Betwitched, Bothered and Bewildered by Belgians (and Le Meridien re-visited)

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Blushing Belgians

Brussels 2As a teenager in the 1970s I was part of an Irish delegation that attended an international arts and performance festival in Rome. Attracting young people from all over the world this event fostered peace and universal brotherhood and was attended by over 10,000 people. For a sheltered 16 year old living in splendid isolation on an island (Ireland), off a bigger island (Great Britain) to the North West of the European continent,  this experience was eye opening, mind blowing and deeply enriching. I encountered for the first time the challenging and colourful reality of true cultural diversity. Over the 3 days of the event, I met young people from all over Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. Of all the attendees that I met the ones I was most consistently intrigued with were the Belgians.

Cool Under-Achievers

I thought about this on Wednesday last as the red eye from Dublin, laden with conservatively attired career civil servants, landed in a wintry Brussels covered in a mantle of virgin snow. What intrigued me about Belgians all those years ago was my inability to easily classify their cultural or national attributes. They were Northern Europeans but they didn’t sit easily with Germans (not organised enough), Dutch (not zany enough), English (not reserved enough) or Scandinavians (not confident enough). Many of them were Francophone but they lacked the sensuality, stylishness and fiery passion of Southern Europe and, unlike Spanish and Italians, genuinely appeared not to give a monkeys about their appearance. If they seemed like serial under-achievers they still oozed cool. There were quietly but distinctly secure, possessed of a non-chalance or disinvoltura. It was expressed in the frumpy clothes they wore, the off-beat colours they favoured, the ease of their communication in several languages, their tendency to understate and to play things down, their decidedly un-hip shoes.

Mussels from Brussles

HugoThis time it was the turn of our very own Belgian, Hugo Slimbrouck, to host the Ovation quarterly meeting. Ticking all the national attributes outlined above (except for the shoes – Hugo’s father was a skilled shoemaker) we knew a meeting hosted by Hugo would not be another boring business encounter. Our culturally diverse management team of 4 workplace demographics and 5 nationalities was meeting in MCI’s most culturally diverse office – 23 nationalities with 14 distinct linguistic groups – to negotiate and navigate our way through the troubled waters of recession and austerity to the promised land of economic stability and financial strength. And, as a city that daily draws diverse opinions together and finds a way to build Hegelian synthesis from opposing viewpoints Brussels, the under-stated, under-achiever amongst the great cities of Europe, was the perfect place for such a meeting.

Le Meridien Re-Visited

Through the charming Christine Cornelis, Director of Group Sales for Starwood in Brussels, Hugo arranged accommodation for us at Le Meridien, a 224 room property located adjacent to the Central Station within eye sight of both the Grand Place and Brussels’ convention centre, the Square. I was especially happy to re-visit a brand with which I had a mixed encounter recently in Paris. Christine and Egbert Buursink, General Manager at Le Meridien, presented the property to us with great conviction and belief, modelling convincingly the core values of the brand. Dressed smart casual in a well cut suit and no tie, Egbert satisfied our collective curiosity by sharing the happy challenge of leading a living, breathing organism through a very significant change and how you balance the demands of  new brand architecture and the supply of local products and experiences to match it. The newly renovated rooms in which we were accommodated were pleasingly spacious in contemporary neutral tones. The vibrant contemporary art throughout the hotel by Rwandan, Munana Gatera along with the copies of Wallpaper magazine administered effectively to our cultural curiosity and compensated a little for the fact that we lacked the time to visit the Bozar Centre for Fine Art with which Le Meridien has a partnership through its rather cool and very innovative Unlock Art initiative.

Le Wine Bar

For dinner Hugo consulted with his Ovation Belgium colleagues who recommended a short walk to the Sablon district of the city to Le Wine Bar, which perfectly matched our request for “something elegant and casual with great food”. Everyone knows that it’s hard to eat a bad meal in Bologna but Brussels blushes at any hint of self-aggrandizement and so remains, even today, the most under-rated city for serious dining. Le Wine Bar principally occupies the basement spaces of an old period building and serves locally sourced produce with simple aplomb. Rustic tables and chairs, shabby and distressed, are set with perfectly pressed crisp, white linen and proper, sparkling glassware. There’s a short menu featuring quirky interpretations of classic dishes including a hearty Saucisse de Morteau aux lentilles vertes du Puy. In a warren of basement spaces there’s even a space reserved as the Cheese Room where locally produced fare is maintained at perfect ambient temperature.

