KLAIPEDA - Business conference organizers are clapping their hands: in anticipation of Lithuania’s EU presidency in mid-2013, business is picking up the pace and is expected to roll into full swing by the middle of next year. As many as 190 official EU conventions, conferences and workshops are planned to be held as part of the EU chairmanship in Lithuania next year.
Optimistic tunes prevail
“Until now, we have been hearing a lot of complaints over the sector being too weak because of a lack of proper conference halls and inconvenient air-traffic routes. However, now, optimism is overcoming the pessimistic tunes,” says Virginija Martikaitiene, a conference organizer.
However, with dozens of players in the market, the fight for the EU cake will be, no doubt, really big. Jurgita Akmantaite, director and owner of Viaconventus, a company specializing in conference organizing, agrees with Martikaitiene, saying that the company’s event plan for this year is quite clear – at least 35 conferences are on the calendar to work on, against 30 last year.
“We are already in the midst of planning schedules for the 2013-2014 season. We are looking forward to it very optimistically, as the market is on an obvious path of recovery: we are signing more agreements with scientists’ organizations, doctors associations and universities. Next year, we are expecting even a lot more work due to the Lithuanian EU presidency,” Akmantaite said to Lietuvos Zinios.
She notes that, though public procurement has not been carried out yet, the company is about to hire three new workers to handle the increasing volume of arrangements. “The specialization - conference organizing - that we chose three years ago has paid off; we are known in the business as professional and reliable conference organizers. This has been acknowledged even by the International Convention and Conference Association (ICCA),” the businesswoman boasts.
She says that the acknowledgment obliges her company to render not only standard services, but also to provide extra ones, like work on event advertizing, attracting more conference participants and getting the media interested, as well as registering all event participants.
“Our specialization in the academic field has proved to be right – it provides an ample niche in the market,” says Akmantaite. She adds: “There are really many business conference organizers – nearly all tourism agencies are involved in that.”
Tenders to be announced later this year
Darius Valavicius, director of Aim Group Baltic, an acknowledged conference organizer, also admits to having “high expectations” for next year.
“So far, however, there is little clarity as to what and when will take place, and how much work, or, more precisely, what kind of work, we’ll have to do. I am afraid of a scenario repeat of the last European basketball championship, held in Lithuania, when all in the business, anticipating lots of official events, hiked up their service prices, but the reality proved to be less cheerful,” the director said.
According to the businessman, there aren’t so far grand-scale EU presidency events planned in Lithuania. “For smaller size events, there are modern medium-size conference halls not only in Vilnius, but also in Kaunas, Klaipeda, Druskininkai and Palanga,” Valavicius says.
As the Ministry of Foreign A ffairs is drawing up draft tenders for the provision of conference organizing services, the market players are eagerly looking forward to participating in them and slicing off a piece of the pie. “Hardly will there be a better possibility to cash in than this,” Martikaitiene noted to The Baltic Times.
Nerijus Neliupsis, the third secretary of the Communication Division of the EU Presidency Department at the Foreign Ministry, says that the tenders for the services, for which financing is clear, will be announced yet this year. “We can’t reveal the financing volumes yet. Otherwise the competition provisions will be violated. Simply speaking, if event organizers are aware of the sums, they will start getting oriented to them, and the Ministry won’t be able to get the best proposal,” Neliupsis said.
He, however, reaffirmed what has been speculated: roughly 190 conventions, major conferences and workshops are to be held during the Lithuanian EU presidency.
Hotel at a walking distance matters a lot
Do Lithuanian conference facilities meet the EU requirements? “Mostly, yes,” says Jolanta Beniuliene, director of Vilnius’ Tourism Information and Conference Center (VTICC). “There is a good infrastructure of such services in Vilnius. Especially for medium-size - up to 500 participants - events,” she suggested, naming an array of Vilnius hotels and conference centers with this capacity: Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, Artis, Le Meridian Vilnius, Litexpo and some others that are absolutely up to the standards.”
Event planners note that, in Vilnius, the most sought-after conference halls are the ones with well-equipped conference centers. Such centers, she says, usually have several halls, accommodating up to a couple hundred people each.
“Besides, for most customers, of utmost importance is having a hotel within walking distance,” says Beniuliene, adding: “We shouldn’t be too modest, as Vilnius doesn’t lag in any way behind the neighboring country capitals in the field of conference organizing,” she emphasizes.
According to the ICCA, she says, in 2010, Vilnius outdid Riga and Tallinn, according to the number of conferences, with Vilnius placed 26th, Tallinn 34th and Riga only 37th.
“That is a very good piece of news for Vilnius, which, until the last year, was criticized for lackadaisical efforts in attracting international academic events,” the VTICC director says.
Each conference tourist spends thrice or even four-fold more - 2,000-4,000 litas on average - than a leisure tourist in Lithuania.
Scholars chip in
However, Evalda Siskauskiene, president of Lithuania’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, reiterates that Lithuania’s capabilities to attract a well-to-do conference tourist, and high-profile conferences in general, are limited by a lack of non-budget air-carriers and direct connections with the largest European cities.
“The situation has improved lately, but there is still room to make it better,” she said to The Baltic Times.
The VTICC director says the center has recently started collecting statistics on both international and domestic conferences. “It is a tedious and painstaking process. But it also leads to data provision agreements with travel agencies and hotels, as well as universities, which, especially, hold many conferences,” the head of the center notes.
She says, altogether, conferences held in Lithuania by international bodies are a very wide and attractive tourism niche. “We are endeavoring to expand and promote it,” Beniuliene says.
The VTICC director notes that many scientific conferences are being attracted to Lithuania through Lithuanian scholars who are members of international scientific organizations. “Lithuanian professors are very active internationally. They know Lithuania has a lot to propose for conference planners. Recently, in a bid for a 3,000 participant convention, we’ve been surpassed by just one point by Milan,” the director said. She adds: “Success in the business is determined by how well-known a country is, what service prices it has, as well as logistics, and, on the human level, staying in touch with decision-makers from the boards of international associations is essential in the business.”
Among the largest events held in Vilnius last year were a conference of international graphics and design, the first-ever Baltic convention of pediatricians and a conference of European Criminology Organization.
Akmantaite, of Viaconventus, says she is looking forward to inviting some 500-600 participants from nearly 50 countries to the International Sound and Vibration Convention to be held this year in Vilnius University. The event planner is expecting a similar turnout for the 4th Heart and Chest Surgery Conference held in Vilnius by Scandinavians.
Aim Baltic Group, is to organize, among other events, a nearly week-long World Environment Protection Convention with areound 1,000 participants in attendance.