GEP Executive Summit Draws Planners and DMCs to Moscow

Nearly 200 meeting planners, destination management company representatives, and executives from Global Events Partners and Krisam Group gathered at the 2011 GEP Executive Summit July 15–18 for lots of advice on planning global meetings, plenty of time for networking and sharing with peers, and an inside look at a complex and emerging incentive and meetings destination—Moscow.

GEP is a network of 65 destination management companies in 92 locations around the world. Seven of the DMCs are GEP-owned, while the remainder are independently owned and adhere to a list of standards in order to qualify as and remain GEP partner DMCs. The spirit of the collection was captured during the Executive Summit by Nacho Ferrando, CEO of Creatur DMC, a Global Events Partner in Madrid, Spain, who earned the 2011 GEP International Partner of the Year award. In accepting the honor, Ferrando lauded the creativity, loyalty, and integrity of his fellow GEP DMCs, saying, “This partnership dignifies the industry.” (San Diego–based Destination Concepts Inc. earned the 2011 U.S. GEP Partner of the Year award.)

A Compelling Choice
“Every year we take 200 people, including our best clients, to learn about a destination,” says Jim Schultenover, president, GEP and Krisam Group. “Last year’s vote to hold the summit in Moscow was unanimous. And when we began to promote the meeting to clients, we found tremendous interest.” GEP worked with Ola and Elena Kastensson, proprietors of Russkie Prostori, GEP’s Russian partner DMC, to put the program together. And this year they added a new twist: The day before GEP’s established clients arrived, a few dozen local Russian meeting planners joined the partners to learn about GEP and to discuss DMCs and worldwide meetings.

One of those was Elena Kleymenova, who plans meetings for Danfoss LLC, an 80-year-old Danish company with offices around the world. “I can see there is huge value in working with destination management companies. You will get the best services, you don’t have to worry about issues or changing things last-minute,” Kleymenova says. “I will recommend [DMCs] to my decision-makers because it will pay back our investment.”

Worldwide Meeting Guide
In addition to learning about DMCs (who offer, in the words of GEP Chairman & CEO Chris White “an insurance policy” for meetings and incentive programs), a panel of GEP partners shared some quick tips on working in different regions of the world:

Meetings in Europe
Brigitte Boone, CMP, CMM
Managing Director, @dmire Meetings Incentives Conferences Events, Belgium

  • Check your dates first.
    In many European cities, there are “closed dates,” during which a large congress or event has booked most or all of the hotels, so you may not get the space or the rates you expect. You’ll want to be aware of holidays and festivals that could affect your negotiation as well.
  • Check the VAT.
    VAT rates vary. Ask your destination management company partner if the value-added tax is included in the price, what the rate is, and if there is the possibility of VAT refund.
  • Plan early.
    If you want your program to coincide with a major event such as a Formula One race, you will need to book at least one year in advance.

Meetings in Asia
Manuel Ferrer
Regional Managing Director, Pacific World, Singapore

  • Be polite.
    Asia represents an enormous variety of cultures, religions, traditions, races, and languages—even within countries. The cultural differences between Asia and the United States are huge, but don’t have angst about it, Ferrer advises. “Asians know that cultures vary. If you follow the norms of being polite in your own country, that is enough,” he says. “And Asians like smiles.”
  • You will be going to Asia.
    For multinational companies, part of their future inevitably will be in Asia. And that means Asian meetings are part of your future, too.
  • Ask a local about dates.
    The primary times you want to avoid: monsoon season and Chinese New Year.

Meetings in South America
Rachel Havas
Director, Havas Creative Tours, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • Let your DMC contact the hotel first.
    U.S. planners are accustomed to working directly with hotels or with national sales offices. But it’s not the best process in South America, Havas says. Contact your destination management company first, and have the DMC approach the hotel to get the best rates and concessions for your meeting. “We have the year-round relationship with the hotels,” she explains, “so give us a chance. We can also solve problems if they arise.”
  • Ask questions.
    The DMC is there to ease your fears and answer all your questions, so ask them.
  • Dollars and English
    Expect your DMC agreement in South America to be in U.S. dollars, and your communications to be in English.
  • Swap your seasons.
    The best time to travel to South America is during their summer (the U.S. winter), mid-December to March. In August and September, the winter is mild in the north while there is skiing in Argentina and Chile. Havas also recommends visiting during Rio’s famous Carnival. “We are used to working with large foreign groups during Carnival,” she points out.
  • Coming up in Brazil:
    The Americas Football Cup in 2012, the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and the Olympic Games in 2016

Greece, Italy, and Portugal: An Update
We asked the GEP partners from Greece, Italy, and Portugal for updates on their countries, which have been making headlines in the financial pages this year.

