A Q&A with Laura D’Elsa, regional director for the U.S. and Canadian office of the German Convention Bureau (GCB), based in New York City
Why is Germany an ideal meetings destination for North American groups?
When it comes to business, and to Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) travel in particular, three types of benefits stand out: infrastructure; strong value for money; and innovation, quality and economic expertise.
Germany has an excellent transportation infrastructure, making it very easy to get to and convenient to travel around once you arrive. There are close to 400 direct flights from the U.S. to Germany each week. Germany offers great value, with hotel and attendee rates comparatively low for Europe and standards of service quality very high. But what makes the country particularly attractive to corporations and associations is Germany’s expertise in key industries such as automotive, pharmaceuticals, logistics, technology and financial services.
What are Germany’s top meetings destinations?
North American meeting planners tend to choose Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich as preferred meeting venues. However, we encourage planners to consider other great German cities as well (see below).
Why bring a group to these top three cities?
Berlin is popular for its history and architecture, but is becoming known as a hip arts-and-fashion city with many museums, galleries, boutiques and important trade shows, such as the fashion industry’s Bread & Butter. The new airport, scheduled to open this month, will make Berlin even more convenient.
Frankfurt is Germany’s financial capital as well as its transportation and logistics center. It was deemed “the most accessible location in Europe” by the European Spatial Planning Observation Network, making it ideal for meetings and incentive trips.
Munich is known for its beer, but excellent convention facilities and a professional event industry, as well as a multitude of leisure opportunities, make the city an attractive meetings and incentive destination. It will host the 34th Congress of the European Society of Cardiology in August, which is expected to attract more than 30,000 participants.
Which other cities should planners consider?
Three good choices are Hamburg, Dresden and Leipzig. Hamburg boasts one of the largest, most up-to-date and energy-efficient conference facilities in the world. The Congress Center Hamburg will host the Lions Club annual conference in 2013, expected to attract more than 20,000 participants. Dresden and Leipzig in the eastern part of Germany are known for their history and affordability. Leipzig also has a strong role to play in the U.S. and global medical community as a hub in cell research.
How can meeting in Germany benefit ROI?
You can reclaim your value added tax (VAT), typically 19% in Germany. North American planners can get that VAT investment back on a majority of goods and services purchased in Germany, including venue rentals, accommodations and food and beverage. In addition to the lower hotel and delegate costs compared to other European countries, VAT reclamation allows planners to maximize budgets and ROI.
Germany is also a leader in green meetings, which can actually be more cost-efficient than some regular meetings due to our long-standing commitment to, and expertise in, sustainability. For example, the GCB recently announced a new, multicity Green Meetings Seminar Program that will train and certify up to 500 green meeting consultants in the German MICE industry. This is just the latest development in Germany’s sustainability track record. In fact, 10 of the 18 European conference destinations rated in the Siemens 2011 Green City Index as having an above-average commitment to sustainability are located in Germany.
What support does Germany offer planners?
The GCB offers very strong support and services for North American meeting planners out of our New York City branch. This includes complimentary and impartial advice on locations, venues and suppliers. We also act as a conduit and advocate for North American hosts to ensure that each RFP reaches the appropriate agencies. In addition, the GCB assists with general, cultural or logistical questions.
Are there new or renovated convention facilities?
This year a new trade show and convention area, CityCube Berlin, will open to visitors from around the world. At the same time, the present main convention center, the ICC Berlin, will close for renovations. Once refurbishment of the ICC Berlin is complete, both venues will then operate simultaneously.
Is speaking German necessary for planners?
Absolutely not. English is a well-established second language in Germany, and within the meetings and tourism industry that is even more so the case.
Which city or area is up-and-coming?
Berlin is still the place to be. It is where past and present, politics and creativity influence each other, where governing decisions are made yet tomorrow’s cultural trends are set. The capital also sets new standards for international meetings. Whether an event has 50, 500, 5,000 or 50,000 participants, Berlin offers locations to meet any planner’s needs.
Museum Island, Berlin, courtesy of Wolfgang Scholvien
What about German business etiquette?
Business practices in Germany and the U.S. and Canada are fairly similar (although Germans are especially known for punctuality), making it ideal for North American groups that want familiarity, yet a fresh and memorable experience.
Main image: Hamburg trade fair grounds and congress center, Hamburg, courtesy of HMC/H.G. Esch, Ingenhoven Architectgs (HMCEI)