Europe’s Top 10 Meet­ing Cities

These Top 10 Euro­pean meet­ing des­ti­na­tions of­fer ex­cit­ing event venues for ev­ery taste and pur­pose

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Euro­pean cities re­main among the world’s most en­tic­ing des­ti­na­tions for meet­ings, in­cen­tives, con­ven­tions and events. This is borne out in the lat­est 2013 rank­ings for coun­tries and cities re­leased by the In­ter­na­tional Congress and Con­ven­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. The as­so­ci­a­tion counts the num­ber of reg­u­larly oc­cur­ring gath­er­ings that take place each year among in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions; in 2013 the ICCA re­ports 11,685 events, 535 more than iden­ti­fied a year pre­vi­ously.

The ICCA 2013 Top Rank­ings re­veal that Europe continues to dom­i­nate the MICE field, with 14 of the world’s top 20 cities. The ICCA list­ing is limited to events that are held on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, have at least 50 at­ten­dees and ro­tate be­tween at least three coun­tries; it doesn’t count the thou­sands of other meet­ings and events that take place world­wide. But since this is, af­ter all, a global group of con­ven­tion plan­ners, it’s as rep­re­sen­ta­tive a list of des­ti­na­tions as you’ll find any­where.

Here are the Con­ti­nent’s most soughtafter meet­ings cities, along with a taste of the high­lights that make each unique.

1. PARIS

With el­e­gant vis­tas and a range of ho­tels, restaurants and venues, Paris of­fers an ap­peal­ing pal­ette de­spite its high prices.

As cor­po­rate meet­ing plan­ners be­come more budget con­scious, events have be­come more flex­i­ble book­ing the right Parisian venue at the right price. Thus even for smaller groups, avail­abil­ity can be a prob­lem as venue cal­en­dars are filled vir­tu­ally all year round.

From his­torique to mod­erne, Paris op­tions are per­fect for a soirée, ban­quet or cock­tail re­cep­tion. For ex­am­ple, the Musée Grévin, built as a wax­work mu­seum in 1882, fea­tures a main room pop­u­lated with a cast of wax celebri­ties. The pala­tial Le Train Bleu is a sta­tion restau­rant as fa­mous for its clien­tele as for its Belle Epoque in­te­ri­ors. And Maxim’s is a Paris in­sti­tu­tion. While it may no longer be the haute-est of Parisian haute cui­sine, the old place still has its own def­i­nite caché.

The chic Mini Palais lo­cated in the Grand Palais, just off the Champs Elysées, of­fers a more con­tem­po­rary event lo­cale with its wood floors and a ma­jes­tic 3,200-square­foot ter­race. For a rockin’af­ter-party, prod­uct launch or themed night, Club Hauss­mann — orig­i­nally a Swedish bank build­ing – has a dance floor and bar with black walls and blue light­ing.

2. MADRID

A wel­com­ing feel and value for money give Madrid sec­ond place on the ICCA’s list. The city is awash with a unique spirit that makes it ideal for hold­ing events. The Span­ish way of life, the en­ergy of the people – the tapas and nightlife – make it a great place to mix busi­ness and plea­sure.

The city is also a great meet­ings des­ti­na­tion value. Event or­ga­niz­ers have about 60,000 ho­tel beds in the city cen­ter to choose from, so for what one night in Lon­don or Paris costs, Madrid can deliver two nights in a com­pa­ra­ble lux­ury ho­tel. Cen­trally lo­cated in Spain, Madrid also of­fers ex­cep­tional air and rail links to the rest of the Con­ti­nent and be­yond.

When the work’s done, there is much for fans of cul­ture and cui­sine, more than 90 mu­se­ums in the city cen­ter in­clud­ing the world-fa­mous Prado, more than 5,000 restaurants, and 27 golf cour­ses in the area. Among the di­ver­sions that are uniquely Madrid, event at­ten­dees might find them­selves on a tapas tour – tast­ing lo­cal spe­cial­ties in the city’s his­toric cen­ter – tak­ing fla­menco lessons or strik­ing out to see one of the six UNESCO World

Her­itage sites within an hour of the city: Avila, Aran­juez, Toledo, Se­govia, Alcala de Henares and El Es­co­rial.

3. VI­ENNA

Vi­enna had topped the ICCA list since 2005 as the world’s num­ber one meet­ings des­ti­na­tion. This year, it was beat by Paris and Madrid, but still holds the num­ber three spot, due mainly to its ac­ces­si­bil­ity, in­fra­struc­ture and value.

From its tra­di­tional cof­fee shops to the ar­chi­tec­tural legacy of the Aus­troHun­gar­ian Em­pire,Vi­enna re­tains a strong sense of cul­ture and his­tory. The Aus­trian cap­i­tal also pre­sents a wide range of venues large and small, and at­trac­tions that of­fer in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for at­ten­dees.

