Even if the 2014 meetings and events outlook is sizing up to be relatively flat in North America, organizations and businesses such as the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Union of International Associations (UIA), IMEX and Carlson Wagonlit Travel foresee global growth, especially in the Asia Pacific.
Who would have thought that Singapore and London held the same number of association events in 2012, based on the ICCA annual report that comes out every May? According to the UIA’s latest research, Singapore, Japan and Korea are among the top five international meeting countries, joining the United States and Belgium as power players. Beyond the economic upsides that often lift international cities into meetings and events prominence, trade shows such as IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America are opening eyes and doors as planners look to maximize spending and build attendance.
Smart Meetings is also expanding globally in 2014, starting with our list of the Top 15 International Meeting Cities. If you’re thinking about jumping on the global bandwagon, or at least kicking the tires, this guide provides valuable insights into our favorite meeting cities beyond the United States.
The Beijing Convention & Visitors Bureau (BCVB) was launched in 2012 by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development to help China’s capital city gain more large-scale international meetings, events and conventions. The MICE industry in China, much like the country’s economy, is fast growing and has an estimated value of $150 billion annually.
“Building Beijing into an unparalleled MICE city is the objective of the BCVB, which will provide support for your MICE travel, including seeking support from local government, relevant authorities, industry associations and enterprises. We will make the greatest efforts to support successful bidding and hosting of MICE tourism projects.” —Beijing Convention & Visitors Bureau
The China National Convention Center (CNCC) is well positioned in the heart of the city’s Olympics complex, adjacent to the 420-room CNCC Grand Hotel and next to China National Stadium, where the 2008 Summer Games opening and closing ceremonies took place. The Beijing International Convention Center is one of China’s largest meeting venues, with 50 conference halls and meeting rooms, including 823,900 sq. ft. of floor space. The 222-room Fairmont Beijing, located in the city’s central business district, features a multipurpose theater that seats 200.
Germany’s capital city is a world center for culture, politics, media and science. With an economy supported by high-tech, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering and renewable energy, it’s understandable why it ranks among the elite meeting destinations in the world.
“Extraordinary meeting facilities and great value for money are only two of many advantages of Berlin. Europe’s most modern hotel landscape can be found here as well as unique cultural offerings. These features make Berlin a perfect MICE destination and, according to the latest ICCA statistics, one of the top three cities for association congresses worldwide. With the Berlin Convention Office of VisitBerlin, meeting planners also have competent support in organizing and staging an event in our city. Customers benefit from our years of experience, a wide network of contacts and booking blocks of hotel rooms at no charge.” —Heike Mahmoud, VisitBerlin Convention Office
CityCube Berlin will debut in March, serving as a temporary replacement for the International Congress Centre (ICC), which will be closed for renovation. The Cube can host 10,000, with two main floors, flexible wall partitioning, numerous conference rooms and exhibition grounds nearby. Estrel Berlin, used equally for entertainment, conventions and hotel accommodations, holds up to 6,000 people and is adjacent to a 1,125-room hotel. Waldorf Astoria Berlin, which opened in the fall of 2012, offers 232 guest rooms and nearly 3,600 sq. ft. of meeting space.
For the fourth consecutive year, the UIA ranks Brussels, Belgium, as the No. 1 conference destination in Europe. As the international center for political activity, Brussels experienced an 11.3 percent increase in overnight stays for business travel last year. Thanks to high-speed trains, Brussels is less than two hours from Paris, London, Amsterdam and Cologne, and three hours from Frankfurt.
“Brussels will continue to invest in ideas and infrastructure to ensure that it stays ahead of the field. A shining example is the European Association Summit (EAS) in May 2014, organized by VisitBrussels in collaboration with its partners. Held jointly with the European Business Summit in Brussels, the EAS provides association decision-makers and operatives with an innovative opportunity to enhance the value of their organization. Outside the conferences and corridors of EU power, Brussels has maintained its local traditions and rich heritage.” —Patrick Bontinck, VisitBrussels
Brussels Expo has more than 1.2 million sq. ft. of exhibition space, two auditoriums that seat 400 and 1,860, respectively, and 13 conference rooms for up to 180 people. Square-Brussels Meeting Centre offers 139,100 sq. ft. of event space and occupies the former site of the Palais des Congres. With 38,500 sq. ft. of exhibition space, a 2,100-seat auditorium and a prime location next to the Centre for Fine Arts, the Square is a popular convention site. The Hotel provides 421 guest rooms and more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Cosmopolitan and multifaceted, the capital of Argentina features a fascinating mix of races and cultures that help make it one of world’s most welcoming international destinations. Meeting attendees will obviously want to learn to tango and catch a soccer game. But Buenos Aires’ diverse restaurants, 700 art galleries and party-all-night vibe also contribute to memorable meeting experiences.