Aloft, Brussels

During our cocktails and chat Christine mentioned the other Starwood properties around the city and made herself available early morning to walk me around Aloft, Starwood’s brand aimed clearly at the Google generation. Tagged “a vision of W”, Aloft caters for Gen Y creatives who will grow up to be patrons of W once their job titles and per diem amounts allow it. There are well over 60 Aloft properties in the US but only three thus far in Europe and Aloft Brussels is the first. It’s a great concept with a strong and powerful brand. Guest rooms are simple but chic and the copies of Wallpaper reassure aspiring copy writers and ad executives that they’re in the right place. The lobby is a great hang-out / pick-up joint with mood lighting and, at weekends, live DJs and access to the uber-trendy XYZ bar.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DMC: Origins of the Species and Changing Channels

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Origins of the Species

Christophe EUROMICI’ve always regarded passion as an integral part of being professional. Words with Friends enthusiasts (Hi Jurriaen, Sean, Alison, Andrea, Rhonda, Joan!) will immediately spot that all the letters of the word “passion” are contained in the word “professional”. You cannot be a true professional without being big hearted, emotionally involved, deeply engaged, passionate.

Christophe Verstraete is a true professional who is passionate about the DMC sector. As Executive Director of Euromic, the longest established marketing consortium of DMCs on the planet, he is also anxious to establish accuracy and precision around the origins of the term DMC. He approached me in June at the Site EMEA Forum in Berlin questioning my account in a previous blog post of the origins of the term. I promised him at the time that I’d return to this topic and highlight material evidence from the archives of Euromic from 1982 attributing the creation of the term to Tom Risbecker.

“At Euromic we have always supported the fact that the term Destination Management Company (DMC)was coined by our Swedish Member, Tom Risbecker. Our Association promoted DMC first in the media as early as 1982. If we are correct, during the early incentive days, there were really no American DMCs, the Europeans were way ahead. During all the years since we officially took on the term DMC, we have never heard anybody claim the right to the DMC name, so it seems a bit odd [for Chris Lee] to make such a claim this many years afterwards. Due to this confusion, we would like to determine whether Euromic or Access can officially claim to be the originator of our current designation DMC by providing supporting evidence of their creation of the term “Destination Management Company.”

It could be, as indicated in the introduction to last week’s post, that we’re dealing with a true case of “multiple independent discovery” but, in fairness to Christophe and to Euromic, let’s try to provide supporting evidence of the use of the term “DMC” in the US in 1972. Over to you Chris!

Changing Channels

Last week’s post garnered some great commentary on the blog site itself as well as on the Linkedin groups where it was posted. A comment from Dallyce Macas of éminence, Toronto deserves further exploration:

One aspect every DMC … needs to embrace is the ability to deal direct with the end client. More often corporations will be insourcing incentives. This will lead to a less seasoned buyer initially, but a chance for longer term partnerships if managed well.”

194944_10150915365661517_1740837801_oDallyce’s pertinent point highlights how radically the distribution channel has changed over the past 10 years and mentions some of the implications for the DMC sector. Previously intermediaries / agencies / third parties were the client as far as the DMC was concerned. In fact part of the value proposition of the agency community was its exclusive connectivity to local destination expertise via its global network of DMCs. Then along came the internet and, over time, google searches and, suddenly, access to local knowledge and expertise wasn’t linked exclusively to strong intra-industry relationships. In the ensuing free-for-all dis-intermediation became the order of the day with agencies going direct in the destination, cutting out the DMC and end-clients going direct to DMCs, eliminating the agency. DMCs, therefore, quickly found themselves in a complex distribution channel and had to learn the different strokes needed to deal with different folks.

Dallyce mentions the “less seasoned buyer” meaning the potentially inexperienced corporate meeting planner whom the DMC now has to deal with directly. Previously DMCs dealt mainly with agencies and so the agency played the role of  filtering and interpreting the requirements of the corporation and developing a clearly articulated event brief for the DMC to deliver. Crucially the agency also dealt with pricing and payment issues allowing the DMC to concentrate on the fun stuff, the creative response and the seamless delivery. Today the DMC often has to interface with corporate planners directly, frequently educating them around the terms and conditions of conducting business in the world of meetings and events. DMCs also have to deal with pricing and payment issues and have had to accept the reality of purchase orders and, often, 120 day credit terms. Thus there’s a lot more to do and the extra bits are tedious and time consuming!

