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The EFPA Italia Meeting on the theme “Wealth planning and personal branding: new challenges for EFPA entrepreneurs”, organised by EFPA Italia and dedicated to the professional development of financial consultants, was held on 5-6 May 2016 in Giardini Naxos – Taormina, at the Hotel Hilton Giardini Naxos. 800 professionals took part in the event, and together with the other participants and exhibitors, total attendance reached 1,000, exceeding expectations of EFPA Italia’s organizing committee.

The event, organized by Cogest M&C in collaboration with EFPA Italia’s organizing committee and with the local support of Sicilia Convention Bureau, positions itself as a track-record benchmark for EFPA Italia meetings, to the satisfaction of Sicily, the destination and fascinating theatre of this edition of the prestigious meeting.

After the event, we interviewed the President of EFPA Italia, Aldo Varenna, and the Board Member of EFPA Italia Committee, Sergio Malizia.

Having closed accounts for the EFPA Italia Meeting 2016, reflecting back on the experience what are your impressions on this first time for the event in Sicily?

President Aldo Varenna: “As the President, I was initially worried about the choice of Taormina. My preoccupation was tied to the low density of financial consultant professionals in Sicily and to the location, less easy to reach than others. In Lombardy, as in other locations in Southern Italy, the concentration of financial consultants is far higher. Dr Malizia, in his typically Sicilian stubbornness, promised me the result would be excellent, crossing fingers. All went well. The beauty of Taormina and its attractiveness certainly played a decisive role, compensating the geographical distance. The participation of our Sicilian colleagues contributed significantly to the success of the event. The uniqueness of the event was also an attraction. Great hospitality: from the airport to the hotel, the evenings. Sicily is a very hospitable land and this makes everything pleasant and involving. Not just form but also substance: the numbers speak clearly. The challenge is now open. It will be difficult to beat Taormina.

Dr Sergio Malizia: “An extraordinary experience, way above expectations. As a proud Sicilian, I was certain we would achieve a good result, but I was not expecting to reach this level. Last year, the eighth meeting was held in Genoa, with a record number of 614 financial consultants. This year we recorded 821 participants. If you count accompanying guests and exhibitors, we surpassed the 1,000 mark. After Milan, Rome, Florence and Sorrento, Sicily has beaten the competition of the previous Meetings and has set a new record!

Dr Malizia, what do you feel played a key role in the excellent success of the event, also compared to previous editions?

The charm of our land. Having planned the organisation well and having involved so many colleagues from all over Italy to help out had a positive impact. There were 50 people from Europe. More than 300 from Sicily, but the others came from all over Italy. These factors represent the strong points this year.

From the comments you heard among the participants, is there any one you remember with particular pleasure about the location, both as a destination and as a venue?

Dr Sergio Malizia: “Some colleagues would like the meeting in Sicily to become a fixed appointment. This is very ambitious as it is contrary to the foundation’s philosophy which, for now, is to tour Italy, alternating between the North, Centre and South of the country. This is the ninth meeting, in the ninth different destination. I’m proud of the result because it means the destination and its network of operators are capable of providing answers and services, whilst at the same time providing an emotional experience. For this I have to thank the very valid support we received from Sicilia Convention Bureau, who chose the location and helped us find the right partners.” Dr Malizia is joined by the President, Aldo Varenna, who, on the topic of the request to make Sicily a fixed annual venue for the EFPA event, states: “This is not a simple matter, as each perceives their own parochialism. We may not come back to Taormina soon, but we will return to the South. Repeating the event in Sicily would not be easy out of respect for other colleagues. Any other destination, however, will have to measure itself against the benchmark of success set by Taormina. The proposal put forward by our colleagues reflects the pride of Sicilians for the results achieved. A similar result is not to be taken for granted elsewhere.

Dr Malizia, could you indicate the strengths and weakness of the event, as you see them and through the eyes of the participants with whom you have had the opportunity to discuss things afterwards?

We shall not forget the welcome and service offered by Ristorante Villa Antonio, which, in addition to being in a splendid location, distinguished itself in service and quality. The location Radice Pura will also remain in everyone’s heart. A paradise on earth that many Sicilians may not know, at a very high level. In addition, one of the things that most struck the participants was the concert on the evening of May 5 th , in Radice Pura. Five/six standing ovations are not usual or frequent at concerts. I’m particularly proud because they were four Sicilian artists – Francesco Buzzurro, Francesco Nicolosi, Pietro Adragna and Giuseppe Milici – who played four fascinating instruments – guitar, accordion, violin and harmonica – and who were literally virtuous. What they manage to do together with their producer Alfredo Lo Faro is magical, to the extent that everyone is irresistibly and positively contaminated.” Malizia continues: “The concert was the event within the event, due to the emotion and high level. The fact that the speakers found the monographs on Sicily in their rooms together with a present of preserves, almond paste and chocolate from Modica provided a welcome to the event steeped in Sicilian tradition; a long-term reminder in the participants’ minds that the protagonist of this year’s edition was indeed Sicily. The content of the Programme was of the highest level, as usual, as could have been the case in any Italian city. It’s the location that made the difference, together with the service.” He went on to conclude: “All the Members of the Board of the EFPA Italia Foundation were radiant with joy. The other meetings all went well, all at a high level, but Sicily was a cut above the others. In primis, due to the location: with the Hilton Giardini Naxos living up to expectations and the buffet looking over the sea adding that extra touch that no other location can provide.

Dr Malizia, would you say Sicily is ready to host medium to large events? Does the EFPA experience help to dispel the false myths about the destination – which are usually raised for small meetings – and resolve doubts about the future of MICE in Sicily?

In terms of welcoming, services and suppliers, Sicily is ready. Larger capacity congress facilities are needed. If we were to re-propose the meeting in Sicily, it would not be easy to find another location with a multimedia hall for over 1,000 people, with other side rooms for 100 people, with 1,500 sq.m on the ground floor – with a fully dedicated exhibition area – to welcome the sponsors that EFPA brought together this year.

President Varenna, if you were to suggest to colleagues of yours – say professionals from other sectors – that they organise an event in Sicily, what aspects would you highlight in favour of such a choice?

The convenience. Taormina is easy to reach from Catania and well served from the airport. The location is far away but is the most convenient of all distant locations. Central Puglia would undoubtedly be harder to reach. Then you have the warmth of the people. The social occasions made the event very pleasant, especially when experienced with great hospitality. Not least, the beauty of the places. These three aspects can be well spent to promote Sicily to host other events.

President Varenna, retrospectively, what value would you attribute to the support provided by the Convention Bureau?

Very positive. We have a company that organises our events, Cogest M&C. The synergy between the agency that collaborates with EFPA and local operators with whom we have to interact each time is fundamental. In this case, Cogest M&C and Sicilia Convention Bureau worked well together, also thanks to Dr Malizia.

Dr Malizia, who is to be thanked for this victory?

The success of this meeting is to be shared with all those involved. I would like to pay tribute to the President, the members of the Board, to the Scientific Committee, the Organising Committee, the Secretary General and all the staff of the Secretariat, to the Cogest M&C Organising Secretariat, and, of course, to Sicilia Convention Bureau, who, in addition to advising us on the location and suppliers, also financed some of our activities. I’m delighted that we have organisations such as Sicilia Convention Bureau in Sicily, and the people who represent them – from the President to the Director and all their team – who contribute with their skills and professionalism, but also – if I may say so – with their heart and passion. And that is what makes the difference.

Photo credits: EFPA Italia

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