Why Buenos Aires?
“Buenos Aires is the most important cultural city in South America as well as one of the political and economic hubs of the region. With more than 3 million inhabitants, the city has experienced a dramatic growth in infrastructure in recent years, thus having an enhanced range of gastronomy, entertainment, hotel and tourism services.” —Buenos Aires Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Golden Center, which has hosted company events for Toyota, Volkswagen and Nestle, features several ballrooms that can accommodate up to 2,000 people. The famous Puerto Madero district is home to the four-star Melia Buenos Aires Hotel & Convention Center and the 224-room Hotel Madero, with 11 banquet rooms and 6,641 sq. ft. of event space.
In addition to being a sophisticated, well-connected northern European center, Copenhagen, Denmark, has the ability to boost attendance among attendees seeking a fairy-tale setting. The packed city center gives attendees plenty of places to explore on foot and there’s great public transportation, reflecting the city’s leading-edge commitment to sustainability.
“We offer a broad range of meeting and hotel facilities, English-speaking professionals and a highly educated population. On top of that, we are famous for our wide selection of restaurants specializing in New Nordic Cuisine. If you want to combine business with pleasure, you will also find a world-class selection of culture and leisure opportunities from opera, ballet and concerts to sailing, hiking and swimming.” —Bettina Reventlow-Mourier, Wonderful Copenhagen Convention Bureau
The Green Key certified Tivoli Congress Center is the largest conference facility in central Copenhagen. It can accommodate up to 2,500 delegates in its Congress Hall and offers two auditoriums for up to 4,000 attendees. The Circus Building, built as a venue for circus performances in 1886, can be rented out for groups of up to 1,200. The 366-room Admiral Hotel, a preserved warehouse built in 1787, is situated on the waterfront across from the Copenhagen Opera House.
Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul, Turkey, served as the capital of four empires for nearly 16 centuries: Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman. Istanbul is still a world center, especially for meetings, with seven purpose-built convention centers, three exhibition centers and 94 five-star and deluxe hotels.
“Our mission is to continue communicating to meeting planners that Istanbul offers unrivalled flexibility and the confidence of knowing that all facilities are new and technologically up to date. We remain committed to achieving our objective of a Top 5 ranking in the next three to five years. One of the most visited metropolises of the world, Istanbul offers a vibrant cultural life and world-class accommodations.” —Elif Balcı Fisunoglu, Istanbul Convention Visitors Bureau
Halic Congress Center offers five state-of-the-art auditoriums and 17 meeting and function rooms spread among four buildings. Istanbul Congress Center, which opened in 2009, features 115 meeting rooms and more than 171,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Istanbul Convention & Exhibition Centre has a 2,000-seat auditorium and 81,900 sq. ft. of exhibition space. The Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center, scheduled to open in March, offers 829 guest rooms and more than 128,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Hilton is located next to the historic Bomonti Beer Factory.
There are so many places to hold events in the City of Light, including 1,000 venues and 600 Paris Convention Bureau business members, that it may be difficult for meeting professionals to choose. The capital of France also has daily airline connections to more than 526 cities in more than 136 countries and seven train stations linking Paris to the rest of Europe by high-speed train. Oh, and Americans love Paris.
“Paris is regularly voted the world’s most coveted and charismatic destination by independent international surveys. The secret of Paris’ attractiveness is undoubtedly due to its capacity to surprise by offering professional infrastructures of the first order in a unique setting, combining elegance, culture, history and modernity. Outstanding heritage, art and events that are constantly updated and its romantic image attract 32 million tourists to the Paris region every year.” —Christine de Gouvion Saint Cyr, Paris Convention Bureau
Palais des Congres de Paris is a leading international venue, with more than 439,000 sq. ft. of space, including four auditoriums and 85 meeting rooms. The Palais Brongniart, located near the Louvre Museum, is a Greco-Roman-style building that was home to the French Stock Exchange for more than 150 years. It features two auditoriums and has reception space for up to 1,200 at legendary venues, including an old trading room. Les Yachts de Paris, the most elegant fleet of boats on the River Seine, specializes in dinner cruises. Cruising the Seine by boat gives attendees a special way to see the city.
