IMG Show-2016: “Let`s make the whole MICE industry be proud of our exhibition!”

There are two months left till the so much anticipated event of the Russian MICE industry - International MICE Geography Show-2016. And “so much anticipated” is not an exaggeration in this case – this year market experts have not had many invitations to come together: large MICE exhibitions that had already become a tradition were not held.

Two months are nothing for an event of such a scale. However, the organizers are nervous not because of organizational issues, if they are at all. Here only final additions are left. Their main concerns are connected with … the caution of the exhibitors: some of them still have doubts whether the show will be held.

Partner relations director of ABT-ACTE Russia Irina Mikhalkova and exhibition director Alyona Gurinova have told BBT Russia about why there should be no worries, about surprises and topics of IMG Show in the run-up to MICE festival (and we cannot give it any other name!)

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- Irina, Alyona, IMG Show was initially planned as an annual event. But the situation in the Russian market is turbulent – even some MICE exhibitions that had become a tradition were cancelled…

Irina: Indeed, although the situation is improving gradually, providers still have concerns whether their investment will pay off. Two other Moscow events – Tishinka MICE Forum and ANTOR MICE Workshop were cancelled earlier this year… Of course, we do not mind becoming a really unique and the largest industry venue in the capital, but the exhibitions that are our competitors, do help us – they revive the market, make it more trustworthy. Some have doubts whether IMG Show will be held. And you know what, it will. Agreements have been signed, invitation of professional visitors is under way, and more than a half of exhibitors have confirmed their participation in the second show right after the first one was over. It is our advice for those who have not taken the final decision yet – hurry up, almost all the exhibit spaces have been sold out.

Yes, to hold IMG now is a certain challenge. We really bear great responsibility.

Alyona: But we have a strong team that has not changed since last year.

- If you think about IMG Show 2015 – what would you praise yourself for and what would you scold yourself for?

Irina: No doubt, it was the right decision to invite regional corporate buyers. After all, Moscow audience was not quite ready for the system of strict timing. This year we are planning to encourage the most disciplined participants: our motivation program will let us increase commitment and loyalty of absolutely all the participants.

Providers thanked us for the regions themselves. Agree that it is hard to go to 6-7 Russian cities and to meet corporate buyers, some of which you can hardly get on the phone … You need time for all this. And to win their loyalty is even a harder task.

The success of the event was largely stipulated by its venue – the Metropol. The legendary hotel in the centre of the capital, having unique architecture and design of interiors was the favourite meeting place of business elite as early as in the beginning of the twentieth century. Conference halls meet all the world standards and undoubtedly make a good impression on travellers. Here we have organized a real MICE holiday, with the help of the hotel of course!

Alyona: During the two-day meeting, our exhibitors were not just acquainted, they made friends. Moreover, the idea of the showcase tender was a real bomb! There will be requests for corporate events this year as well. Contest participants are Mary Kay, L’Oréal, Saint Gobain, MegaFon and others. There are seven of them. We have already received their RFPs, and providers have as much as two months to prepare their videos for them.

This year, like a year ago, IMG Show partners include the sightseeing double-decker operator City Sightseeing Moscow and Radisson Fleet, due to this fact show participants will be able to combine the business part of the event with a tour of the most picturesque places of the capital.

Of course, everyone remembers lottery draw of vouchers provided by event partners. The lottery lasted for several hours! We are afraid of thinking what we will have this year!.. Many of our guests have already received surprises from the exhibitors. And for some the mere participation in IMG Show has turned out to be a real present: delegates from Tyumen, for example, still thank us and our Tyumen partners who coordinated their group, for the opportunity to visit the capital.

As for the drawbacks, we would like to believe there were not so many of them. I suppose, the main one was the lack of MICE agencies among professional buyers last year. But this year we will definitely fill this gap.

Besides, it was the first IMG Show for us and for the market. This time we will make all the effort possible to make the meeting more efficient, useful and irreproachable from the point of view of its organization.

- In our talk you have mentioned regional guests twice already. You seem to specially distinguish this part of the audience, don`t you?

Irina: Of course we do. The market has made only a little step towards the regions yet, but the attention of most corporate buyers is locked on them: business is heading to the cities of Russia.

Yes, regional experts are new to international exhibitions yet, they need a little more preparation for their meetings with providers. This is why we have decided to develop a special introductive educational program for them, where we will explain, what categories of providers will be present at the workshop, what things are to be discussed with them, what services they provide, etc. The format of the event is already clear to Moscow delegates, they have no fear of communicating with direct providers, they come up to them with specific questions, while regional buyers have concerns whether they are obliged to sign any kinds of contracts during the talks. However, we all understand that they are here for knowledge and useful contacts in the first place.

