ABT-ACTE Russia MICE FORUM SOCHI: let`s make happiness!

Sea, mountains, sea, mountains, sea mountains… Three April days full of sun, south warmth, colleagues’ smiles, communication, professional contacts, useful information, new impressions and just joy. These words of Ella Akinschina, general director of Planet Sochi DMC, co-organizer of the first all-Russian ABT-ACTE Russia MICE FORUM SOCHI were almost hypnotic. This short spin of time that had been so busy: a conference, a workshop, tours, inspections, leisure and entertainment passed her love to the region to those who were in Sochi for the first time and those who has been here in the times of the USSR and were now rediscovering the city. The city that has literally made a quantum leap in service and travel facilities development due to the Olympics. More than 150 leading business travel industry and MICE players from different parts of Russia had an opportunity to make sure of the main fact: Sochi has everything that hard to please corporate buyers need to hold events – modern hotels and congress venues, transport accessibility, unique nature and a variety of facilities to implement the most extraordinary ideas.

The positive mood of forum participants was not at all affected by economic difficulties so many times discussed at other events of the industry that all the Russian MICE market players without exception have to overcome nowadays. Thus, MICE sales and customer service director of FcM Travel Solutions Russia Svetlana Kleschenogova pointed out closure of a number of popular travel destinations, license withdrawal of more than a hundred banks, bankruptcy of a number of large tour operators, several air carriers leaving the market simultaneously and the reduction in the flight frequency of the rest of them. As well as the changes in pricing patterns of airlines, terrorist attacks in Egypt, Turkey, Paris and Brussels, as well as the introduction of a number of legislative initiatives making the work of business travel agencies much more complicated. The expert also spoke about a significant reduction in the presence of international companies in Russia. Over the previous year the GM corporate group stopped Opel car assembly in Saint Petersburg and Volvo shut down its truck assembly line, one of Bosh-Siemens factories ceased its operation, Hewlett Packard and Carlsberg cut their production volumes notably, BlackBerry announced it was leaving the market and Adobe, Google, Microsoft declared they were going to close their offices partially or completely.

Against the background of financial and staff reserve decrease, both the geography of corporate events and their format have definitely changed. Interestingly, most conference participants regarded this fact not only as a new challenge and task, but also as an opportunity for business growth.

For example, due to this forced import phase-out MICE organizers and procurement experts rediscover Russia: forum experts noted that in 2015 about 80% of events were held on the territory of our country. A year before this figure reached only 50%. Head of group and conference department of HRG Russia Arina Negina called this trend «back to the USSA». In her words, the most popular destinations at the moment are such regions as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Moscow region, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Sochi, Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Karelia, Baikal, Crimea, Altai and Kamchatka. An obvious trend of the recent years is to arrange evens not in hotels or official congress halls, but in so called “wild” or industrial premises – in warehouses, factories, on the roofs. “Those who were absorbed by Arthur Hailey`s Wheels, will not need to imagine how cars are made – they will see it with their own eyes”, general director of IBC Corporate Travel Anatoly Kuryumov gave his comments.

In expert opinion, the shift to domestic MICE destinations has largely been caused not only by the geopolitical situation and safety issues, but also by the customers` wish to optimize logistic costs – and this trend will only intensify in the near future”, Ms Negina noted.

Due to the expected cut in marketing budgets most companies have cut both the total number of events and conferences, and the budget of every event in particular. The experts also note the evident trend of the decrease in the sale depth that has come to the fore over the last year and a half: on average, most requests are confirmed by corporate buyers not one and a half – one month before the event, but two-three weeks in advance only.

At the same time experts representing TMCs and MICE agencies at the forum were unanimous: the budget cut does not at all mean a decrease in the requirements to event arrangement quality – on the contrary, “the smaller the budget, the higher ROI” trend is becoming a peculiar moto of the industry for years ahead. In this connection most companies refuse from entertainment events – they are replaced by more efficient team building and educational events, often with sport or socially minded components on their schedule.

Attention to sport and healthy lifestyle was mentioned not only by speakers in their reports, but also during the panel discussion. ABT-ACTE Russia chairman Vadim Zelenski noted that literally a few years ago it was almost impossible to find entertainment of this type, nowadays sport events are a real principal magnet of the corporate segment – moreover, it is true for both large competitions like the Olympics or World Hockey Championship, and running competitions or just a sports day in a company.

