ECM Annual Conference - the future of European city tourism discussed in Ljubljana

From 5 to 8 June, the Grand Hotel Union hosted the General Assembly and International Conference of the European Cities Marketing Association (ECM), which includes over 115 destinations from 38 countries, primarily European tourist offices and convention bureaus and similar marketing organizations.

The annual event, which is held in a different city every year, was hosted in the Slovenian capital for the very first time. The main theme was 'Tomorrow Today', which focused on the complex and rapidly changing driving forces of city tourism, such as technological development, consumer behavior, the importance and role of destination management organizations (DMOs), latest market trends and other content that will influence destination management in the future. 

At the welcome reception at Ljubljana Castle the participants were greeted by Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković. At the opening Deputy Mayor of Ljubljana Tjaša Ficko presented the sustainable story of Ljubljana, the prestigious European Green Capital title (2016) and recent green initiatives in the city.

Programme highlights

The day before the official start, various Knowledge groups discusses topics, including research and statistics, the development of tourist information centers, urban branding and the social, economic, academic and environmental impacts of the meetings industry. ECM also prepared a special seminar, Marketing Masterclass, which attracted around thirty participants.

One of the highlights for over two hundred participants from 27 countries was a lecture of the Slovenian scientist and Nobel Prize winner, Prof. Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, PhD, who presented the global economic and social challenges posed by the climate change. She emphasized that tourism industry would have to make sure to adapt to this new reality in the near future.

Among top speakers was also Frank Cuypers, a top expert, who presented the concept of 'liquid tourism' at the heart of which are the elements of smart tourism because mass tourism simply does not exist. In his opinion, there is only a poor destination management. Guy Bigwood, director of the Global Destination Sustainability Index, in which Ljubljana also participates, pointed out some examples of destinations that sucessfully use sustainability as a competitive advantage.

Among the many interesting lectures was also a "10x-ing Tourism in Copenhagen". The project was presented by Wonderful Copenhagen Signe Jungersted and Signe Gjelstrup Mouridsen, who are the leaders of the 'reorientation' of tourism in the Danish capital. The idea is to make sure the planning of tourism growth runs in conjunction with local residents and neighborhood communities. The project is based on extensive research and comparative analysis, and provides basis for healthy organic growth that is also supported by the citizens. This is a challenge faced by many destinations today, which are also experiencing the negative consequences of increasingly intense tourist flows.

In the MICE segment, it is worth highlighting the presentation of the director of German CVB, Matthias Schultze (Greetings, Future Meetings) on various forms, contents and formats related to meetings of the (near) future, which all put user experience at the forefront.

New ECM strategy

The conference also included optional parallel and interactive sections, including a presentation of the Chinese market, trends in travel technology and good practice cases of some destinations. Ljubljana Tourism managing director, Petra Stušek, Msc, together with her colleagues from Helsinki and Lyon, participated in a panel on smart tourism in relation to the recent European Commission award entitled European Capitals of Smart Tourism,  of which a receiver was also Ljubljana.

The participants were also extremely interested in the new business strategy of the ECM, which brings a new paradigm in the business environment where (sudden) changes are the only real constant. This requires a strategic destination management, which is able to respond quickly to all ongoing challenges and adapt its role accordingly.

Exploring Ljubljana on thematic tours

The guests got to know also the cultural and culinary scene of Ljubljana by attending dinners and evening events at the Ljubljana Castle and the National Gallery, and on different experiential tours (for example, Brko tour and the Bee Trail). They learned about the rich historical and beekeeping tradition in the capital, while also deepening their knowledge about city's green character and sustainable initiatives. As extra activities, attendees were invited for a morning run and a yoga class in the Tivoli Park. Post-meeting trips brought guests to some of the iconic Slovenian destinations, including Lipica, Piran and Bled.

Great participants' feedback

The participants were very satisfied both with the organization and the programme of the event. Based on their comments, the annual ECM event in Ljubljana reached new levels in terms of quality and overall stimulating working atmosphere. Additionally, Petra Stušek, Msc, managing director of Ljubljana Tourism, was elected the president of the association. This position will certainly allow Ljubljana to further establish itself on the map of highly successful European congress destinations.