Alyona: Nevertheless, regional participants noted in the opinion poll held after IMG Show 2015 they had received maximum attention at the event and concluded quite good agreements in the end.

- What topics will be raised during the educational program at IMG Show? What are industry experts interested in at present?

Irina: MICE deals with different countries, sometimes even with different worlds. This is why one of the topics of our program will be cross-cultural communication. By the word, it was taken with enthusiasm by the delegates of ACTE Forum that was held in March.

After this, we would like to dwell on sport events. Taking care of your health – is it a MICE trend? Or is it a trend of the modern life in general? Chairman of ABT-ACTE Russia Vadim Zelenski noted at MICE Forum Sochi in April that this format was extremely popular among corporate customers nowadays. We will also have an educational section on the difference of purchases in business travel and event arrangement. We will discuss how this process works abroad and in Russia.

In general, many corporate buyers deal with travel purchases, and not MICE. They often stress: “I am a travel coordinator, and not a congress manager”. Therefore, this year we would like to invite to IMG Show business travel organizers as well, because all the same airlines, hotel chains, taxi companies work both in the corporate and MICE segment. It means that even if you do not have events for five thousand participants, but you have groups of ten persons, for example, you can turn to us: providers are open to requests for such volumes as well.

Alyona: We will also talk about venue check list – requirements set nowadays for different venues. It is obvious, that companies have different tasks and budgets. But still, what Wi-Fi speed is necessary, for example? Besides, many are concerned about data safety nowadays. What data transmission channels are to be used during the event? Or does it sometimes make sense to ask for a password-protected line?

By the way, a larger number of exhibitors will have an opportunity to speak for the audience on the first day of IMG Show. Besides, taking into account recommendations of last year delegates, we are going to make the discussion more interactive.

And finally, apart from the educational part, we will present Yearbook 2015 to the guests – the annual industry research of the state and trends of the Russian travel industry.

- Obviously, one of them will be a shift to domestic destinations - is this what all the MICE market participants without exception are talking about nowadays?

Irina: And you can only congratulate Russia on this! It has lacked attention of event organizers for a long time. And now there is high demand of event planners for Sochi, the Baikal, Altay, Kamchatka, the Caucasus. In this case, the problem is rather different … For example, there are opinions of agencies that have already taken tourist groups to Kamchatka, that there is no DMC in the region that could provide the full range of services. You have to put the event together out of a large number of pieces. Yes, “patchwork” is a great story, people like it, but it is very hard to “write” it.

At the same time, we see that many regions are trying to increase their potential, find the unique features they are able to offer. If we take Sverdlovsk region, for example, there are no beaches here, but there are woods. In Nizhny Tagil, for example, not long ago a corporate event devoted to the launch of a new Niva model was held, and it took place on the military training area where the international exhibition of arms, machinery and supplies Russia Arms Expo usually takes place. The car was compared to a tank – and the venue to put this idea into practice was ideal. And every region offers such highlights you are obliged to see.

Our colleagues from Ulyanovsk also surprised us: “We want MICE too! Of course, we may lack something, but we are ready to do a lot!” Regions are doing their best, and it deserves no end of praise.

The main thing here is to go easy on it, however. What do I mean? Any city that starts positioning itself as a MICE venue, starts looking to world standards. In this case people think: “We ought to have an exhibition centre for a certain amount of participants”. Like Kazan. It is a wonderful city with its strong national colour, a very hospitable one. But the largest hall in Kazan, if I am not mistaken, can hold up to 1200-1300 persons. And local hoteliers and tour operators complain – “Why on earth? We have no room for five thousand guests”. But maybe it is not so necessary yet? Maybe you should concentrate on events of up to one thousand participants?

Or Kaliningrad – a wonderful, bright city with a foreign look! There are not enough hotel chains there yet, it is impossible to accommodate a large group of participants there, but Serbia, for example, has the same problem and nevertheless, it has been quite successful as a MICE destination. In short, every region has its own customer.

What else is the advantage of Russia as a MICE destination? Experts know, that nothing compares to an out-of-office event, this is why it is so important to take people to another reality sometimes. And now this reality can be found not abroad, but in Kazan or Moscow region. And it will be completely different! All our regions and republics differ greatly. This difference – in architecture, traditions, cuisine – can be seen even within one city! And it is not surprising, because there are 140 million people living in Russia.

Even prices differ! If we speak about Kazan again, public catering culture is well developed there: you can ask both for a glass of expensive wine and tea for 20 rubles in the same café.