As the capital of Spain since the 17th century, Madrid has been a meeting center for hundreds of years. Using its rich history as a building block, the city has fully blossomed into one of the top international destinations for conventions and events. Its geographic location in the center of Spain is also a key to its role as a transportation center, emerging as the main European air hub for Latin America.
“The Madrid community is a region completely equipped for hosting conventions and trade shows of all kinds, situating itself among the most attractive locations for business tourism on a European as well as worldwide scale. Luxurious palaces and medieval castles blend with modern buildings, forming an excellent and varied backdrop for the celebration of all sorts of meetings and banquets.” —Joaquin Castillo Dolagaray, Tourism for the Community of Madrid
The Centro de Congresos Principe Felipe features a 2,200-seat auditorium and an additional 59 meeting rooms near the International Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD). The 869-room Auditorium Madrid Hotel has its own convention center, with 56 meeting rooms. Palacio de Congresos de Madrid offers more than 32,000 sq. ft. of indoor exhibition space, an auditorium and 11 breakout rooms. It is located in the heart of the city next to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
There’s nothing like hosting the Olympics to give infrastructure a big jolt. London, England, took center stage during 2012 Summer Games and Paralympic Games. Momentum continues thanks to further investments for new accommodations, greener transportation and regenerated areas full of new attractions and venues.
“Having put on one of the greatest shows ever, London proved it has what it takes to thrill the world. Added to this is London’s unrivalled heritage: your clients are invited to explore 2,000 years of dazzling living history juxtaposed with some of the greatest new buildings and attractions in the world. Please contact our convention bureau team, which will make sure you get the best out of our city and help you to create an inspirational event that your guests will never forget.” —Chris FJ Lynn, London and Partners
The May Fair Hotel, with more than 400 guest rooms, offers a screening room with seating for 201. Middle Temple Hall, one of the finest Elizabethan Halls in the country, offers nearly 39,000 sq. ft. of space, with room for 500 for receptions. Banqueting House was built in 1622 and is the last remaining fragment of the Palace of Whitehall. There is 6,050 sq. ft. of event space.
Seoul, South Korea, made international headlines in November when city officials announced an aggressive plan to expand its meetings-industry capacity. Among the projects, a new convention center is set to open by 2018.
“With so many people arriving in Seoul on business, the city has selected the MICE industry as one of Seoul’s future core industries, especially because its economic benefits impact every other aspect of the business sector and economy as a whole. I am actively marketing Seoul as a MICE city through my participation in international events hosted here and look forward to continue engaging in conversations and interviews with key speakers and other visiting professionals.” —Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon
Coex Convention and Exhibition Center, located in Gangnam, features a pillar-free ballroom with 1.95 million sq. ft. of space and 1,058-seat auditorium. SETEC offers three exhibition halls, two that can accommodate 5,000. The 434-room Conrad Seoul has wowed since opening in 2012 and the 170-room JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul is part of new plaza expected to debut this year.
For those thinking about organizing a meeting or event in the city-state of Singapore, there’s no better starting point than TravelRave. The annual travel trade festival is organized by the Singapore Tourism Board and allows planners to discover new business opportunities and celebrate Asian tourism.
“By leveraging Singapore’s strengths as an international meetings destination in the region, we also aim to add value to partnerships with international industry players by providing key Asia-focused insights and perspectives.” —Neeta Lachmandas, Singapore Tourism Board
Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre is undergoing a $147 million renovation. Singapore Expo’s Max Atria, which opened in 2012, offers 136,702 sq. ft. and is the first MICE venue in Singapore to receive the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Green Mark Platinum status. The 367-room Park Royal on Pickering stands out for its hotel-in-a-garden concept.
The meeting landscape in Sydney, Australia, is expected to launch into the stratosphere in late 2016, when the 50-acre Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct (SICEEP) opens on Darling Harbour. The International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) will be a key component of what is being billed as an “innovation hub” designed to reflect the city’s character and energy. ICC Sydney has already secured at least four major international events.
