My Meeting Moment: “How I Turned Drizzly October Into Beachy Summer”

Gergely Papp, event manager at the Budapest Marriott Hotel, explains how this remarkable event went down

In show business, the mantra “the show must go on” is used to articulate the performance mentality that, even through extreme adversity, the night’s festivities must proceed as planned. And while that typically translates to a prop or costume change mishap for thespians, for event planners, it can mean doing everything in their power to deliver the best experience possible for their client. 

For Gergely Papp, the event manager for the Budapest Marriott Hotel, that meant making (from scratch) sunshine, beach and scoops of ice cream in October––one of Budapest’s most dismal, dreary and decidedly non-summery months out of the year. 

But despite facing some serious obstacles en route to the client’s big sunshine-filled event, Papp and his team of experts made the impossible, possible. We sat down with him to get the inside scoop on how this remarkable event went down. 

There are definitely parts of the world (the region, even!) that get quite a bit of sunshine during the October months. Why would the CEO of this company choose Budapest, of all places?

When we sat down at the pre-conference meeting with the CEO and organizing committee, we learned that he wanted to hold his conference in a destination with ‘sunshine, beach and ice cream.’ Due to the clouds and rain, Budapest is definitely not easy to hold a conference with this theme in October. However, Budapest proved to be quite optimal in terms of getting around the budget restrictions and logistics issues for the participants traveling. 

So it was smooth sailing from there?

Not at all! It took several meetings for the committee to finally convince the CEO that Budapest was the right place to hold the event, even with Budapest providing beaches that would fit within the company’s conservative policies regarding employee entertainment. Still, each time the CEO arrived in Budapest to meet with us, there wasn’t a trace of a smile on his face.

Yikes––tough crowd. 

It was very difficult, but we wanted to impress the CEO––no matter what. In that gloomy, grey office with freezing October weather, we made a promise that we would deliver sunshine, beach and ice cream for their annual event. And we had only 48 hours before the welcome reception and awards ceremony dinner to make it happen. 

So on top of the fact that you were asked to create a summer event in gloomy October, you had less than two days to make it happen. You must have had some crazy tricks up your sleeve. 

We just went straight to work. To create a beachy look and feel, we ordered synthetic grass and sand to cover the Ballroom Terrace and arranged palm trees from a local vender. We also placed beach balls and sunbeds everywhere, with a cocktail bar for guests. It looked as authentic as Waikiki Beach!

What about the most important food item, ice cream? 

Ah, yes––the ice cream. We invited a small handcrafted ice cream vendor that incorporated rustic art into their presentation to bring not only the desserts, but the mood, too. They provided a charming, innovative and all-natural premium sorbet and ice cream concept that adhered to the principles of the slow food movement, which is a highly important local tradition here. 

Sounds like the guests were having a blast. But I’m a little afraid to ask about that hard-to-please CEO. Was he still frowning by the time the party started?

You wouldn’t believe it, but the CEO actually turned up on the dance floor! Even better, the weather smiled at us after a weeklong rainy period and a gorgeous sunset filled the venue. He even had to don a pair of shades to shield his eyes from the warm sun! 

An overall success.

Huge. In fact, when he left the hotel, the CEO said it was one of the best conference––and personal––moments he had experienced in his entire life, and that he would be back soon.