eXtremeCRM – the partner from across the Atlantic ocean, decided to organise an international conference for its clients, in cooperation with Sofitel Victoria Warsaw Hotel. I was fascinated by the fact that although the Organisers had never been to Poland, they decided to put their trust regarding the logistics of their event, in a team from the AccorHotels chain. I had to see for myself what the outcome would be. I invite you behind the scenes of this unusual conference.
Let’s go back in time – its October 2015, at the Softiel Warsaw Victoria hotel, utilising the media platform CVENT, the connecting link of MICE written to by the US firm eXtremeCRM. They were particularly concerned about the choice of a location in Poland’s capital, at which an international conference could be organised. Among the requirements was a specific list of requests that the client expected. Some of these were airline tickets to Poland for an initial visit, accommodation for the organisers (three nights prior to the event, for its duration, and for three days after), food and a cocktail party. Also on the list were vouchers for the hotel’s spa, the provision of internal offices for the Organisers, dinners for eXtremeCRM’s representatives, discounts for the use of technical equipment, plus food and included Internet access for 400 people. The final requirement was for reduced room rates for the conference’s guests. There were many requirements and these seemed almost impossible to fulfil. Yet this was only the first stage in the client’s initial negotiations! The contract was signed in December, and amendments were made via e-mail and telephone conversations. The client arrived for a preliminary visit in January after signing the contract.
The current trend in the MICE sector is quite different; contracts are often negotiated over several months, with the final date for the contract’s signing often being extended. This event broke all conventions. The speed involved, together with deep trust built led to a positive conclusion.
The sales process in the AccorHotels chain regarding each contract is similar. All the specific responses to any incoming questions are normally provided by one person. Regarding the eXtreme project, supervision over the full range of services for the client was provided by Magdalena Fabisiak. The negotiations were focused on the range of conference packets and representative indicated by the client. The rapidity of the response to the client’s correspondence enabled eXtreme to check the hotel’s scope, its elasticity and adaptability to the logistical and budgetary needs of the client. An additional advantage of regular cooperation for AccorHotels’ clients is an attractive loyalty programme: Le Club Meeting Planner, dedicated to planners, offering them many valuable benefits. On the strength of accumulated points from each transaction, normally planners can expect free accommodation at each of the chain’s hotels across the world.
Without doubt, a great advantage for clients is the single e-mail address, on which the clients can submit requests for AccorHotels hotels throughout the world: MICE.Poland@accor.com. An information database of hotels across the world can be accessed on: http://mice.orbis.pl. The list of AccorHotels is enormous: 64 hotels in Poland, 3,059 in Europe and as many as 4,240 throughout the world. Once a contract is signed, post-sales service is taken on by a project manager. The four-month preparations for the eXtremeCRM conference were undertaken by Mr Karol Sobiło, who deals with client services at the Sofitel Warsaw Victoria hotel.
Our client eXtreme, whilst on their preliminary visit, appreciated the broadness of the services offered by the Sofitel Victoria Warsaw hotel. They were very pleased with the great size of the banqueting hall (790 sq m). Doubtlessly a significant advantage was its ability to be divided into six smaller halls, which would enable the simultaneous conduct of discussion panels, workshops and lectures. The hotel also had an infrastructure that was ideally suited to the needs of eXtremeCRM. Of additional importance was to fulfil the technical requirements and to provide a support base for the conference, as well as to give access to other hotel areas. Other groups that provide conference support were also engaged: the DMC agency for evening activities outside of the hotel, technical firms, stagecraft and specialists of trade fair construction for the exhibitors. In additional there was the requirement for specific Internet connections for guests as well as a separate one for the organisers. An Internet service of adequate strength was also essential for the live transmissions.
The plan of the visit of eXtremeCRM’s conference emerged during long videoconferences, in cooperation with the project’s coordinating personnel. The difference in time between the two coordinating links was approximately nine hours. During the day there was silence; the e-mails began to arrive in sequence throughout the night. As the working day ended in Poland at around 5pm, video-conferences would begin, lasting from two to two and a half hours. Additionally, everyone worked on-line on the documents provided for the participants of the discussions and virtual changes and amendments were made to arrangements. This enabled the ad hoc introduction of changes along with changes to the planned conference floor space. Apart from this, AccorHotels provided a link that allowed for “trips around the hotel”. Because of this the clients were able to be involved in the branding of the halls and to decide upon the specific sections for the event.
