CMW explores the meeting opportunities on Europe’s longest river
The lifeline that runs from the Black Forest of Germany down to the Black Sea, the Danube pulses through the heart of Central and Eastern Europe. Not only Europe’s second longest river — twice the length of the Rhine — the Danube flows through 10 countries and conversations on its banks take place in a dozen languages.
A journey down the Danube commences with passage through four capital cities — Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.
The city of Vienna prides itself on its accessibility. Vienna is centrally located in Europe and can be easily reached from all over the continent. The airport is 19km from the city centre and takes you straight into some of the world’s leading meetings infrastructure. There are three conference centres (varying in size and layout) with more than 100 additional smaller meeting venues, not to forget the meetings infrastructure on a university level.
The city is capable of responding to the needs of its meeting clients. There are more than 32,000 hotel rooms within city limits, and the hotels in Vienna fully understand how meetings work, supporting the city’s strategy to be a European meeting hotspot.
More than half of the surface of Vienna is green, making the city a very clean one and, for some years now, the city has been voted most liveable in the world in surveys.
The city regularly hosts the European Congress of Radiology, with more than 20,000 participants, as well as of the European Geosciences Union General Assembly with more than 12,000 participants, and it welcomes them again in 2016 and 2017.
There is great variety in the facilities on offer, and organisers will have is to decide what kind of location best suits their event. If you want to combine modern meeting infrastructure with imperial splendour, then the Hofburg Congress Center is a unique place and experience for participants.
For large conferences in need of many small meeting rooms there is the Austria Center Vienna with more than 170 meeting rooms, while if a large exhibition is the core of an event then Reed Messe is a strong offer.
The city is well served by its infrastructure and transport links. Not directly related to meeting infrastructure, the opening of a new central train station was one of the biggest recent investments and around this there is a complete redevelopment that includes office buildings and a quintet of new hotels.
Vienna has no particular target when it comes to business meetings, in terms of nationalities and industrial sectors, and while the majority of its custom comes from organisers of European meetings, its reputation in the MICE industry affords it ample allure for international events.
Further down the river lies Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The city describes itself as a ‘Metropolis on the Danube’ and the river plays an important part of Bratislava city life.
The Coronation City of the Hungarian Kingdom for more than 150 years, during the Turkish invasion, the city regards itself a twin with Vienna, and is served by Vienna International Airport. Add Budapest in Hungary to the mix and the trio is known as the Golden Triangle. The Slovak Tourism Board has distanced itself from the ‘Little Big City’ marketing concept, but the fact remains that the city has everything necessary for international events, while remaining simple to get to know. It is highly accessible and there are no long distances or lengthy traffic jams to hamper proceedings.
In the next two years, Bratislava hosts the EU Presidency, a 20,000 person event that includes 200 meetings. A top event within the meetings industry in terms of importance and organisational challenge in Bratislava (it occupies two full houses at Ondrej Nepela Arena Ice Hockey stadium with a capacity of more than 10.000 seats).
Other events include the Gourmet Fest for 12,000 people; Bratislava goes Classical, and Region goes Modern.
The city’s most interesting locations include the Reduta Slovak Philharmony Bratislava, just 100m from the river. The largest hotel ballroom — DoubleTree by Hilton Bratislava — can cater for 600 people.
Or how about meetings with a view? The UFO fine dining restaurant and lounge on the bridge presents a fantastic view for 120 people seated, with less surreal vistas at the Lindner Hotel Outlook Bar, for 80 people seated. Venues on the river include the Rivers Club event boat, and the Au Cafe riverbank restaurant/café.
For large-scale events there are also locations including the Ondrej Nepela Arena; Incheba Expo, a 60.000sqm exhibition and convention space; the National Tennis Centre (three tennis halls available for conventions); the Aula University of Economy, a stand-alone congress venue with up-to-date technology, translation booths and easy access for the disabled.
Finally, the Crowne Plaza presents a view of the presidential palace, for those who aspire to greater things.
Bratislava’s infrastructure development includes an inner city highway conceived to connect the city to all directions including a direct highway connection to Vienna International Airport (30 mins by car), a new highway to divert transiting traffic to outer city limit highways and speedways. New hotels, tram lines, a new bridge and infrastructure is being heavily developed.
Bratislava traditionally relies on neighbouring countries and Germany as its primary source of business travellers. In terms of sectors, the automotive industry is very strong. Volkswagen manufactures the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, Touareg, and the electric cars Skoda Citigo and VW Up in Bratislava, among other models, including the Touareg car range. Other sectors with a presence in the city include petrochemistry, as evidenced by Slovnaft, part of MOL group, as well as IT, pharma and real estate.
Carry on down the river into Hungary and you arrive in Budapest, a hub and meeting capital that makes its name as a destination in the very heart of Europe. The city bears the footprints of the Barbarians, the Roman and Ottoman Empires, but it is possible to trace early Catholicism as well as to visit the largest operating synagogue in Europe.