Optimization of logistic costs is far not the only way to cut event budget, is the opinion of forum participants. Thus, Svetlana Kleschenogova spoke about a trend that was becoming more and more popular - to offer street food at business events. The expert supposes that the traditional buffet will soon become a thing of the past, and food will be served at food stations, due to this organizers will cater for preferences or diet restrictions of any participant, and any menu will literally become a work of authorship. Developing this idea, Anatoly Kuryumov said that food at corporate events is turned from a means of satisfying hunger into a concept aimed to stress the specific character of the event.

In order to save budget, some corporate buyers refuse from expensive transfers and go around the city by public transport at the expense of their comfort – of course, only there where it is good and quite comfortable, like in Istanbul, Barcelona or London.

And of course, an indispensable aid in event cost cutting is technology. Andrey Safrygin, general director of Aeroclub Tour regrets to say that most processes in the Russian MICE industry are still operated manually. At the same time, introduction of online technologies only – at the stage of requests and applications, electronic tender arrangement, participant registration – could automate and, consequently, simplify a great number of organizational aspects.

“Any event is in point of fact a container where a hall, food, appliances, schedule are packed. Do it all with the help of technologies, saving you from routine and nerves, and devote all your time to the creative part only”, Anatoly Kuryumov supported his colleague`s opinion.

At the same time innovation technologies also fulfill another important function – participant involvement. “If a person wants to be in his tablet or notepad all the time – give him this opportunity!” Anatoly proposed, defining such a use of gadgets at events as “continuous communication”. For example, it lets conference participants assess the speech of a speaker online, to share their opinion with their colleagues and partners right away, because any post in Twitter may be shown on a big screen the very moment it is written.

Svetlana Kleschenogova`s speech at the forum was devoted to the latest mobile applications that could help you upload documents easily, communicate, hold games, quests, interactive excursions and many other things. At the same time they can be integrated into social networks in order to promote events and increase the number of participants. If your budget allows it, technologies are worth using to achieve greater visual appeal. In the expert`s opinion, MICE of tomorrow is inconceivable without such forms of contents presentation like all types of sensor or contact-free screens, holographic pictures, extended reality and 3D mapping – they change the space and create the effect of plunging into the topic of the event. What is more, in Svetlana`s opinion, in the near future robots will help exhibition and conference organizers – they will meet guests, serve drinks and even provide simple consultations.

During the panel discussion its moderator, head of corporate sales department of Rosa Khutor Mikhail Prusakov raised concerns about technologies and social networks intruding into the MICE industry too much and too often. “I am not against hashtags or Facebook, but the essence of corporate events is to make people communicate in person – this is what we meet for. Many guests of the forum agreed with his opinion, and Anatoly Kuryumov recalled a vivid example of an efficient and extraordinary impulse for business meeting participants to communicate and get acquainted. At an event he was offered to leave two cards at registration, and one of them was randomly passed to a participant, who you had to … have dinner with. Moreover, fulfillment of this “nice requirement” on the days of the conference was strictly controlled by organizers. At another forum another completely extraordinary way of removing communication barriers was used: a continuous change of scene, when business partners gradually travelled from a meeting room to a dining zone and then … to a bedroom, where they continued their talk on the bed. “It takes you out of your comfort zone completely! People start thinking differently and reveal lots of creative things!”, Mr Kuryumov noted.

In the expert`s opinion, creative approach and positive emotions are in general the main trend of the MICE and event industry, which is extremely in demand with the Y-generation, representatives of which are more and more numerous in the labour market year after year. “Let`s make happiness!” – this was Anatoly`s encouraging appeal to event organizers and corporate buyers.

And everyone was really happy and full of inspiration during MICE Forum ABT-ACTE Russia – it just can`t be the opposite in Sochi. In Elina Akinschina`s opinion, the city is now one of 5 most frequently visited cities of Russia. “It is a wonderful region, very rich from the point of view of event arrangement. Palms, magnolias, oleanders, mimosas blossoming in February already, a unique combination of subtropical and continental climates that are only an hour by car away from each other – all this provides a guaranteed WOW effect for event participants. And we are ready to share this synergy of mental strength, nature and emotions with you!”, the expert noted. And Olympic heritage of the region is not only the spirit of victory, but also 360 kilometres of new roads, 65 thousand of hotel rooms, 300 conference halls, 118 kilometres of beaches and unique facilities for incentive programs – for example, the longest suspension bridge in the world on the territory of Sky Park.