There were particular requirements regarding the menu – one of great variety, for each day of the week, including vegetarian and halal diets. All the evenings were spent on hotel premises, in various rooms and halls according to the wishes of the client: on the patio in front of the Belvedere, in the foyer or in the banqueting hall; each one dedicated to different groups of people. Each one “worked”, due to communications involving hundreds of e-mails, meetings, documents, and final inspections prior to the start of the event.
AccorHotels generated via its IT system a report of the event. Within this document were included all the relevant information: dates, hours, numbers of people, arrangements, coffee breaks, lunches, menus, and many other details. All this was as a result of efficient communication, often with time-consuming preparation of documents. Each Friday there was a staff meeting, which included all the section managers and topics for discussion were all the daily matters concerning eXtremeCRM’s conference.
On the 19th April, in the giant banqueting hall the official opening took place. The theatrical set up in the auditorium holds 400 people. A large screen showed the conference’s schedule. In the participants hands there shone Internet connected mobile appliances. At the back of the hall directing the events were seated the hotel’s technical team, observing the event’s progress. Another firm engaged in direction were located by the stage; each team in its place carries out the planned itinerary. In the “mean time” the kitchen staff were preparing dishes from the menu, the coffee break was prepared for the guests. Everything went like clockwork. The exhibition area was being filled with various stands of the groups connected to eXtremeCRM.
I met eXtremeCRM’s conference coordinator Christy on the last day of the event, on Thursday 21st April. I was interested in how this conference – which had been so finely tuned, including minute detail and which had dealt with each stage of our work, had turned out. Christy admitted that this event had been crucial for them, particularly in terms of business. The eXtreme group have a lot of experience, but each time the hotel is a new venue for them, as they never organise their conferences twice in the same location. The programme is prepared in great detail, particularly regarding content, which is the key issue relating to guests. Together with each hotel they are learning how to maximise the use of space, to avoid queues and to ensure that their guests feel at ease with them.
My contact agreed that the staff at the Sofitel Victoria Hotel had fulfilled all requirements and done all that was expected of them. She was aware that at times they could have felt overwhelmed, by among other things the number of suggestions and requirements. However, they had not been off-put either by the different time zones, nor the language barrier, which turned out to be non-existent. The eXtreme group appreciated the fact that it had been possible to cooperate via videoconference, and to utilise computer screens to agree upon in turn the various stages of the event. Not every hotel accepts such innovative technological initiatives. What was the most important thing? That the personnel had exceeded expectations, sometimes they had even surprised the client with additional provisions which the client had not expected. The participants of the conference grew to love the Sofitel staff, admitting that they had been the ideal choice for their conference.
It would be out of character for me if I were not to ask Christy something further; i.e. suggestions for the future, which may be of help to the blog’s readers in their everyday work. The suggestion was as follows: “Develop yourselves together with your clients. Listen to them attentively. Be “ambassadors” of tested and tried solutions, which you are able to recommend. Both national and international clients expect this today. Always be “at the ready” as it can often turn out that a client has a “last minute” type need. Something may need to be done, brought, or organised, immediately. Also be patient, ultimately we’re all trying to achieve the same goal”.
After the completed occasion everything returns “to normal”. Only for it to suddenly spring to life again at the next event. Much is happening, can we be surprised? Because the whole team is supported by one more link – the Central Sales Bureau. They are responsible for all this “turmoil”. They will ensure that the client, regardless of what kind of event he is planning, will receive everything he expects. Although, when we read through the above report we see that he will certainly receive even more. In this department, everyone carries out their own important role. Paulina Kalinowska cooperates with key events firms. Joanna Olszewska is responsible for relations with corporations. Paweł Feliszek deals with international clients. They, together with their teams conduct the projects from the birth of an idea to the creation of a final concept. Then the relay baton moves on, the baton is passed on to those responsible for the project’s execution. The machine begins to operate and the AccorHotels chain’s team, once again enters into its events fervour. I must say that I can fully empathise with them.
The Events Blogger
PS – For their help in preparing the text, for admitting me and also the blog’s readers into an event on two continents, I would like to thank:
– Karol Sobiło – InspiredMeetings Planner, SOFITEL Warsaw Victoria
– Christy Spokely Organiser of eXtremeCRM conferences
– Magdalena Fabisiak, Deputy Director of Sales, Sofitel Warsaw Victoria
– Małgorzata Sobczyńska, Director of Sales, Sofitel Warsaw Victoria
– Paweł Feliszek – International MICE Manager Eastern Europe, AccorHotels
– Radosław Dworzyński – InspiredMeetings Concierge Manager, SOFITEL Warsaw Victoria