We would like to introduce Nicole, Senior Accommodation Manager at Congrex Switzerland.
What is your position at Congrex and what activities are you responsible for?
15 years ago, when I joined Congrex (then AKM Travel), I started in the accommodation sales department. From the very beginning, I was responsible for European projects, at first being partnered with a more experienced colleague to learn the skills. However, quite quickly, I was handed my first “own” bigger project where I was the main responsible. From then on, I have handled uncountable projects in Europe, and also a few overseas.
Within the hotel team, I would say I am the “expert” in the accommodation sales part of the team. Having said that, we have been setting up the entire hotel team in the last few years to work in a more flexible way and being able to help each other out, no matter what initial expertise a member may have. For me personally, this means that I have been involved in the accommodation purchasing part of our events and have gained a lot of more in-depth knowledge from my purchasing expert colleagues within the team.
What are the biggest challenges right now in accommodation management for congresses?
The challenge we are now facing as the congress world is beginning to plan in-person (or at least hybrid) congresses again is to negotiate the utmost flexibility with the hotels so that we can pass on flexible and lenient conditions to our participants.
Within the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality sector is the one that has probably been hit the hardest with no or very limited travel allowed. In the congress business, it was possible to switch to digital events, however, unfortunately for us, accommodation is not part of the digital world. Therefore the first challenge we had to conquer when the crisis struck, was to cancel bookings for all congresses which were either cancelled or only held in a digital format. This entailed a lot of communication with the participants on one side and numerous hotels in several cities on the other side. The second challenge we are now facing as the congress world is beginning to plan in-person (or at least hybrid) congresses again is to negotiate the utmost flexibility with the hotels so that we can pass on flexible and lenient conditions to our participants.
Which is your personal favourite hotel, and why?
Hmm… a difficult question. There are so many nice hotels I have been to, but if I had to choose today it would probably be the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The whole experience of staying in such a hotel is amazing, from the surreal buzz in the casino to the replica of ancient Rome.
The whole experience of staying in such a hotel is amazing, from the surreal buzz in the casino to the replica of ancient Rome.
In addition to accommodation management, you also take care of the overall organisation of smaller events. How do you like this new task?
This is a very exciting experience for me, although I am constantly confronted with countless issues I hadn’t even thought about before, let alone experienced, as I was never directly involved in the respective parts of the organisation. It is also very difficult as I need to get a lot of help from my expert colleagues in the various departments which make me feel quite helpless (and frustrated) at times, as I cannot continue as quickly as I would like to and have to rely on others to help me.
Tell us about the most exciting, fun or challenging congress experience you’ve had during your time at Congrex.
There have been so many funny, exciting memories in these 15 years so this is a really difficult question. I have selected two experiences that were probably among the most unusual conferences I have been part of.
In 2007 we organised a congress in Rhodes. This was very special in many ways, starting from the communication with the hotels (who were not very used to the congress business) to the general accessibility of the island. I won’t even start on the logistical challenges my colleagues and participants faced.
In any case, the congress took place in a vast hotel/congress centre complex with an equally massive hotel complex just opposite. We were able to accommodate virtually all guests in these two hotels which meant that we had a long list of changes to make every day. Considering the, let’s say, more southern way of working, it was the easiest for us to go and make the changes directly at the hotel so my colleague and I spent many hours in the reservation offices of these two hotels going through all the changes and having them amend everything on the spot! At that time smoking was still allowed indoors so we always smelt like smoked sausages when we finally came out of the offices.
A second and very memorable experience was the organisation of the OSCE 2014 meeting in Basel. This was so very different to anything we had done in the past, as there were very strict rules to adhere to, and everything had to be in line with political and security protocols. Without going into too much detail, this meant that we had to work very closely with the main hotels, the police, as well as the Swiss Federation, so make sure that it was a successful event for all parties involved. Certainly an event I will not forget so soon!