Ramy James Salameh takes in some incentive views from UFO towers and white water rafts, and more… in the Slovak capital
Slovakia’s capital Bratislava has its very own UFO; atop the single pylon of the Slovak National Uprising Bridge sits the discus shaped UFO Restaurant & Observation Deck. Towering 85m above the waters of the Danube, it is a landmark venue with views over other dominant buildings: Bratislava Castle and St Martin’s Church, coronation site of numerous Hungarian Kings and Queens.
This lofty perch provides a visual snapshot of why Bratislava has all the ingredients to step out from the shadows of neighbours Vienna, Budapest and Prague in the minds of MICE planners. The 360-degree sweep from the observation deck, visually links the past, present and future.
The patchwork of ochre rooftops map-out the compact old town, with its plethora of historic buildings and many venues. There is the Guggenheim-style gallery Nedbalka and the 19th Century neo-renaissance national theatre; Zaha Hadid’s architectural footprint is represented by the trio of ‘Sky Park’ buildings, an area southeast of the city centre, now clustered with modern high-rises of glass and steel representing growing prosperity. This prosperity can be, in large part, linked to the capital’s emergence as a start-up and innovation hub. Global automotive leaders such as Volkswagen (producing cars for VW, Audi, Porsche, ŠKODA and SEAT, directly in Bratislava), Peugeot Citroën, KIA and Jaguar Land Rover, who have all opted to locate Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) plants around Bratislava, ‘Europe’s Detroit’. This is also a great tonic for local DMCs and PCOs.
Bratislava offers easy access to the Small Carpathians, which offer castles and wineries, all ideal venues for car launches, presentations and roadshows. The likes of the modernist Wine Park Elesko, which includes gallery spaces, and the enchanting Castle Simak, with a sizeable and historic courtyard, both held car launches for new electric vehicle models on the day I visited.
One key building absent from Bratislava’s urban landscape is a dedicated congress centre, but plans are afoot. Dominik Susa, deputy CEO Slovak Investment & Trade Development Agency, says: “With €100m public/ private sector budget available for this project, we will soon know which developer will build it and the location. Possible projects include Incheba, Novy Istropolis or my personal favourite choice Nove Lido – a new neighbourhood in Petrzalka”. Each one of the proposals could help reinvent Bratislava as a unique MICE destination in Central Europe.
Until the new congress centre is inaugurated with a projected capacity of 3,000, the city can comfortably organise events “up to about 300-600 people” says David Pobjecky, head of the Bratislava Convention Bureau, who adds: “The new facility will springboard us towards being able to confidently bid for new association business and other major events.”
Local DMCs such as tour4u.sk and enjoyslovakia.com are upbeat about the city’s MICE future. Tour4u.sk can create bespoke itineraries as it manages its own tour buses and even speedboats. Zipping along the Danube in speedboats was a wonderful way to retreat into nature, but not the only exhilarating activity available. Our group docked close to Dovokavoda.sk White Water Centre, pitting our collective team wits across 350m of obstacles, drops, and fast flowing water on the same artificial channel on which Slovakian Olympic medalists have trained.
It was just one of several incentive activities available to try within the greater Bratislava region: “Our incentives are very much based on our landscape: Bratislava urban area, the Danube River, and Small Carpathian hills with forests and wine region. All provide diversity: from treasure hunts around the cobbled streets of the old town, to speed boats, countryside biking to wine sampling in historic cellars and modern wineries,” says Marek Farkas, MD of Enjoy Slovakia DMC.
On my return to London my taste of incentives was capped off by being met by Blacklane.com/en – an international chauffeuring service – whose CEO and co-founder, Jens Wohltorf, spoke at the first-ever Forbes ‘Under 30 Youth Summit Global Retreat’ in Bratislava in June 2019. Particularly pertinent, as Bratislava is home to a start-up ecosystem, where ideas, innovations
and entrepreneurial talent is driving transformational change for the city