International Expertise

Introduction to new blog series reporting on international events and impressions from Bits & Pretzels in Munich 2018

(Gastbeitrag von Irina Graf) Let's begin with a short introduction. My name is Irina Graf, founder of The MICE Blog, an international event management blog for corporate event planners initiated in 2011. Since June 2018, I have also been the International Relations Officer at Verband der Veranstaltungsorganisatoren e.V (VDVO), where my role is to support the association to foster its international expansion.

After moving from London to Heidelberg in October 2016, VDVO was my first point of contact to the events industry in Germany. Our first collaborative event with VDVO and the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau in May 2017 was a great example of how we engaged two key international markets, the UK and Germany, in a thought-provoking discussion about values in the events industry.

From the start, I realised that VDVO has a strong sense of community and commitment to progressing the MICE industry in Germany, and I was particularly impressed with how they engage with different stakeholders to provide more value to members. I was therefore very happy to join as a delegate of the board and contribute to its further growth.

In the coming months, my aim is to share with you news from the events world with a focus on international expertise, networking and everything in between that I find interesting and exciting. And I would like to start this blog series with my experience attending the Bits & Pretzels business festival in Munich 2018

Bits & Pretzels: a business festival

My wish to attend Bits & Pretzels came as a result of being present at the panel called Öffnet externen Link in neuem Fenster'Create the new: create a festive atmosphere at events' at MICE @ IBT Berlin back in March 2018. Christian Lohmeier, Producer at Bits & Pretzels, was one of the speakers on that panel and mentioned how the 'meet up' of three founders six years ago grew from 80 to 2,000 attendees within two years, with the event now being capped at 5,000 attendees per event to ensure that the unique concept does not lose its core if the event outgrows itself. The founders wanted to celebrate the local start-up scene in Munich and were in a position to create an event that can act as an agile start-up that is ready to take risks from time to time, and most importantly celebrate the host city Munich by hosting it during Oktoberfest.

After listening to this talk, I was 'sold' and really wanted to experience it. Luckily, I was one of the very fortunate 200 winners of the 'women in tech' draw and received a free ticket. It was one of the first events in years that I have attended which was not specifically targeted at event professionals, and therefore included topics with which I was relatively unfamiliar, such as blockchain, bitcoin, venture capital, artificial intelligence and machine learning. But with significant interest in diversity, innovation in the B2B event space and being eager to learn something new, I was beyond excited to be there. 

The event lived up to its expectations and I was highly impressed by the organisation. The founders have created a strong brand that has a supportive fan base and a compelling community spirit. Several sessions were also entertaining (particularly the one from the Öffnet externen Link in neuem FensterPitch Doctor), and it is great that they are not afraid of bringing the fun factor into business events. And lastly, the fact that the event takes place during Oktoberfest, makes it even more special and festive, with this festival being very unique to the DNA of Munich. All these factors, in my opinion, demonstrate how a business event can be 'festivalised.

Diversity and gender imbalance: still key challenge across sectors 

The headline theme at Bits & Pretzels was diversity - a big topic across all sectors in 2018, in tech as much as in the events industry. Interestingly, despite the two industries being significantly different from each other (tech and events industries being male and female dominated, respectively), both are still lacking diversity in their organisations and specifically in senior positions.

Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, spoke at her Öffnet externen Link in neuem Fensterkeynote about how she created a movement and gave voice to women all around the world to stand up for their rights and not be ashamed of sharing stories of being victims to sexual abuse and violence and seek help. As a result of this collective voice on social media, step by step, the movement has created a safer environment for women at work, homes and societies to speak up, and support with integrating more diversity into corporate organisations.

The organisers have put diversity into practice through various initiatives. These approaches include the selection of speakers, getting more female attendees and speakers and facilitating a discussion (Öffnet externen Link in neuem Fensterdespite also some criticism from the tech community) and even providing child care for working parents. I immediately wondered why our MICE events do not provide child care on site, considering that we have over 70% females working in the events industry. I hope to see this this provision soon adopted in our industry. If events can provide a safe and welcoming environment for working parents, our businesses and events will be more successful and will retain and attract new talent.   

Start-up events are attractive for MICE destinations: Messe München acquired 10% in Bits & Pretzels to support event growth and innovation

If you follow closely the international landscape of MICE destinations, you may have noticed that many destinations strive to attract new and successful businesses with growth potential. Start-up events attract thousands of visitors to Lisbon (WebSummit), Berlin and London (NOAH), Helsinki (Slush) and many more. These events have important economic value by bringing thousands of visitors to a city, from supporting local tourism to job creation and legacy. Messe München has recognised this importance and works closely with event founders and organisers to strengthen the partnership between Bits & Pretzels and the host venue. 

The event opened with Klaus Dittrich, Chairman & CEO at Messe München, who announced that they have acquired a 10% stake in the event. This is huge news for our industry. I am extremely happy to see how they had found a sustainable way to grow. Such investment is an example of how event organisers can work collaboratively with the host venue or destination.  

Taking advantage of VDVO member benefits 

Hotel prices in Munich during Oktoberfest can be high and it is challenging to find a central hotel that is good value for money. Here is where my VDVO membership was a great asset to me. Thanks to their partnership with the Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, all members receive the Travel Agent Club Öffnet internen Link im aktuellen Fenster50% discount for their hotel stay, including breakfast. I stayed at the Mövenpick Hotel Munich Airport during this trip, saving me a great deal of time and money. This hotel is only approximately 35 minutes from the centre and well accessible by public transport, and is therefore highly convenient, offering great value for money. 

Ready for 2019

Now that I have lived for slightly over two years in Germany and have got to know the local MICE industry increasingly well, it is great to see how dynamic the business ecosystem in Germany is. I feel that, thanks to my connection to VDVO, I have had a very steep learning curve and rapid integration, proactively taking advantage of the various opportunities that were on offer to members in fostering my education and increasing my network. I will now begin 2019 highly motivated, with a full agenda and plans for the New Year. I am grateful that VDVO has provided me with many unique opportunities in 2018 to celebrate this wonderful industry and I look forward to becoming even more involved and support VDVO with its international expansion. 

I will start 2019 by attending Best of Events in Dortmund this January, followed by MICE @ ITB Berlin in March. I look forward to attending the education sessions and networking with fellow event professionals. 



Mehr über die Autorin Irina Graf

Irina Graf ist Gründerin von The MICE Blog, einem internationalen Event-Management-Blog für Corporate Event Planer, der 2011 ins Leben gerufen wurde. Sie arbeitet mit globalen Kongressbüros, Veranstaltungsorten, Veranstaltungsplanern und Ausstellungsorganisatoren, um diese bei den Themen soziale Medien, strategische Erstellung von Inhalten, Live-Blogging, FAM-Trips und gesponserten Beiträgen zu unterstützen. Seit Juni 2018 ist Irina Graf auch als International Relations Officer beim Verband der Veranstaltungsorganisatoren eV (VDVO) tätig.

Fotocredits: Thomas Loris, Blitzboxx, Irina Graf

Businesswoman touching a cloud full of famous monuments with her finger 3D rendering © sdecore, fotolia

In den kommenden Monaten wird Irina Graf, Gründerin von THE MICE BLOG und International Relations Officer des VDVO, über Neuigkeiten aus der Veranstaltungswelt mit Fokus auf internationale Expertise berichten.