But it’s not all pain. There’s also some significant gain and this stems from the “longer term partnership” that can be fostered as a result of having a direct relationship with the corporate meeting planner where trust and confidence are required. In such scenarios the DMC is identified by the corporate meeting planner as a true industry professional whose role in the delivery channel is crucial and vital. In such cases the DMC then almost assumes an agency role and becomes the outsourced meetings and events partner for the corporate meeting planner at destinations outside of the home location of the DMC. I believe the next 10 years will see a sharp increase in such practices to the point that DMCs will actually become intermediaries and offer services that are not linked exclusively to a specific destination.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC. He is former president of Site and currently serves on the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council (HPAC) at FICP.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

5 Principles for Success in Destination Management

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

robert-boyle-postage-stampIn 1662 Irishman Robert Boyle made a scientific discovery that eventually allowed us to voyage to the bottom of the sea; 8 years later the exact same discovery was made by the Frenchman Edme Mariotte. The “multiple independent discovery” principle is well documented and includes Newton’s and Liebniz’s invention of calculus, Darwin’s and Wallace’s theory of evolution, and, if we believe him, George Harrison’s composition “My Sweet Lord” and its doppelganger melody “He’s so fine” written for the Chiffons by Ronnie Mack. It also extends to the coining of the term “destination management company” which emerged independently on both sides of the Atlantic just over 40 years ago.

“All’s changed, changed utterly …”

Destination ADME LogoArguably no sector of the meetings industry has undergone the same seismic transformation over the past 4 decades as the DMC sector. While the core mission and purpose for any DMC – to provide local logistics, knowledge and expertise to clients operating meetings and events in a destination – remains constant, the channels which create, promote and facilitate access to this have radically altered. So, too, unfortunately, has the value ascribed to such a service. The internet has conjured up the terrible illusion that, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, knowledge and expertise is at the end of every Google search.

As we face into our 5th decade as destination management professionals here are 5 principles that will ensure our survival and prosperity:

1.    First be a marketeer, then a manager

marketingIf, in the past, DMCs could simply wait for the phone to ring then today this is NOT an option. DMCs need to create demand for their services and this is most effectively done by crafting a marketing plan that pivots around the assets and attributes of the destination in which you operate. In the next decade single location DMCs will be savvy destination marketeers promoting their services strictly within the context of an overall destination presentation. They know that buyers are interested in Boston, not Boston DMC. Likewise multiple location and global DMCs will focus equally on promoting the core value proposition of the DMC sector while highlighting the individual appeal of all their destinations.

2.    The principle of multiple back-scratching

The principle of co-opetition, that is, co-operating with a potential competitor, is well implemented in many business environments – think “Intel Inside”, for example. Over the next decade successful DMCs will intensify the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach and will partner more and more with other local entities to ensure that the destination brand is ever more front and centre. Thus DMCs will assist in the crafting and implementation of clever destination marketing campaigns and will work with tourist boards, CVBs, hotels, venues, restaurants and maybe even other DMCs to create demand for Brussels or Beijing or Buenos Aires. In particular, they will lend specific expertise to the creation of experiential events during which the destination is showcased to a live audience.

3.    Live outside of the box

200360652-001Thinking outside the box is no longer enough. Prosperous DMCs of the future will be the ones who live outside the box in a constant, on-going pursuit of differentiation, creativity and innovation. This will extend particularly to how destination experiences are packaged and presented both on and off-line but will also include developing new ways of purchasing and pricing. Inspired by the need to offer buyers products and services that are truly unique, DMCs will need to deconstruct old destination paradigms and infuse them with fizz, flair and freshness while, simultaneously, delivering flawlessly at all times. Over the next decade DMCs will re-position themselves on the creative spectrum alongside creative agencies and move definitively away from any association with incoming tour operation, travel and leisure.

4.    Think business

DMCs will play a key role in assisting national and local governments to understand the real economic value of meetings and events and the attendant need for consistent PR and marketing investment to attract this high yield business. Destination Marketing campaigns created and funded by Tourist Boards and CVBs will need to stress the business case for holding a meeting or event in a given destination. The business reasons will include financial advantages such as VAT reclaim and bid support for conferences, logistical advantages connected with air access and local infrastructure and, obviously, overall destination appeal.

5.    Be faster, better & cheaper

fasterIn the past competitive advantage could be gained by focusing on one of the above. If you were cheaper than a competitor then this could compensate for speed of response and overall quality. More recently the market demanded at least two of the three attributes – if your promptness of response and quality were top notch then you could charge more. As we move into the next decade many clients will require all three or, at least, on a scale of 10, will not allow any attribute to fall below 7. DMCs will meet this demanding challenge by a judicious use of technology. Many DMCs are experiencing radically altered work practices as a result of the adoption of VIPER, an impressive IT platform designed specifically by DMCs for DMCs.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC. He is a former president of Site and currently serves on the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council at FICP.