“For association events, meetings in Sydney offer the chance for global thought leaders to connect and collaborate with the many diverse Australian businesses and institutions that have a reputation for creative thinking and global success. There is a real sense that Sydney is undergoing a transformation, with many new infrastructure developments offering great opportunities for future business events.” —Lyn Lewis-Smith, Business Events Sydney
Sydney Exhibition Centre @ Glebe Island will house exhibitions and trade shows while the new convention project is under way. It has 214,000 sq. ft. of pavilion-style exhibition space. At Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney Showground is a multipurpose pavilion, with 118,403 sq. ft. of space. It is near 900 hotel rooms and more than 30 restaurants. Doltone House Hyde Park has a ballroom that can accommodate 650 and is next to the five-star Sheraton on the Park Hotel.
If you think Tokyo is something special now, just wait six-plus years after the city hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics and its offerings are expected to be even more spectacular. Japan’s capital city already boasts more than 96,000 hotel rooms. And there’s no extra charge for the unique “omotenashi” hospitality.
“Tokyo’s multifarious convention venues cater to any size of meeting or conference. Our culinary portfolio, Japanese and international, has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. These, in combination with its dynamic combination of modern convenience and time-honored tradition, make Tokyo a uniquely compelling meeting destination. As host of the 2020 Olympic Games, the warmth of our charm glows stronger now than ever, making this the perfect time and Tokyo the perfect place to inspire each and every guest attending business events here.” —Geraint Holt, Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tokyo International Forum (TIF) is the largest international conference center in the central part of the city, with a 5,012-seat theater and a 53,819-square-foot exhibition hall. Six halls have systems that can interpret up to eight languages. Tokyo Big Sight, with its landmark tower, features Japan’s largest exhibition space at 868,217 sq. ft. Happo-en, set in a garden that dates back nearly 400 years, is located close to a number of embassies and includes a hall that can accommodate up to 800 people.
Canada’s west coast jewel is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, sun-drenched sands and the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Vancouver also features an award-winning convention center, first-class hotels and exceptional cuisine, making it a popular international meeting destination among planners and attendees for many reasons.
“Vancouver is consistently voted one of the world’s most livable cities, and has received countless awards and accolades for its attraction to meeting planners and visitors worldwide. We’ve also achieved the all-important balance between accessibility to destinations worldwide, meeting spaces that can accommodate a range of attendee numbers and tastes, and year-round activity options for post-conference gatherings. It’s no wonder Vancouver is quickly becoming a central fixture on the world meetings stage.” —Dave Gazley, Tourism Vancouver
Vancouver Convention Centre, a two-time winner of the International Association of Congress Centres (AIPC) award for World’s Best Convention Centre, has 466,500 sq. ft. of space. The VCC is the only LEED Platinum certified convention center in the world. Grouse Mountain Resort is accessible via a mile-long aerial tram. Once atop the property, which can accommodate up to 1,000 for dining, there are views of the city skyline, ocean and mountains. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, currently undergoing a $12 million facelift, is one of the city’s most iconic hotels, with 556 guest rooms and 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Austria’s largest city will cast a spell on attendees, with majestic charm of a bygone empire. Art and culture are part of Vienna’s very fabric as evident by musical prodigies such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Today, Vienna boasts a unique blend of imperial charm and contemporary cachet that attendees will find irresistible.
“Vienna has an ideal location in the center of Europe. Its compact size, accessibility, well-maintained infrastructure in terms of hotels, venues and convention centers, as well as the professionalism and enthusiasm of multilingual suppliers, make our city a perfect destination for international meetings. Furthermore, the scientific, academic and international backgrounds contribute to Vienna’s well-respected standing and reinforce its reputation as one of the world’s leading meeting destinations.” —Christian Mutschlechner, Vienna Convention Bureau
Austria Center Vienna is the biggest convention facility in the country, with 102,267 sq. ft. of meeting space for groups of up to 4,320 people. There is 131,332 sq. ft. of additional exhibition space in four halls, with room to seat up to 10,200. Hofburg Vienna, the former residence of The Habsburgs, provides 35 halls with 183,000 sq. ft. of space. The largest room can accommodate up to 1,300 people. Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Center is one of Europe’s most modern event venues, with four large exhibition halls that provide 593,748 sq. ft. of space. The convention center offers 73,355 sq. ft. that can be divided among 18 rooms. The largest room can seat to 1,500 people.