Most of the key venues and ho­tels are lo­cated in the city’s first district, the cen­tral area en­cir­cled by the Ring Boule­vard and on the south bank of the Danube Canal. The 16th-century Span­ish Rid­ing School is a meet­ing venue that also hap­pens to be home to the snow-white Lip­iz­zaner stal­lions. Hof­burg, an­other first district venue, is the for­mer win­ter res­i­dence of the Hab­s­burg fam­ily, a labyrinthine venue for large-scale events, with 35 spa­ces over­all.

Art and clas­si­cal mu­sic are the cul­tural soul of the city, and a num­ber of mu­se­ums of­fer mag­nif­i­cent spa­ces in which to host events. Among them, The Belvedere, a for­mer baroque palace, now split into two mu­se­ums and the Al­bertina in­cludes 21 neo­clas­si­cal Hab­s­burg State Rooms and a collection which spans masters from Monet to Pi­casso.

4. BARCELONA

The Cata­lan cap­i­tal’s sense of fun and iconic sights make for ex­cit­ing gath­er­ings.

Es­tab­lished as a Ro­man out­post more than 2,000 years ago, the coastal en­clave has re­mained a trav­el­ers’must-see for its high cul­ture, quirky ar­chi­tec­ture and laid­back at­ti­tude.

Barcelona’s ar­se­nal of at­trac­tions pro­vide im­pres­sive set­tings for all types of busi­ness events. The Fo­rum Zone, opened in 2004 in the new Di­ag­o­nal area, boasts some of the largest con­ven­tion fa­cil­i­ties and ho­tels in Europe. Me­dieval and late 19th-century struc­tures have been spruced up and con­verted into chic post-con­fer­ence op­tions. For ex­am­ple, in ad­di­tion to Barcelona’s land­mark Sagrada Fa­milia church, An­toni Gaudi also cre­ated an­other mas­ter­piece, the Casa Batllo. This UNESCO World Her­itage Site of­fers 32,000 square feet of adapt­able venues.

The cli­mate and va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties have also con­trib­uted a great deal to Barcelona’s pop­u­lar­ity with the events com­mu­nity. Among the mem­o­rable en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, a city tour tak­ing in Las Ram­blas, Bo­que­ria Mar­ket, the Gothic Quar­ter and the Pi­casso Mu­seum, a speed­boat tour of the seafront or a visit to the Arab Baths for a range of mas­sage treat­ments and soaks in hot or cold pools, salt pools and spa baths. A ham­mam is also avail­able.

5. BERLIN

The Ger­man cap­i­tal’s cool, quirky char­ac­ter ex­tends to its event spa­ces. The city’s tu­mul­tuous past has given it a tan­gi­ble sense of his­tory and in­trigue, a rep­u­ta­tion for cut­ting-edge de­sign and a for­ward­look­ing at­ti­tude.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant MICE de­vel­op­ment for the city is the open­ing of Ci­ty­cube Berlin, which un­veiled its 3.4 mil­lion square feet of space in May. It’s lo­cated a short walk from the ven­er­a­ble ICC – one of the largest con­ven­tion cen­ters in Europe – which is cur­rently closed for ren­o­va­tions sched­uled to last through 2018. When that’s re­opened, Berlin will have dou­bled its con­fer­ence ca­pac­ity.

Away from the big spa­ces, the cap­i­tal is brim­ming with un­usual event fa­cil­i­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties that re­flect its un­con­ven­tional vibe. Tem­pel­hof Air­port, Berlin’s his­toric city-cen­ter air hub is per­fect for largescale events. The ob­ser­va­tion deck of the 1,200-foot-tall Fernse­hturm can host a gath­er­ing of 120 people, or take a fur­ther 21 steps up to the re­cently re­fur­bished ro­tat­ing restau­rant. Near the iconic Bran­den­burg Gate, the ex­te­rior of the Ax­ica bank be­lies the Frank Gehry-de­signed atrium in­side, which is in­stilled with ex­pres­sion­ist en­ergy and flooded with nat­u­ral light.

6. LON­DON

Lon­don has ben­e­fited from huge amounts of in­vest­ment in the runup to the 2012 Olympics; in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, hun­dreds of additional ho­tel rooms and new at­trac­tions, venues and restaurants. It also ben­e­fits from be­ing a world city with 2,000 years of his­tory and cul­ture.

Lon­don’s five in­ter­na­tional air­ports fly di­rect to 348 des­ti­na­tions, mak­ing it the globe’s most con­nected city. And with its palaces, pomp and cir­cum­stances, Lon­don

en­joys a cer­tain grandeur un­matched by any other city on the planet.

From the sport­ing to the spec­tac­u­lar, mem­o­rable event venues in the cap­i­tal come with a twist. Wem­b­ley Sta­dium has hosted Olympic events and big con­certs, but has room for more mod­est-sized af­fairs as well. Ep­som Downs, which wel­comes royalty at the an­nual Derby, has meet­ing spa­ces with Lon­don sky­line views from Heathrow T4 to Ca­nary Wharf.