Posted in Business Strategy, Business Success, Business Tourism, Competitive advantage, Destination Management Company, Destination Management Consultant, Destination Marketing, Destinations, DMC, DMC Value Proposition, Marketing, Meetings and Events, Meetings Industry, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events, Ovation, Ovation Bear, Ovation Global DMC, Professional Meeting Management, Professional Service Firm, Speed, Technology for DMCs, Travel and Tourism, VIPER | 11 Comments

Another Auld Lang Syne: the BEST 2012 had to offer

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI and Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

This blog post is hard for me to write due to the intensely annoying buzz of voices in my ears.

Stuff White People LikeIn one ear is the smug and cynical voice of Christian Lander, author of Stuff White People Like. Lander is telling me that I’m a walking cliché, that my preferences, cultivated over years with careful consideration and deep discernment are about as unique to me as the personalised letters I continually receive from the widows of deposed government ministers in Nigeria.

In the other ear is the only marginally less smug and cynical voice of Daughter #1, recently returned from running an educational project in the Tanzanian bush (and the one who gifted me the above mentioned book). She’s telling me I’m paralysed by middle-aged-middle-class-middle-of-the-road mediocrity, that making lists of your favourite hotels and restaurants is the contemporary equivalent to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Whatever!

Despite being assailed by twin Jiminy Crickets in either ear I’m determined to proceed with my posting. Here’s a highly personal list of meetings industry memories from 2012, organised into a “Best … of 2012”

Best Restaurant

  • O Chateau, Paris

O ChateauRestaurants are especially memorable when cuisine and company chime. This happened at O Chateau in early January last year when a party of 12 comprised predominantly of French and Americans ate at the restaurant during a planning visit to Paris for a large corporate event that eventually took place in November. As an Irish person, culturally positioned in the midpoint between Bordeaux and Boston, I acted as the conduit of chat and a fascinating evening ensued of great conversation, fabulous food and amazing wine;

  • Bispo, Santiago de Compostela

Having walked and talked together for 5 days and 120kms, 3 generations of Gilligans arrived in Santiago exhausted and hungry about 3pm on Wednesday 22 August and set about finding Bispo, the tapas restaurant recommended to us by Elle Caffrey, an expert on the Camino. We managed to blag a table for 12 in a venue with the dimensions of a hotel corridor and enjoyed a magnificent repast of Galician delights including an incredible filet beef tapas topped with a quail’s egg on a bed of cepes.

Best New Destination

  • Memphis

Patrick and I were asked to speak at the ADME Annual Conference held in Memphis in February of this year. We were delighted to accept as both ADME and Memphis were new to us. The city was a revelation both for the delights of the destination experience and for the impressive integrated destination marketing strategy in place there, probably due to Kevin Kane, Director of the Memphis CVB. Despite a full conference programme we managed to immerse ourselves fully in the city even availing of a behind-the-scenes visit to the FedEx facility there thanks to Bobbi Landreth and Eric Miller. Where else could you stay at an iconic hotel (the Peabody), discover the roots of blues and rock&roll, see a Gibson guitar being made, confront a seminal moment in the recent history of the US and eat the best ribs in the world?

  • Killarney

Killarney 3OK, Killarney is hardly a “new” destination. 150 years ago, in the 1860’s, Queen Victoria visited the town in the south west of Ireland putting her hosts, the Herbert family, out of business in the process. She was amongst thousands of aristocrats and nobility who included Killarney and the famed “Ring of Kerry” on their “Grand Tour” of beauty spots around Europe. I include Killarney as a new destination here because of its growing infrastructure – and reputation – as a world class meetings destination. Killarney is unique for its combination of up-to-the-minute technology, superlative 4 and 5 star properties, a stunning multi-purpose events venue, the INEC, and a natural setting of mountains and lakes rivalled only by Switzerland.

Best Client-Facing Event

  • Ovation Trophy April 2012

Matterhorn 2This year Ovation and the Swiss Convention and Incentive Bureau (SCIB) launched the inaugural Ovation Trophy with the objective of showcasing Switzerland to corporate meeting planners as a truly original meetings and events destination. Over 3 days 6 multi-national teams used fair means and foul to solve complex puzzles and uncover answers to “un-googleable” questions while navigating their respective ways through impossibly beautiful Swiss towns, over narrow mountain passes to the foothills of the Matterhorn where they frolicked and played in the virgin snow before enjoying a music festival in Zermatt. And the good news is that it all happens again in April of this year – contact Aoife.delaney@ovationdmc.com for details.