Alyona: What I would like to add: when we talk to corporate customers, we see that their interest in Australia and New Zealand grows, groups go to Tenerife. Customers choose destinations also out of their safety considerations. They include UAE, Macau, Singapore. They have not disappeared at all!

The USA, Mexico, the Dominican Republic are popular with event planners. In Europe top business travel destinations are France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Lithuania, Estonia.

- I can`t help asking you about the gala dinner: last year it was held in the Metropol and was the real jewel of IMG Show. Ladies were luxurious, gentlemen were as elegant … Shall we prepare evening dresses this year?

Irina: Indeed! Generally speaking, last year we did not have a certain gala dinner theme. There was content. And the main emotional outburst was due to videos prepared by our providers who participated in the contest. This year we have had a more professional approach to dinner arrangement, we learn as well. And taking into consideration that one of the show aims was to show Moscow and Russia from the point of view of its MICE facilities, we thought our delegates would not mind being in an ordinary traveller’s shoes. This is why the gala dinner will be in the Russian style. Nevertheless, you will not see either kokoshniks or bears – it is a too stock idea of our country. You will see the elegant Russia.

Yes, there were times when you wanted to put on fluorescent shoes, but now it is time when you want to return to classics. And the fact that the Metropol is just opposite the Bolshoi Theatre, was a kind of a hint for us.

Alyona: And “the most delicious thing” – we offer show exhibitors an opportunity to stay at the Metropol at a great price they will never find in any other hotel of such a high level for this period of time. Many hotels are fully booked for September already. And you should by all means use this opportunity!

- What`s new in the organization of IMG Show this year?

Irina: We have drawn many lessons out of the last year event and corrected our mistakes. For example, last year Corporate Buyers Lounge was available for corporate customers only in the afternoon. This time there will be no limitations: all the professional buyers will be able to visit the Lounge any time that is convenient for them. The zone will be open all day long on September 23. There you can relax, charge your phone. Besides, in the lounge there will be an educational program provided by event partners, including Switzerland Convention and Incentive Bureau (SCIB) – its representatives will tell buyers about MICE advantages of their country.

Besides, exhibitors have personal online accounts on IMG website, where they can appoint meetings that are important for them. Last year the system enabled invitation sending only to corporate buyers from the regions. And this year everyone is open for everyone, i.e. any category of buyers is accessible for exhibitors – both regional and Moscow ones, plus agencies. The same situation is with buyers. It means all our participants have been given equal opportunities.

Alyona: Unfortunately, we will not be able to invite absolutely all the guests to the gala dinner, the number of seats is limited – there are 250 of them. When we make their list, we will take into account their impact into ABT-ACTE Russia activities.

Besides, at the end of the show we want to offer exhibitors and partners an opportunity to arrange their own tables: they will be able to treat their colleagues with their national drinks and dishes from their country or city.

Irina: By the way, this year we expect a larger number of exhibitors then last year – up to 80, including Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Leading Hotels of the World, Steigenberger Hotel Group, GCH Hotel Group, AZIMUT Hotels, Best Western Plus Vega Hotel & Convention Centre, Renaissance Moscow Monarch Centre, Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana, Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow (Hotel Ukraina), Gorki Hotels, KLM/Air France, Etihad Airways, Catalan Tourist Board, Tourism Development Agency of France (Atout France), Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic in Russia, Ukraine and CIS, Barcelona Congress Bureau, DMC in Central Asia Dolores Travel Services, MaxiMICE, Liberty International Tourism Group, MICE TV, DMCs Metropol-Express and Planet Sochi, Gorki Gorod Resort, Solis Sochi Hotel, Sviyazhsky Hills Resort, Spanish DMC In Out Travel, AS Tallink Grupp, Special Project Agency, Grimaldi Forum Monaco, Convene and many others. This year strategic partners of the event are Japan Airlines, Swissotel Krasnye Holmy, tourism department of the Embassy of Spain. Study Zone partner is Switzerland Convention and Incentive Bureau (SCIB), general partner is the Metropol. We are glad to have the support of the Department for Multicultural Policy, Interregional Cooperation and Tourism of Moscow.

We also count on a large audience – more than 350 buyers. Besides, it is also our little trick: our very first guests (corporate buyers) will get a certificate for a river cruise with Radisson Royal Fleet, Moscow. We are waiting for you, don`t be late!

During the workshop two conference halls will be open simultaneously – Onegin and Chatsky – delegates will have more opportunities for communication. We have not forgotten anything, have we? I hope, market experts will not forget to mark September 22-23 in their calendars, in order to take part in such a grand event. Let`s take it to the new level together, so that the whole industry could be proud of us!

Interviewed by Marina Osipova
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