there are many aspects that influence the choice of venue such as:
· Location and access to public transport
· Availability of accommodation in the area within walking distance
· Distribution of the spaces (rooms, exhibition and other areas) to provide optimal flow of guests
· The latest technological advances and above all, an excellent Wi-Fi connection
· Flexibility: the ease of working with the staff and the rigidity of internal policies
· Good value for money and the flexibility to adjust prices in low season amongst other things
– Barceló Congresses was founded in 2013 in Spain and since then, under your leadership, it has grown considerably and now operates in Latin America too. What has been the key to such rapid growth?
André: As I mentioned earlier, the key to success is to do things properly, that is, keep your clients satisfied and be true to your principles. Actually, there is a phrase that I use at a lot of my presentations that sums this up and defines it perfectly:
“Success is not based on doing extraordinary things, but on doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
All growth must be sustainable and our expansion into Latin America is no exception. We saw a business opportunity in this region with the interest from many countries to work with the meeting and tourism sector and with a well-known brand in Latin America such as “Barceló” that has a reputation for quality service and inspires confidence.
In just under two years more than 30 congresses in 9 different countries have been confirmed and the first congresses we organised were a great success.
However, it is not easy to make your way in the region as every country has very distinct characteristics and peculiarities requiring a tailor-made strategy.
– Lately we have seen many destinations that are looking to position themselves in the events and congress segment, especially those of a seasonal nature or those which are not principal tourist destinations. What do these destinations need to offer in order to be at the “top of mind” of businesses and agencies when they are deciding to organise their events?
André: Entering the tourism meetings sector is a positive thing but always using common sense and having a coherent strategy. That is precisely what is missing in many destinations. I am not going to name names, but it doesn’t seem very coherent to me that in Spain we have almost 100 Congress Centres and a total of almost 500 venues to host congresses or other types of professional meetings. That’s crazy!
Rather than answer the question about what they should offer, I would like to emphasize what they should have, and I mean the basics, to position themselves as a MICE destination. They should comply with a minimum of aspects and requisites such as:
· Good accessibility (especially air and rail travel)
· Good infrastructure (venues, public transport etc.)
· Adequate hotel accommodation with easy access to the venue
· Local suppliers who are prepared and capable of providing a quality service
· Profound knowledge of the market and the ability to identify a potential target audience that suits the characteristics of the destination and the products on offer
· A joint investment by the public and private sectors to promote the destination in the market
– Finally, we would like to know which information sources or media you use to look for inspiration.
André: My information sources are a long list of contacts created over many years of networking, principally within associations in our sector where we are very involved and active such as IAPCO and ICCA. In both associations our company is on the Board of Directors and these are platforms where we can openly exchange experiences and discuss trends, examples of successes and failures and good practice.
Another source of inspiration is to observe what our most important clients, who are benchmark associations in the sector, are doing. Visiting, for example, the annual European Society of Cardiology congress can provide me with new ideas that we can apply to congresses that we organise.
Finally, I am an invited lecturer at many seminars and educational sessions all over the world. I always learn something new from the panels, debates and work groups that take place during these events.