  • IBA Opening Party

Some 6 years ago, in 2006, Patrick and I were guests at a dinner held at Blackhall Place, the HQ of the Law Society of Ireland. We had been invited there to meet Judy Lane of the International Bar Association and to discuss the viability of staging an event for over 3000 global lawyers in Dublin. It was therefore a source of considerable satisfaction to be present at the opening ceremony of the IBA conference in October 2012. Additional temporary meeting and eating space had to be created at the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) to accommodate delegate numbers which significantly exceeded projections. The opening party at the Royal Dublin Society extended over two vast areas and immersed the 5000+ delegates in a veritable cornucopia for culinary and musical delights causing it to be declared the best opening party in the history of IBA.

Best hotel

  • The Bella Towers

While Four Seasons, Florence is undoubtedly one of the best hotels in the world I’m disinclined to nominate as “best hotel” a property that charges $75 to launder a suit, no matter how amazing it is. Instead I’m opting for the 4 star Bella Towers in Copenhagen which, like Ikea and some other Scandinavian things (but excluding alcohol), manages to be both super-cool and great value. WiFi is automatic once you cross the threshold (no annoying registration, signing up, answering surveys etc) and guest rooms are to conventional hotel guest rooms as iPhones and iMacs are to other smart phones and laptops. There’s perfect synergy between aesthetics and functionality throughout the  room product and the main attractions in any hotel room – a comfortable bed and a good shower – are right there, front and centre.

  • Killarney Park Hotel

Killarney Park HotelAs a regular traveller for work I have a decided preference for boutique, family-run properties. Small family run properties intuitively avoid the highly artificial templates that some chain hotels insist upon in that elusive but probably futile search for uniformity in service across cultures and geographies. That’s why the benchmark of genuine service for me is the Killarney Park Hotel located in the centre of the eponymous town in south west Ireland. Run by Padraig and Janet Treacy and, increasingly, their children, the Killarney Park Hotel offers true and genuine 5 star service.

Posted in Best of 2012, Camino de Santiago, Copenhagen, Customer Service, Destination Marketing, Destinations, DMC, Florence, Graceland, Hotels, Ireland, Killarney, Meetings Industry, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events, Memphis, Paris, Santiago de Campostela, Switzerland, Travel and Tourism, Zermatt | 2 Comments

The Nature/Nurture debate and Brands: lessons from Paris

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI and Vice President, Destination Services, Ovation Global DMC

Paris 1Paris has featured, like bookends, at either end of my travel schedule in 2012. On both occasions, in January and November, the city yielded up that timeless sense of refined urban living, unique to great cities like Paris, London and Rome. En route to the meeting at Rue Chauchat you pass bars, cafes, restaurants and a myriad of tiny shops and boutiques with traditional hard wood fronts and beautifully created window displays. Here you’re miles away from the colonising bland homogeneity of global brands that have left so many cities bereft of retail uniqueness and diversity. These shopkeepers don’t follow franchise manuals and brand style books but infuse everything they do with fierce pride, deep passion and flawless style.

A Walk in the City

Paris 2 ArcWhen our meeting concludes I insist on walking to my hotel, the iconic Le Meridien Etoile. My colleague Capucine, who knows this vast city like it’s a tiny village, sketches out a route for me that takes me down Boulevard Haussman through the 7th arrondissement to where Avenue des Terns intersects with Porte Maillot, the location of my hotel. It’s a truly beguiling walk that combines wide elegant boulevards with narrow crowded lane-ways punctuated now and again by statement buildings such as Baltard’s Church of Saint Augustine and that great hidden gem, the Jacquemart – Andre Museum, currently hosting an exhibition of works by the Venetians Canaletto and Guardi. Boulevard Haussman then becomes Avenue de Friedland and, suddenly, there ahead of you, is an oblique view of the Arc de Triomphe silhouetted against the half -light of a late November sky.

Le Meridien Etoile, Paris

Paris Le MerOriginally built in the early 70s as the flagship property of the nascent Air France hotel chain, Le Meridien Etoile is now part of global chain Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. With over 1000 rooms and a perfect location adjacent to the Palais de Congres, this 4 star property offers US-style big box meetings and events solutions not frequently found in Europe. It also offers a fascinating case study in brand rehabilitation and positioning under the direction of Eva Ziegler, Global Brand Leader at Starwood for Le Meridien and the ultra-cool, W (recently opened in Paris to great acclaim).

