For Marco Oelschlegel, head of the Berlin Convention Office (BCO) of visitBerlin, personal encounters are the heart of the event sector. In this interview, he discusses the importance of communicati...
Berlin Convention Office’s 20th anniversary: Past and future
Summary of the blog post
This year the Berlin Convention Office is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Since 2001, the BCO team has achieved a lot. Gritt Kalkutschke-Herzberg, Katja Sukale and Marco Oelschlegel recall the early days with faxes and postcards, and look confidently to the future.
The Berlin Convention Office (or BCO for short) was set up in 2001. At that time, invoices were still paid in DM and most bookings came in by fax. Wikipedia was founded the same year – and anyone looking for information didn’t turn to Google, but reached for an encyclopaedia or reference work.
And what about Berlin? In 2001, it comprised 23 boroughs, SPD politician Klaus Wowereit was elected as Governing Mayor, and an office for the congress sector was set up – today’s visitBerlin Berlin Convention Office.
2001: The Berlin Convention Office opens
Gritt Kalkutschke-Herzberg and Katja Sukale recall those early days. They have both been in the BCO from the start, marketing the city of Berlin globally as a congress, meeting, and incentive destination. Initially, they belonged to a team of four – now numbering 15. “When the BCO was launched, it was less about marketing and more dealing with enquiries,” Gritt remembers. Before the BCO was founded, she was already working for Berlin’s congress and meetings service. “At that time, you could still smoke in offices,” she says with a laugh.
They really were different times. With digitalisation still just an idea, enquiries were answered without the benefits of the internet or laptops. “When I started,” Gritt recalls, “our congress attendees sent in postcards to book their rooms.” Then the faxed form took over as the new standard. The year 2005 saw no less than two momentous moments – the first Meeting Place Berlin and the first congress rooms booked digitally. “You can easily trace the process of digitalisation in our work,” Katja adds. “In those days, fax machines pumped out reams of registrations for congresses with several thousand participants – and we had no databases either.” Instead, they worked with seemingly endless lists in Excel and Meeting Guide Berlin in a print version.
Jumping ahead: “The BCO’s USP is the BCO”
Today, the marketing is digital, sustainable, and eco-friendly. But that’s not all that has changed. The order volume has also risen significantly, as Katja points out. “In terms of popularity, Berlin has also taken a big leap forward.” She still regards it as a great privilege to work for one of the world’s most exciting cities. So it’s hardly surprising to find that, even after two decades, all the team still get a real buzz from their work. After more than 20 years in the business, Gritt enthuses, “Berlin is the coolest destination we could ever market.” And she adds, “We’ve always been able to develop further, both as a convention office and as people – which is what makes this team so unique.”
We’ve always been able to develop further, both as a convention office and as people – which is what makes this team so unique.
In 2021, the Berlin Convention Office’s work is characterised by a city constantly reinventing itself and a strong partner network established over the years. “And there’s still more to do,” Katja says. “The BCO’s USP is the BCO. We are always finding new offers – and that diversity fuels our continued growth.”
A team in a process of becoming
Marco Oelschlegel knows where they are heading. He joined the Berlin Convention Office team in 2005 as a graduate of tourism studies, and eighteen months ago took over as the head of the BCO. When he started work, he was dressed in a suit and tie – and highly motivated. “More than anything, my dream was to market Berlin as a location for business travel.”
Berlin may have given him a more casual appearance, but his motivation and commitment to the BCO remains unchanged. “They say Berlin is always in a process of becoming and is never finished – and that is so true,” Marco notes. And he adds, not only do such statements reflect Berlin, but also the team and the people working for the city. “Here, before things have a chance to get boring, something new always happens – and that’s what has fascinated us all for so long.”
A look into the crystal ball – Berlin in 20 years
Marco has no doubts that Berlin’s development will continue to be just as fast and radical, even revolutionary at times. As a meeting metropolis, Berlin’s congress and meetings sector will continue to be significantly influenced by such megatrends as digitalisation, internationalisation, and an idea of sustainability as more than just ecology.
But this list will still be headed by the power of personal encounters. As Marco points out, “After the pandemic, in particular, and with the growth of digitalisation, we see the value of personal contacts even more.” Here, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of events, as well as their ‘impacts’ for the destination will become increasingly important. “Corona has also taught us that we have to do things differently – and we can.” In his view, this transfer from the idea to realisation, away from fixed structures and into thinking outside the box, has to be a guiding principle for the future.
Happy Birthday BCO!
For Marco, his work as head of the Berlin Convention Office is both exciting and demanding. “It is a challenge, but I know I have the full support of my team – and that’s a wonderful feeling.” He has two wishes for the BCO’s anniversary – for his team, delight and joy in their work, and for the BCO, continuing its acknowledged contribution to Berlin’s development. “Even if many things change over the next decades, our values will remain the same.”
20 years Berlin Convention Office
In 2001, the Berlin Tourism Marketing Company founded the Berlin Convention Office, then known as the Berlin Meeting and Congress Service
In 2005 the BCO organises the first Meeting Place Berlin
2015 Berlin reaches number 1 in the ICCA statistics of leading congress cities
In 2015 Berlin and its partners founded visitBerlin Convention Partner e.V., the network of Berlin's convention industry
In 2016, the BCO will host the first Berlin MICE Summit (industry summit of the Berlin event industry)
2017 the first Berlin Questions will take place, with visitBerlin and the Berlin Convention Office acting as conference organisers for the first time
In 2020, the BCO is working together with partners of the visitBerlin Convention Partner e.V. to develop a Hygiene Framework Concept for the Berlin event industry
In 2021, the BCO launches the Berlin Congress Fund together with the Senate Department for Economic Affairs, Energy to support the German event industry
>>> Read Press Release: Twenty years promoting Berlin as a congress location – Now post-Covid restart is the key task
At meetings, incentives, conferences or congresses, a coffee break together connects. Join Manuel Wrobel for a (digital) coffee and get to know the Berlin Convention Office team.