Paul Colston shines a Northern light on St Petersburg, and what it can offer for events.
St Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the cultural capital of Russia, and the largest Northern city. A former capital, it is also the second biggest Russian city and inhabited by over five million people.
The Venice of the North sits at the centre of an intersection of sea, river, and land routes and is not only an acclaimed tourist centre (8.3m visited the city last year – a figure Elena Volodkevich of the city’s Tourist Information Bureau expects “only to grow”), but the largest transport hub in Russia’s North West.
With a modern airport at Pulkovo, the city can now be reached from most European capitals in under four hours. St Petersburg is also accessible by cruise ships via the Baltic. And visitors disembarking from ships can visit the city without a visa for up to 72 hours.
Alexander Martynov of the city’s Tourism Committee admitted to CMW the visa question was still “a big challenge”, but said conversations were “ongoing”, noting that a special fan I.D. visa waiver for the 2018 FIFA World Cup had been particularly successful, with half a million footballer fans using them.
The visa question is certainly being addressed at the very top: President Putin, speaking in parliament in February, urged lawmakers to look at the possibility of introducing e-visas.
For delegates keen to just get ‘in and out’ fast, the huge and modern Expoforum convention complex is close to Pulkovo, together with its on-site Hilton hotel.
For those keen to sample the city’s delights, the historic centre of the city – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is not to be missed.
The city has 221 museums, 2,000 libraries and over 80 theatres. Every year the city hosts over 100 festivals and various art and culture competitions, including 50 international ones.
And, if your event falls during the White Nights, then your after-party can go on into the early hours. Just be sure you don’t get the wrong side of the bridges when they rise for the night on many of the islands.
Meeting planners have a range of non-traditional venues to consider, including many of the cultural institutions, as well as Expoforum’s sister venue Lenexpo.
St Petersburg’s Railway Museum is making a play to host large events and, with 57,000sqm of space, could provide an unconventional backdrop for galas or drinks receptions.
The local St Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, Russia’s oldest chamber, is a useful portal for organisers looking for information and also runs 100 events a year itself and gets involved in many bilateral roadshow events.
The new city CVB, formed in 2014, is another useful resource and runs a venue and supplier affiliate programme with 80 members.
St Petersburg boasts over 400 conference and exhibition halls and 267 organising companies and agencies are active in the sector, so the city’s boast of becoming Russia’s MICE capital is no idle one. Local eventprofs help manage 300 large events held in the city each year, including some 30 major rotating events.
The new CVB submitted 18 bids for international conventions in 2018 and in the first four months of 2019 put in nine, with high hopes of clinching a good proportion of those.
Last November, the Northern capital was chosen as the venue for the 85th international congress of UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry.
Big label events upcoming include the 25th European Veterinary Congress FECAVA (4–7 September 2019), the 43rd Cineposium of the Association of Film Commissioners International (13-16 September 2019), The Worldchefs Congress & Expo 2020, the World Energy Congress and the International Mathematical Congress 2022.
As well as the obvious cultural strong suit, sectors being targeted for events by the city include medical and research science and I.T.
The city is a member of the Global Destination Sustainability Index and is focusing hard on implementing international environmental standards in its events infrastructure.
St Petersburg claims to be the most tolerant city in Russia, with 268 different confessions and religious associations in the city. For all Moscow’s frenetic pace and power appeal, St Petersburg is very much the cultured cousin.
The Northern window on the world conferencing has never looked so inviting.