Brand: The Theory

I found a fascinating interview with Ziegler on Elite Traveller in which she outlines the personality profile of the Le Meridien guest:

(The) Le Meridien audience is composed of aspirational, creative minds … curious and eager to learn something new in life. They are well-informed, modern people who look for the authentic, the engaging and the credible …

She goes on to outline the key steps in the brand’s guest experience from arrival at the door of the hotel:

Eva Ziegler… we have four different arrival elements. First, the door is a “transitional portal” into the new world of Le Meridien. Guests aren’t just walking through a door, but leaving their routine … At check-in, the key card is no longer a piece of plastic, but …a collectible object dedicated to art, and it opens their hotel room as well as a cultural center in the destination. Within elevators, elements are introduced to transform a mundane ride into a sound experience, featuring artists’ soundtracks of lost sounds—such as a forest, running horses, a market or water …

Brilliant! Bring me immediately to the “transitional portal” and let me frolic and play in this “new world” that recognises me for the “creative, well informed” person that I am with my sharp eye for fine art and my highly cultured coffee palate. (Art and Coffee are key aspects of the new brand, apparently). So is this what I experience as I eagerly transport myself through the magic door from city streets to anticipated hotel treats?

Brand: the Experience

Well, not entirely! There’s nothing particularly special or impactful about the “award winning lobby experience” as I enter except for the fact that the check-in area is not immediately visible. This causes a frisson of momentary anxiety in my mind but then I spot it by the crowd waiting in line to check-in. I stand in the orderly line and wait my turn expecting some sensory experience to envelop me but instead I’m gripped by an growing sense of frustration as the minutes slowly unwind.

When it eventually takes place, the check-in process is polite but perfunctory and my key card is presented in a small wallet without comment (it might have been nice to explain whose artistic work is featured on it). The ride to the 7th floor in a crowed elevator includes no “sound experience” other than the 2 Northern Italians from Deloitte discussing the aesthetic appeal of their French female counterpart.

UnlockThe guest room is small (having been in LA the previous week it seems miniscule!) but perfectly formed and I do like the muted colour scheme. The in-room “art” experience includes an attractive glass panel featuring a Paris scene in sepia tones and an interesting “LED-ART” panel which you need instructions to understand. There’s also some print collateral on the “UNLOCK ART” initiative and vouchers for free entrance to the Palais de Tokyo and free espresso at the Jazz Club Etoile (bizarrely valid ONLY after 10:30AM). There’s also an attractive brochure on “A Photographer’s Journey” a joint project of Le Meridien and Air France.

However, my first priority is to get on-line and my appreciation for the artistic experience in the room evaporates with the raging anger of being charged €12 per device for broadband. The second priority is to shower and freshen up prior to my dinner appointment but this too ends in frustration as I try to select the water temperature from shower controls located behind and directly underneath the shower head. In the shower there is no shelf for shampoo and no bathrobe is supplied. A mid-sleep trip to the lavatory confirms the absence of muted floor lighting and the presence of hard sharp corners against which small toes experience big pain.

Brand: the Lesson

So what lesson do I extrapolate from all of this? In the nature/nurture debate as applied to brands I’m now siding with nature. I believe that brands are born and then evolve into what they are. Paris has been evolving over centuries to become the living, breathing vibrant brand that it is today. Eva Ziegler has created an exciting, well articulated brand proposition for Le Meridien but it has not yet become this brand.  It hasn’t yet found its soul. Its own people need to be more imbued with the vision, mission and values of the brand and the basic product and service infrastructure needs to match the expectations of contemporary business guests. Once this is in place the unique brand attributes can start to sparkle and shine.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI destination services division.

 

 

Posted in Brand, Culture, Customer Service, Destinations, Le Meridien Etoile, Paris, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Best of 2012 – my favourite albums of the year

by Padraic Gilligan, VP, Industry Relations, MCI and VP, Ovation Global DMC

The novelist Nick Hornby perfectly nails British Gen X male psychosis in High Fidelity (location moved from London to Chicago in the US movie version by Stephen Frears). Protoganist Rob Fleming (named Rob Gordon in the movie) is a musical elitist and anal retentive list maker with Top 5s for everything from best episodes of Cheers to best Elvis Costello songs. Although I am neither British nor Gen X I do admit to the same tendencies. In no particular order or rank, here’s my top albums for 2012:

Aimee Mann, Charmer

Aimee MannI loved ‘Til Tuesday in the 80s and bought Mann’s first 2 solo albums in the 90s. Other than the Magnolia soundtrack, I didn’t keep up with Aimee Mann until this year’s Charmer. All I can say is that it’s great to be back in touch with one of the finest singer songwriters on the live circuit today.

 

Alt-J, An Awesome Wave

Alt JWinners of the 2012 Mercury Award,  Alt-J is comprised of 3 graduates in Fine Arts and 1 graduate in English Lit. “Tessellate” from this album showcases their cultural depth along with their extraordinary musical prowess with definite shades of Radiohead in there. The video for “Tessellate” presents a twisted contemporary take on Renaissance artist Raphael’s “The School of Athens” where high learning academics are replaced by low life gangstas. Brilliant.