For a bit less stren­u­ous venue, choose the spa­ces at the Al­ban­nach Tav­ern, a con­tem­po­rary Scot­tish restau­rant and whisky bar which re­sides un­der the gaze of Lord Nel­son in Trafal­gar Square. On the up-and-com­ing East End, the Town Hall Ho­tel and Apart­ments is a ren­o­vated Ed­war­dian-era coun­cil head­quar­ters; meet­ing space in­cludes the wood-pan­eled Coun­cil Cham­ber, com­plete with raised mag­is­te­rial leather seat­ing.

7. IS­TAN­BUL

Is­tan­bul has long been pop­u­lar as a tourist des­ti­na­tion, but thanks to sig­nif­i­cant in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment and its ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion on the cusp of Europe and Asia, this an­cient me­trop­o­lis has also emerged as a leading des­ti­na­tion for meet­ings and con­fer­ences.

Is­tan­bul is cer­tainly well set-up for largescale events – it has seven pur­pose-built con­ven­tion cen­ters and three ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ters, all large enough to ac­com­mo­date the big­gest of in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ings. But it also has an eclec­tic mix of tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture, plus a pas­tiche of ac­tiv­i­ties and in­cen­tives.

Event at­ten­dees find out how tra­di­tional fare is cre­ated at an Ot­toman cook­ing les­son, take a guided trip and learn how tra­di­tional ceram­ics and jew­elry are made or melt away ten­sion at one of the city’s Turk­ish ham­mams And no trip to Is­tan­bul is com­plete with­out a Bospho­rus cruise by day or at sun­set.

8. LIS­BON

Por­tu­gals has long been a pop­u­lar haunt for tourists, but more re­cently has emerged as one of Europe’s top meet­ings des­ti­na­tions. Ranked eighth in Europe by the ICCA, the MICE in­dus­try now ac­counts for 44 per­cent of the city’s tourism in­come.

In the past decade or so, Lis­bon has quickly de­vel­oped its meet­ings and events space to meet fresh de­mand, of­fer­ing event plan­ners nearly a half-mil­lion square feet. The ho­tel scene has blos­somed as well, with many of the big names rep­re­sented.

The city’s rep­u­ta­tion as a re­sort town also helps. While it has much to of­fer in cul­ture, cui­sine, his­tory and shop­ping, it is also ideally po­si­tioned on the At­lantic coast a short dis­tance from the en­claves of Es­to­ril, Cas­cais and Guin­cho.

The Tivoli Theatre was the place to be seen dur­ing the Ro­man­tic pe­riod and is still draw­ing the crowds to­day, with room to host up to 1,100 people in the three­level au­di­to­rium. Eleven is a strik­ing din­ing venue opened by 11 friends and is great for exclusive events. In the neigh­bor­hood of Madragoa, A Travessa is a cap­ti­vat­ing restau­rant housed in the con­vent of St Bernar­das, which was founded in 1653.

9. PRAGUE

Prague in sum­mer, with its abun­dant green spa­ces, is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. But has more than enough ca­pac­ity to ac­com­mo­date businesses look­ing to host an al fresco re­cep­tion or a cor­po­rate in­cen­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. Its ar­ray of five-star ho­tels with vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor chain rep­re­sented – along with plenty of fourand three-star prop­er­ties – makes the city a big draw for cor­po­rate meet­ing plan­ners. The city also boasts a var­ied port­fo­lio of event venues and en­gag­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

The Ital­ianate ter­raced Palace Gar­dens are sit­u­ated on the south­ern slopes of Prague Cas­tle and make a won­der­ful set­ting for al fresco soirées. For a wa­ter­side venue, it’s hard to beat Kampa Park; the restau­rant stretches along the western side of the Vl­tava River and look­ing on to Charles Bridge. The art nou­veau Mu­nic­i­pal House, orig­i­nally opened in 1912, pro­vides event plan­ners with a wealth of beau­ti­ful spa­ces of dif­fer­ing sizes.

The Vl­tava River plays host to daily din­ner and mu­sic cruises aboard the Jazz Boat, tak­ing in lo­cal land­marks such as the Na­tional Theatre, Charles Bridge and a colony of yel­low pen­guins. Or at­ten­dees can opt for a bit of re­fresh­ment at the the Staro­pra­men Brew­ery, the sec­ond-largest beer pro­ducer in the Czech Repub­lic.

10. AM­S­TER­DAM

In the past few years Am­s­ter­dam has added to its top-end ho­tel lineup, and its venues old and new in­clude the strik­ing Eye Film Mu­seum, the ren­o­vated Het Scheep­vaart­mu­seum and the re­cently re­opened Ri­jksmu­seum.

Add to that a well-con­nected air­port, in Schiphol, good Euro­pean rail links and im­pres­sive in­fra­struc­ture – not to men­tion the beau­ti­ful his­toric city cen­ter, rich cul­tural of­fer­ing and laid back vibe – and it’s un­sur­pris­ing that it is a top-ten In­ter­na­tional Congress and Con­ven­tion As­so­ci­a­tion city.

Het Scheep­vaart­mu­seum – the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum – is housed in the grand Lands Zeemagaz­ijn (the Ar­se­nal), built in the 17th century. The strik­ing Eye Film Mu­seum with its light-filled cen­tral Arena and large ter­race can be re­served once a month for events. BT

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