Its population of more than two million makes it the eighth largest city in the European Union, with appropriately well-developed infrastructure, a developing economy and vibrant academic and cultural life. All that makes Budapest one of Europe’s favoured locations for conferences and incentives. Correspondingly, since the 1990s, Budapest has been chosen as the venue for several international events, congresses and conventions of significance.
One of the highest accolades Budapest has received is that it was chosen to be the next venue of the European Selection of the world famous cooking contest, Bocuse d’Or. More than 1.3m voters gave Budapest the second-place ranking in Condé Nast Traveller’s 2013 Best City global index.
There are plenty of beautiful buildings in Budapest, among them the Parliament at the side of the Danube bank, the New York Café House, one of the most beautiful café houses in the world, and the ship A38, which was voted as the best bar in the world.
In terms of transport, there is easy access to the city from Europe by air, train, or car. Short flights from all the European capitals are improved by the presence of more low-cost airlines operating flights to Hungary, not least its own Wizzair.
There are few more suitable places worldwide where the uplifting cultural experience could better be combined with the rejuvenating experience of a health spa treatment than Budapest. There is the possibility of listening to contemporary and classical music, opera performed by internationally renowned stars, fiery local music, top-flight jazz, the ever-popular operetta, folk music and dance in one of Budapest’s numerous concert halls, opera houses, restaurants, bars, and music clubs. And of course there are a variety of museums, art galleries and exhibition halls to explore.
Outside of the city there is beauty too. The protected Puszta-regions, the Great Plain, the romantic Danube Bend with historic sites, pretty baroque towns like Eger or Lake Balaton, the largest fresh water lake of Central Europe, and a beautiful holiday resort.
There are major new events on their way in the form of the 2015 Red Bull Air Race World Championship, which previously saw 650,000 spectators line the banks of the Danube in 2009. Hungary hosts the 2016 Beach Handball World Championship on Budapest’s Margaret Island.
Budapest replaces Guadalajara, Mexico, as the host city of the 17th FINA World Championships and FINA World Masters swimming championships in July 2017.
The Serbian capital Belgrade is next on the route. Those unfortunate not to be arriving on the river may take new national airline, Air Serbia. Today, the country’s liberal visa requirements and excellent flight connections makes Belgrade more accessible than ever. There are currently 26 carriers and 60 destinations served in scheduled passenger service from Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, which is just 15km from the city centre.
The city is a new and mostly unknown destination for delegates attending meetings and congresses, and being the centre of South Eastern Europe’s social and economic activities, it is a good starting point to discovering this region and getting new members from this area for the international associations. Together with large scale investments in infrastructure capacities in the last few years, Belgrade offers a compact meeting package with great value for money.
The Lonely Planet guide named Serbia one of the top 10 Hot Spots in Europe, while The Times in London called it ‘Europe’s new capital of cool’. This praise resulted in the city making constant progress in International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings. At the moment when BCB and SCB were established, Belgrade and Serbia improved their ranking from 79th to 55th place in 2008, reaching 49th in 2010. Since then, it has always had a place among top the 50 ICCA destinations in the world.
With 50 international meetings held in Belgrade in 2014, it ranks with Montreal, Washington and New York in terms of global appeal for business events.
This year the annual general meeting of the European Association of Pharmaceutical Full-line Wholesalers, the Congress of the European Association of Neuroscience Nurses, and the Congress of the European Society of Pathology take place in the city.
While the Congress of the European Society for Paediatric Anaesthesiology and Association Internationale des Études Byzantines take place next year. The International Congress on Trends in Medical Mycology, Congress of the European Society for Cardiovascular and Endovascular Surgery both slot in in 2017.
Perhaps the most remarkable meeting location in Belgrade is the Sava Centar, which claims to be one of Europe’s best-equipped convention venues. As a purpose-built convention centre with a large plenary space for 3,760 delegates, 3,500sqm of exhibition space and 16 additional meeting rooms for concurrent sessions, it has been a host for the largest and most important national and international congresses and events in Serbia.
In the last couple of years, Belgrade has experienced plenty of large scale investment and new developments in infrastructure capacities both regarding function spaces and visitor attractions.
In addition to the new Crowne Plaza, Radisson Blu and Holiday Inn Express, hotels, Marriott Courtyard will welcome its first guests by the end of summer 2015. These new properties bring the total number of hotel rooms that are within close proximity to the Sava Centar to more than 1,500. There are currently around 3,650, four-star and five-star hotel rooms, and 1,700 rooms in three-star hotels available in Belgrade.
Besides international association meetings, particularly in the medical and IT sector ranging from 600 to 1,500 participants, in the last few years Belgrade has experienced the establishment of an ever-growing number of associations focusing on the Balkan and Danube region. The destination is becoming more and more attractive for corporate meetings coming from Central Europe, and today companies from Turkey and Russia, as well as the Middle East are also looking to Belgrade, due in part to Serbia’s visa free regime.