Andy Burrows, Company

BurrowsFormer drummer with Razorlight (whose single “America” was a highlight in 2006) this is Burrows’ first solo release and I love it! This is Indie Pop which almost goes mainstream – the current single “Hometown” could have been huge for One Direction!

 

 

Best Coast, The Only Place

Best CoastI’ve played this consistently since I discovered it mid-summer. It’s low-fi naïf surf pop from a guitar and bass duo based in California and has a liberating feel good factor precisely because it’s not over-produced. Apparently they’ll join Green Day on tour in 2013.

 

Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball

Wreching BallThere were brilliant releases in 2012 from at least 3 legacy artists – Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and this one from Bruce Springsteen. I caught the Wrecking Ball tour in Dublin in June and it was energising to see an aging performer so passionate about what he does and so connected to the reality in which he lives. “Jack of all Trades” is a stand-out track both on the album and in live performance. Here Bruce returns to his roots and celebrates the hard-working, honest decency of blue collar America.

 

The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter

The Avett BrosTaylor Black at Extraordinary Events introduced me to The Avett Brothers a couple of years ago and “I and love and you” from the eponymous album is definitely in my top 100 songs of all times. This gentle album from June 2012 offers up a dozen great acoustic guitar songs with the brothers’ characteristic lyrical quirkiness and intensity. Check out on YouTube the version of “I and love and you” with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

Dry the River, Shallow Bed

Dry the RiverI saw this UK band play an amazing set to only about 50 people at the Electric Picnic (one of Europe’s coolest festivals!) in September and immediately bought “Shallow Bed” their early 2012 release. Located on the same side of the musical spectrum as Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire and Blitzen Trapper, Dry the River produce great soaring tunes with weird, hippyesque lyrics.

Father John Misty, Fear Fun

F JohnFather John Misty is the name given to the latest project of Josh Tillman, one time drummer with the sublime Fleet Foxes. “Fear Fun” is actually Tillman’s 8th album and reminds me of the writing of Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine – there’s a certain Spartan feel about the production which highlights the musical hooks and clever, sometimes funny lyrics.

Frank Orange, Channel ORANGE

Frank OrangeChannel ORANGE, in years to come, might be up there with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” as a milestone album in the history of soul. It’s literally all over the place drawing on such a plethora of musical genres and influences as to defy categorisation. Orange’s baritone is juxtaposed by impossible falsetto and melodies jump in and out of time signatures but it all fits so magnificently together.

Robert Glaspar Experiment, Black Radio

RGEThis eclectic collection of originals and covers features guest vocal performances from Lalah Hathaway, KING, Bilal and others. It’s another album that resists our need to pigeon hole combining rock, hip hop and R&B, all inside a pervasive jazz grove. There are covers here from Sade (“Cherish the Day”), David Bowie (“Letter to Hermione”) and Nirvana (“Smells like Teen Spirit”) but you’d never know it as Glaspar re-interprets them surprisingly, beautifully, courageously.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division. He posts a weekly blog on destinations and matters of interest to the meetings industry at www.padraicino.wordpresscom.

 

Posted in Best Albums 2012, Best of 2012, Bruce Springsteen, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

California dreaming

by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC

Learning, Connecting, Being Inspired

In his seminal book Meeting Architecture, Maarten Vanneste identifies education, networking and motivation as the 3 pillars around which successful meeting outcomes are based. Thus we go to conferences to learn, connect and be inspired but the selected conference location contributes significantly to all three objectives, particularly the last one. The destination is often what catapults the conference from good to great leaving us with that warm afterglow of motivation, that sense of having done something lasting, worthwhile and meaningful. That’s precisely how I’m feeling now following a week in Southern California during which I experienced a destination that lived up to its reputation for bling while yielding some unexpected and thoroughly pleasant surprises.

The social and networking part of the FICP conference (see previous posts) delivered 100% on what I expected LA to be: we walked the red carpet, had prom shots taken by paparazzi, partied in privatised night clubs, had celebrities like Tone Loc and Kenny G perform for us. We danced the light fantastic and experienced the superficial sparkle of life in a shiny, bright ultra-material world. Then FICP left town and with it went the rarefied, privileged access to the destination that the conference brought. With an extra day before the long haul home I was on my own to discover what else LA might yield up.

 

Civic Buildings in Downtown LA

Downtown LA has been organised into a series of distinct districts each with its own identity – the South Park District, the Fashion District, Warehouse District etc. The city authorities have done an outstanding job helping visitors navigate the urban spaces with street maps dotted around the various neighbourhoods and signage and colour coding used to identify the various zones. I walked up Bunker Hill from LA Live and enjoyed a couple of hours in the Civic Centre District which clearly draws inspiration from great European cities like London, Paris and Madrid where civic buildings are afforded a spatial context appropriate to their purpose and meaning.

