Hrvoje Ljubimir interview

Hrvoje Ljubimir: Dubrovnik Continuously Meets the Specific Needs of International Event Organizers and Evolves

Hrvoje Ljubimir, BSc in Economics, is a doyen of the Croatian meeting industry and the owner and commercial and operational advisor of the Dubrovnik PCO agency Adria Kongres. He began his career in tourism at Atlas, one of the largest Croatian travel agencies at the time, and continued at the company Kongresni servis Dubrovnik, specializing in conference technology. After more than 25 years of experience, he opened his own PCO and DMC agency, Adria Kongres, which has been successfully operating for over 13 years. His impressive experience in organizing all types of business events, both in Dubrovnik and throughout Croatia and the region, makes him an ideal interlocutor regarding event organization. So, we spoke with him about the secrets of successful organization and the advantages of Dubrovnik as a meeting destination.

• You have organized numerous international congresses in Dubrovnik during your long career. Can you mention some of the largest ones – how many participants did they gather, and where were they held?

The largest ones included EPC (European Poultry Congress), EABCT (European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies), ICCN (International Congress on Cultural Heritage of Non-Material Culture), European Congress of Prosthodontics, Paediatric Congress, Endocrinology Congress, etc. They gathered up to 1,600 participants and were held at various hotels on the Dubrovnik Riviera. Initially, these were the Croatia, Rixos (formerly Libertas), and Excelsior hotels. Today, due to the growing demands of organizers, we can also accommodate them at Valamar hotels, Royal hotels, Dubrovnik Riviera led by the Sheraton Hotel, ALH hotels, Sun Gardens Dubrovnik, as well as the Hilton Imperial Hotel, and Lafodia on Lopud.

This fact unquestionably indicates that Dubrovnik continuously strives to be an excellent host for international congresses by meeting the specific needs and preferences of organizers.

Participants of professional congresses are great promoters of Dubrovnik as a meeting and tourist destination.

• Dubrovnik is a desirable and renowned meeting and incentive destination. Who are your most frequent clients, and which of them mostly seek Dubrovnik – are they corporations, associations, domestic or international organizers?

Yes, it would be strange if Dubrovnik weren't a real magnet for meeting organizers. In this destination, we recognize a blend of centuries-old culture, natural beauty, favourable climate conditions, and, above all, the professional approach of tourism professionals and their associates in providing top-notch services. It's hard for me to single out any of the partners you mentioned as dominant. However, I would highlight domestic organizers, many of whom deserve great recognition for their effort and enthusiasm. With their reputation in the industry they come from, they have managed to bring numerous top experts to Croatia, who, upon returning to their home country, became significant promoters of our destination. They contribute not only to future meetings but also to tourists who want to come here for vacations.

• Dubrovnik abounds in hotels, as well as historical locations and venues for organizing conferences, congresses, receptions, and more. Which ones are your favourites, and why?

Apart from the hotel offering itself, Dubrovnik can offer an attractive program at beautiful locations such as the terrace (and indoor space) of Revelin Fortress, Lovrjenac Fortress, Sponza Palace, Rector's Palace, and others. Equally attractive are the Lokrum Island, Elaphite Islands, Cavtat, including Konavle and Konavoski Dvori, and the Pelješac Peninsula with its famous wines and wineries. Each of these locations can provide a uniquely interesting program, ensuring the active involvement of participants.

It's difficult to say which ones are my favourites. Our task is to recognize the group's character and objectively inform the organizer about the facts. Sometimes, the organizer prefers to be closer to the city centre, while in other cases, it's more convenient to be a bit farther away. Being in nature, near the sea, can also be a crucial detail. Therefore, the organizer's thinking as a client is a much more important factor than what we might personally prefer. We choose the venue that is most suitable for a particular event.

Incentive groups seek innovation in offerings and are suitable for an individual approach to each guest.

• What kinds of incentive programs do you offer, and which ones are the most popular or the ones that most delight participants?

For incentive programs, it's crucial to know the group: the age of the participants, what activities interest them the most, the time of year when the program will take place, and so on. Only then do we create the program, never a template one that has been used in previous incentives. We organize them, for example, within the city walls, where participants get to know the city's landmarks and interesting locations in more detail through various tasks and games. We also offer an attractive recreational program where participants explore the broader Dubrovnik region. Boat trips are common, and cycling is not rare either. Incentive groups are smaller than congresses, but for us in the tourism industry, they are more challenging. They are suitable for an individual approach to each guest, which encourages us to satisfy all their wishes and prepare pleasant surprises.

• Do you participate in destination bids for international events, and how do you collaborate with the Dubrovnik Convention Bureau?

We actively follow Croatian organizers from the very beginning, while they are still just candidates to host an international meeting. Their victory means the victory of Croatia and Dubrovnik over other European and global destinations. For example, in the Norwegian city of Stavanger in 2014, I used my experience from my student days to greet participants of various congresses and incentives in Latin while dressed as a prince, in the spirit of the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympics. I welcomed the participants of the European Poultry Congress (EPC) with the aim of having them vote for Dubrovnik as the host of the next meeting in 2018. I can proudly say that our team, led by a professional organizer and representatives of our agency, succeeded in that project. Of course, we also collaborate with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board – Convention Bureau, whose support is highly commendable. They diligently monitor all our needs and are ready to help us in every possible way.

• In your experience, what is most important for international event organizers when choosing a destination for their events? Does Dubrovnik generally meet these requirements?

For organizers of international meetings, the most critical question is the venue, including accompanying spaces and equipment we offer. The professional program must be presented in the best possible way. The social program, as its complement and "decoration," understandably plays a secondary role – but that doesn't mean it's unimportant. In collaboration with the mentioned hotels, it's possible to meet the first and most crucial requirements. As for the relaxing moments of congress participants, we stretch our imagination to offer them a sufficiently attractive incentive program, preferably different from what they have experienced at previous meetings. Through the provided content, we aim to connect the participants as much as possible, bringing them closer on an individual level to ensure more efficient future cooperation. Organizers highly value this. All of this is facilitated by the excellent air connections to our city.

It is important to realistically assess all relevant circumstances for hosting a specific congress.

• The job of a professional event organizer is very stressful because there is always the possibility that something could go wrong. What would you say is most important for quality preparation, what is your recipe for minimizing stress, and ensuring high-quality collaboration with the organizer and suppliers?

I agree with your observation: this job is extremely stressful. In order to avoid unnecessary stressful situations, it is crucial to have a reliable and experienced team of colleagues - translators, guides, operators, drivers, technicians, hostesses, and all others.

Additionally, it is very important to realistically assess all relevant circumstances for hosting the congress, in each individual case. It happens that organizers, inspired by the enthusiasm of their colleagues from previous programs, forget which season their congress is planned for and come up with highly risky plans with unrealistic expectations. Similarly, many organizers think that the event's execution happens almost automatically, without realizing how detailed and often very demanding preparation contributes to a successful realization. The illusion of spontaneity, where everything runs smoothly without visible interventions, is proof of the success of the preparation. Sometimes, it's necessary to be persistent and define all the details with the organizer until the very end - for example, presenting the financial structure related to all their desires so they immediately know where they stand - whether there is coverage or if it needs to be sought, or whether they need to rethink everything again. As tiring as it may be for those who underestimate the organization's tasks, our insistence on details usually proves to be a prerequisite for them to feel comfortable and relaxed during the congress.

After that, expressions of gratitude regularly follow, along with smiles and later recommendations of our agency to colleagues and acquaintances for new events.

Hrvoje Ljubimir interview

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