While recent protests amid Greece's financial collapse have deterred some leisure travel to the country, group travel has been less affected—mainly because groups are able to get complete information from their hospitality partners, such as Aristide Tsaldaris, president and CEO of Horizon Travel in Athens. Tsaldaris has spent much of the past few months communicating frequently with clients to reassure them of the safety of their programs in Greece and the stability of the business community—in one case, arranging for a client to meet with the U.S. ambassador in Athens.

“It’s not the Greeks who are bankrupt, it is the Greek State,” he says. “You will still get the service you expect. The public sector is overloaded [financially]. But hotels, restaurants, venues, DMCs in general—you’re not getting involved with the public sector with a meeting or incentive.” As for the impact of public demonstrations, he explains that they are planned and localized, and therefore can be avoided if you are working with local partners who know what is happening and where.

In Italy, meanwhile, the focus turns to Milan, host of Expo 2015, and this attention is one reason the city will be newly popular as a meetings and incentive destination, says Giuseppe Lepri, president and CEO of Florence-based Newtours. With the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” the expo will be centered on issues of environmental sustainability and food. In addition to being Italy’s capital of fashion, Milan also is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” numerous museums and galleries, and the Milan Convention Center, which accommodates 18,000 delegates.

In Florence, a new mayor with a strong interest in the tourism industry has forbid traffic in the city center as a way to protect the monuments, beauty, and history of the city, Lepri says. A value for planners is the Florence museum card, giving entrance to 33 museums for 72 hours for 50 euro. You’ll note a new hotel tax (1 euro per night at one-star hotels, up to 5 euros per night at five-star hotels) as well—revenues will be put back into the tourism infrastructure and services.

And in Portugal, another country whose economy is uncertain, Carla Andrezo, managing director, Plano–Global Events Portugal DMC in Lisbon, sees “an opportunity” for business travel. “Hotels are dropping rates to guarantee their future. We have seen a five-star hotel at 150 euro per night. Right now the destination is a good value.” Itineraries in Portugal can include touring some of the country’s 19 winemaking areas—which produce many more varieties than simply port wine, she points out.

More International Updates
In France, it’s Marseilles that deserves new consideration, says Cyril de Fontenay, sales director, La Fayette Travel in Paris. The port city is undergoing new development since being named Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2013.

In Switzerland, an incentive program to Zurich would be very on trend, says Marisa Forcella Fallot, vice president, Conventus SA. After a four-year renovation, the landmark, five-star Dolder Grand resort has reopened above the city and is perfectly suited to incentive groups.

In Belgium, consider Antwerp, says Brigitte Boone, CMP, CMM, managing director, @dmire Meetings Incentives Conferences Events, because “the city of Rubens, of diamonds, and of fashion” will be a 20-minute train ride from the Brussels International Airport starting in 2012.

In Japan, the world’s tallest freestanding tower, the Sky Tree Tower, opens in May 2012. Amezaiku, or candy crafting, is the latest craze for incentive gifts or group activities. And Senzo Kuriyama, executive officer, Kintetsu International, can help you arrange dinner at the Kodai-ji Zen Temple and Garden in Kyoto.

In Korea, look to the warm-weather island of Cheju, a one-hour flight from Seoul, for the latest incentive itineraries, says Vicky Park, director, H&T DMC Co.

In Australia, there’s a new Uluru viewing platform, offering an environmentally friendly way to experience the legendary Ayers Rock, says Michael Armiger, senior account manager, Destination Pacific. Get there by trying out the new “cuddle class” on Air New Zealand. Two passengers traveling together buy seats at full price, then pay about half-price for the third seat in the same row. On board, they retract the armrests and raise the footrests, thereby creating a sort of platform (or “skycouch”) on which they can sleep side by side.

In Austria, incentive groups traveling to Salzburg can have Stefan Herzl, president, Panorama Tours & Travel, book private “Sound of Music” performances, including the opportunity to meet the actors.

Closer to home, in Canada, the new Scotiabank Convention Center in Niagara opened in April with 280,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. Meanwhile Grant Snider, DMCP, president, JPdL Destination Management, can arrange a more intimate experience for your group—dinner at the private restaurant in the Québec City Parliament building. In Montréal, try a floating spa on the St. Lawrence River or a circus school activity at the home of Cirque du Soleil.

For news on all of GEP’s partner DMCs, both domestic and international, visit the GEP Web site.

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