The Frank Gehry designed Disney Theatre with its signature titanium cladding is the fully fanned peacock in the hen coup, an extraordinary, intricate deconstructionist statement that would be worth the visit to LA on its own. Housing the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, its interior acoustics are as remarkable as its exterior appearance and performances take place there without artificial amplification. It can also be hired for private meetings and events. Nearby is the equally astonishing Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a magnificent contemporary edifice constructed between 1995 and 2002 by Spanish born Rafael Moneo under the tutelage of Roger Mahony, Roman Catholic Archbishop of LA.

This contemporary religious structure is a modern day equivalent of the great cathedrals built in the Middle Ages throughout Europe – Chartes, Paris, Winchester, Vienna etc. Like the cathedrals of the Middle Ages it was built with donations, big and small, from wealthy Foundations, high net worth individuals and simple, ordinary believers. This being LA all donors are listed in order of the magnitude of the donation, like rolling credits at the end of a Hollywood movie. I experienced a tiny frisson of pride upon noting that the founding donors are all of Irish extraction – the Dan Murphy Foundation and the Donohoe family. Despite its colossal dimensions, the interior is envelopingly warm and beautifully simple. A stunning wall frieze /  tapestry of “The Communion of Saints” by native Californian John Nava runs along the perimeter of the 2 facing walls either side of the central altar. Fittingly in LA where celebrity achievement is feted and publicised, this is the “holy” Hall of Fame made up of women, men and children from St Augustine to Mother Teresa whose lives have made a transformative contribution to humankind.

An Extraordinary Evening at Providence

Thanks to my great friend Andrea Michaels of Extraordinary Events I also got to experience something of the much celebrated SoCal foodie scene and was treated to an effervescent evening of cool food and hot gossip at Providence, a relatively new 2 star Michelin restaurant on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Andrea brought along one of her colleagues, my soul brother in music, Taylor Black (author of Taylor’s Tunes at Andrea’s weekly The Good News Letter). I brought my colleague, the inimitable Maeve O’ Connor. Our spirited high jinks and noisy, clattery conversation drew no disapproval from a highly professional wait team who patiently explained the various menu combinations to us and then left us to our own devises. Sometimes award winning restaurants become hushed epicurean temples and conviviality is forced into second place by arrogant, gastronomic artistry. Not so at Providence. Focused predominately on “un-embellished” fish and seafood, co-owners Donato Poto and Michael Cimarusti have created a wonderfully warm environment where traditional Italian values around the familial enjoyment of great food are juxtaposed but not eclipsed by a pursuit of un-compromising cuisine excellence.

Santa Monica

Trevor Hanks of our SoCal partners at the DMC Network, 360Destinations Group, organised a morning in Santa Monica for me to experience something of the famous beach culture of Southern California. Santa Monica is easily accessible from Beverley Hills, Hollywood and LA Downtown as well as from LAX but presents a totally different, much more laid back experience of sunshine, sand and sea. What the hotels there may lack in size and scale they make up for in location and charm. I spent an hour there with Stephen Haller, Director of National Accounts at the Loews, a splendid beach facing property with almost 350 guestrooms. Stephen is passionate about Santa Monica and highlighted how well the city authorities have managed the assets and infrastructure at their disposal, strenuously avoiding the beach front building blitz that has blighted so many seaside destinations all over the world. Net result is, perhaps, a shortage of hotel real estate but this is compensated for by the sheer class and quality of the available experiences – Loews being a perfect case in point.

But what can you do with about 30 mins to spare before you head for LAX? I walked along the beach and climbed onto the famous Santa Monica Pier where I took a picture at the “official” (but fictitious!) end of Route 66, the famous interstate highway linking Chicago and LA. I ate Clam Chowder at one of the restaurants there and quietly bemoaned the fact that I had no time to go to nearby Malibu to check out the Getty Villa or to visit Bergamot Station which houses the city’s art collection or to patronise McCabe’s Guitar Shop which, besides selling every stringed instrument ever invented, has hosted performances by just about any valid musician you can think of (wish I had been there to see local boy, Jackson Browne).

Particular thanks to Andrea at Extraordinary Events and Trevor at 360Destinations for taking care of me when FICP left town.

Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Industry Relations at MCI and Vice President of Ovation Gobal DMC, MCI’s destination services division.

 

Posted in Destination Management Company, Destination Management Consultant, Destination Marketing, Destinations, DMC, FICP, Hotels, Meetings and Events, Meetings Industry, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events, Motivational Events, Santa Monica | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment