‘Desenrascanço’ describes the Portuguese national virtue of finding unconventional solutions to demanding situations – a useful trait when creating an adaptable MICE industry, as Ramy Salameh discovers.
Lisbon, Porto and Braga’s city-break tourism industries are booming. New airlift, especially from national carrier Air Portugal (TAP), as well as renewed confidence and investment in venues old and new, has created a fertile landscape to increase international visibility and expand MICE portfolios.
Lisbon retained 9th position on ICCA’s city ranking for 2017 and is aiming higher, reflecting an array of unique venues and experiences, which are attracting global brands and conferences and events.
Seventy thousand delegates descended on Lisbon in November 2018 for the world’s biggest Web Summit, an event that took over the city’s Nation’s Park, formerly the site of EXPO 98.
The cluster of venues, such as the Altice Arena (capacity: 20,000 people) and International Fair of Lisbon – FIL (four pavilions each with 10,000sqm of space) plus, first rate IT infrastructure, all within 5-10 minutes of the International Airport, has seen the Web Summit commit to the city over the next 10 years.
Claudia Sousa, Editor-in-Chief of Event Point International, uses the Altice Arena for an annual B2B event, ‘Meet@AlticeArena’ and pinpoints versatility: “Our niche event (150/200 people) is set in the middle of this huge arena, creating a ‘wow’ effect on guests, also, it positions the Arena as an adaptable corporate/conference venue, besides being the main concert arena in the country.”
Lisbon Airport’s city-centre location is reflected on the approach to landing, flying across the terracotta roofs and maze of alleyways that sweep around the historic districts of Baixa, Chaido, Bairro Alto, Alfama and Belém.
Another elevated way to map-out the city beneath is from the rooftop bar ‘SEEN Lisboa’ at the apex of the five-star Tivoli Avenida da Liberdade, described as the Grand Dame of Lisbon hotels. Last year’s multi-million euro renovation has consolidated its position as a key MICE hotel with its own meeting centre, housed within an 18th century building.
On the same latitude as the 11th century San Jorge Castle, in the Alfama district and sharing its ancient walls, is the Palácio Belmonte, an 11-suite boutique hotel and regular movie/TV location.
Minutes from the castle, the Palácio can be the backdrop for ultra-exclusive events or combined with events that take advantage of the castle’s main square and unparalleled vistas of the city. The square was the location recently of a 1,500-strong medical conference reception.
Lisbon’s other ancient districts offer some stand-out venues to inspire, including the Carmo Convent Archaeological Museum which was the location for a Financial Times cocktail reception recently.
Beyond Lisbon’s landmark Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, the diverse district of Belém continues to regenerate the waterfront.
MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) starkly contrasts with the Electricity Museum next door, a solid industrial edifice able to absorb large events among its mechanical exhibits. The newly opened Sud Lisboa, a multi-functional restaurant/bar with rooftop pool terrace and 1,700sqm of space, completes this cluster of venues by the water.
A short distance from the waterfront is the 112-year-old Coach Museum on Picadeiro Real, which played host to fashion royalty Dior’s award-winning event, amid the horse-drawn carriages velvets and gold leaf.
The piece-de-resistance of venues, as used during the Web Summit, is the UNESCO registered Jeronimos Monastery, a 16th century architectural masterpiece. The three event spaces of the Monastery are the Cloister, the Old Canteen and the Chapter Hall.
The Lisbon CVB is pushing the ‘resort-city’ concept, forging a tight MICE link between Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra and creating a ‘golden triangle’ of regional destinations.
The use of vintage transportation can enhance this whole product, including private hire of a tram.
The team behind ‘Lisbonbybeetle’ provide an atmospheric drive along the Tagus River, Cascais and Estoril coastline and on to the UNESCO town of Sintra with its Pena National Palace.
In November, Lisbon hosted the launch of Peugeot’s 508 SW car model, attracting 500 journalists from 31 countries. This is the fifth time the car manufacturer has chosen Portugal for its international event, with the ‘resort-city’ concept rated by organisers for quality roads between Cascais, the pine covered hills of Serra de Sintra and Lisbon for testing cars. Good hotel stock and a mild climate are also drawcards.
Porto and nearby Braga, like Lisbon, are a mix of cultures that make them a natural meeting point.
Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is just over a three-hour drive from Lisbon.
The city will see the opening of a dedicated congress centre on the site of the current Palácio de Cristal. The eight-hectare site in central Porto offers fine views over the Douro River, alongside 19th century landscaped gardens.
“The new congress centre will be very important for Porto, by increasing capacity to attract the larger events; a big plus is the amazing location, that is walking distance from the centre,” says Sousa.
Extra capacity will complement the award-winning Alfandega Porto Congress Centre, the former 150-year old former Custom’s House redesigned by Pritzker prize-winning Portuguese architect Souto Moura.
The classical façade hides an eclectic mix of spacial possibilities across 36,000sqm, headlined by the 1,200sqm ‘Archive room’ and external wharf, looking over the water to Vila Nova de Gaia and the many Port wine cellars such as the House of Ferreira. Port tastings are a popular incentive, surrounded by oak barrels.
In 2019 Porto is set to host the largest textile congress in the world for the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF); The Palácio da Bolsa, owned and run by the Associação Comercial do Porto, could provide an ideal dinner venue. The 19th century neo-classical façade leads into the mosaic-floored Hall of Nations, an inner courtyard capable of seating up to 500 for dinner.
Alternatively, the acoustically and architecturally sublime, Casa da Musica is another desirable venue. Described by locals as like a meteorite having landed within their leafy suburb of Porto, it is a venue used by Microsoft for events.
Equally modern in concept and providing a boost to cruise tourism to North Portugal, is the Porto Cruise Terminal. The three core elements of the octopus-like structure, include the passenger terminal with pier, marine science and research floor and meeting and events spaces on the 3rdlevel with outside terrace. A diverse selection of brands, from Royal Caribbean to L’Oréal, Mercedes and Ferrari have all held events here.
The challenge for Porto is to support new venue openings, by increasing hotel capacity. Over the coming years there are at least 19 new hotels set to open.
Richard Bowden, Marketing Director of the luxurious Yeatman Hotel commanding arguably the best vistas in Porto from the Gaia side of the Douro, feels upbeat about increased competition: “It will be healthy for business, we are of the mindset of growing the whole cake, not just our slice”.
Sat on Portugal’s most ancient foundations, the city of Braga, is a dynamic city and a growing hub for science, technology and innovation. Its status as ‘European capital of Sport 2018’ has helped win bids to host the World Karate Championships, Dance World Cup and the World Volleyball Championships in 2019.
This is all supported by a newly refurbished congress centre Altice Forum Braga, and a main hall able to take up to 12,000 people, plus an auditorium with 4,500 seats and the ability to run three simultaneous events. The venue’s permanent Art Gallery can be used for cocktail receptions. The centre has, in short order, attracted everything from an e-gaming to automotive conferences.
Mayor of Braga, Ricardo Rio, has helped foster international partnerships and created what he describes as an ecosystem of entrepreneurship around four key pillars; Bio and Nano technology, IT and Medical Sciences through Invest Braga, an economic development agency set up in 2014.
Lisbon, Porto and Braga are by no means relying on their historical and cultural heritage to sustain MICE, but creating new, cutting edge venues and cleverly integrating them with their most precious historical sites, aligned to facilitate the latest meeting and event trends. It is not so much ‘Desenrascanço’ but a new quality blend of MICE ‘port’ to savour.