Ms Akinschina said that Planet Sochi had dealt with arrangement of tailored MICE programs on the background of the facilities of the region for many years already: they may include Olympic quests, sailing regattas, F1 car race and even incentive trips to the mountains to an alpine camp combining interactive excursions with active rest in a camp at the height of 1600 metres above the sea level. Team building programs with an emphasis on retro themes are becoming more and more popular with corporate buyers. Guests of ABT-ACTE Russia Forum took part in one of such historic quests – it was held on the territory of Swissotel Resort Sochi Kamelia 5*.

The teams were offered to decipher a phrase written in the guestbook of the hotel by Jury Gagarin. In order to do it they had to collect six keys with short hints: quest participants juggled a ball, lifted a kettle ball of 16 kilograms, had to guess Russian sayings and proverbs given key words, recalled historic facts, made sophisticated photos at the fountain cascade and even had to drop a five liter bottle of water by throwing a stick from the toe! It was cheerful and amusing, and the reward was not only the delicious “soviet” ice cream at one of the stages of the competition, but also the final gala reception arranged by forum organizers and the hotel.

On the third and fourth days of their stay, participants of ABT-ACTE MICE FORUM SOCHI could get acquainted with MICE facilities of the city themselves by making a guided tour of the resorts of Krasnaya Polyana and visiting the Rosa Hall, Formula-1 race track and the indoor skating centre Adler-Arena in the Olympic park, a yacht club, the multifunctional complex for sport and entertainment events Ice Cube and many other facilities.

Some forum participants examined Sochi facilities not as prospective customers, but as experts who had held corporate events there. Olesya Andreevskaya, special event and travel program manager of Mary Kay Russia shared her experience in using MICE facilities of the region with her colleagues. The grand event for the most successful managers of the company was held in Sochi in February 2016 on the territory of Adler-Arena.

The expert drew attention of corporate buyers to the fact that it was not a multifunctional venue that changed its configuration at the touch of a button, but a big ice hall with a spectator stand, and the temperature inside was not more than 18 degrees even if ice arenas were closed. In Olesya`s opinion, it is better to hold a small tender to choose a catering provider: the company has managed to save up to 25% of budget by using catering offered by the venue itself, the quality and terms of which turned out to be better than those offered by another three local and one Moscow provider. Nevertheless, in order to provide the necessary service level organizers decided to resort to the services of a local controlling organization – and it is, in Ms Andreevskaya`s opinion, a general recommendation for all the events in this region, where staff does not have the necessary qualification yet.

But some small shortcomings that are inevitably inherent to the young MICE destination are by far compensated by good facilities, transport accessibility of the region, a great variety of opportunities for incentive programs and, of course, astonishing nature. “Three hundred sunny days per year, mountains neighbouring the sea – it is already a guarantee of a positive mood of the participants!”, Olesya is convinced.

All the delegates of MICE Forum ABT-ACTE Russia fully agreed with her opinion. “A high level of organization, interesting speakers, useful acquaintances, nice atmosphere, a great region to have a look at unique facilities!”, is the opinion of Aleksey Shikin, general director of Sshikom creative group.

“In the first place I would like to thank the organizers for the fact that they have managed to gather a team of participants from various service sectors, professionals with different views on the business, which has no doubt been a great plus for all the partners and colleagues”, is the opinion of Aleksey Isaev, head of sales department of Bronevik.com. “It is always interesting and useful to listen to experts, share your experience and skills. Planet Sochi DMC has shown the facilities of the city as a business destination – MICE arrangement both at large venues in hotels and in historic and spectacular places – for example, Formula-1 race track. To my mind, such a contingence of various professional directions in the field of business travel has a fruitful effect both on the customer and the service provider”.

Event organizers said that the forum would become an annual milestone event in the calendar of MICE events of the industry and invited all the delegates to Sochi in 2017.

General partner of the event was Hyatt Regency Sochi, strategic partners were Utair airline, promotional and manufacturing company “Magic of light”, RUTA, all year round resort Rosa Khutor and Solis Sochi Hotel & Suits. Support to the forum was also rendered by Swissotel Resort Sochi Kamelia 5*, Gorki Hotels, Marriott Sochi Krasnaya Polyana, Mountain Travel Centre of Gazprom, Air Charter Service, Special Project Agency, Radisson Blu Paradise Resort and Spa Sochi, Radisson Blu Resort & Congress Center Sochi, Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow, RanTur travel agency, I’way transport company, Event Travel Group, Fort wine trading company.

Svetlana Denikina

Source: http://buyingbusinesstravel.com.ru