Paris has always been a top incentive destination. Now Eurotunnel has
increased the popularity of the French connection.
Eurotunnel not only revolutionised the holiday market when it opened
just over a year ago, it also made a significant impact on conference
and incentive travel.
Psychologically, it has brought northern France closer to home, and the
convenience of travelling city centre to city centre has made day trips
to Paris popular for corporate entertaining, incentives and even short
‘What is tending to happen as a result of the Eurostar service and the
prices is that more people are doing day trips to Paris,’ says Claire
Drewer, manager of logistics at event organiser Spectrum Communications.
‘We had one group that went out on the train, had a meeting in a hotel,
lunch at the Eiffel Tower and then came back that night, first class.
The first-class travel is part and parcel of the incentive on trips like
Paul Hussey, general manager of venue-finding agency Banks Sadler, says
the train has made a big difference. ‘We’ve used it for people coming
from all over the country,’ he says. ‘It’s very, very popular and it’s
easy. We’ve had a lot of companies wanting to take just eight people,
say, for lunch.’
Relative to other forms of corporate entertaining, lunch in Paris is
quite reasonable. Worcestershire-based Moyles Masterkey was one of the
first companies to package day trips on the train and offers all
inclusive packages from around pounds 190 a head in second class or
pounds 240 in first, based on 40 guests.
But Paris has not had an easy time in 1995. Paris may be glamorous but
the exchange rate of the franc against the pound is proving a big
disadvantage. Paris has also suffered some severe dents to its image.
Terrorism has not made a big impression on British groups but other
markets, such as the US, have been affected. Nuclear testing in the
South Pacific has led to a few companies boycotting the destination and
has done little overall to create a positive impression.
Since 1979, the city has been rated number one in the world by the trade
body Union des Associations Internationales for the number of
international conventions it hosts. While this is unlikely to change,
the number of smaller conferences and incentives coming from the UK has
‘1996 will be a good year but this season has not been what it should
be,’ says Catherine Pascaud, managing director of Servitours, one of the
leading conference organisers in Paris. ‘The weakness of the pound is a
problem but we try to manage by offering less expensive programmes.’
One bonus for British organisers considering Paris is that the city’s
hotels, which are notoriously busy, do have availability this autumn and
winter. ‘Although the exchange rate is not brilliant, UK hotels are in
such demand that they’re expensive, too,’ Hussey points out. ‘There’s a
regular band of enquiries, usually for the good four-star hotels in
Entertaining conference delegates in Paris need not cost the earth. ‘We
can arrange dinners in Montmartre,’ says Pascaud. ‘In a way it’s
touristy there but people like it because it’s so alive and very famous.
The restaurants there are not expensive. There are plenty of brasseries
around Republique, as well, which cost less than the more classical
Some museums are quite reasonably priced for private functions in
unusual settings. The Musee Grevin, the Parisian waxworks, takes 150 for
dinner, and the wine museum, in a 14th century abbey five minutes from
the Eiffel Tower, takes the same number. For around a hundred guests,
one of the glass-roofed Bateaux Parisiens riverboats can be hired for a
cocktail cruise along the Seine.
New this year is Les Ateliers du Cuivre et de l’Argent, a copper and
silver workshop where receptions and demonstrations can be arranged.
For big budgets some spectacular events can be arranged. Groups can hire
the indoor courtyard under the brilliantly coloured glass dome in the
Printemps department store for cocktails, dinners and fashion shows.
Various museums, including the Louvre, will also rent out their space
for functions, while the Eiffel Tower has a function room on the first
Outside the city, Disneyland Paris is attracting a lot of attention in
the corporate market. Of the six hotels in the park, three are suitable
for conferences with the most prestigious, the Hotel New York, fully
equipped to handle big conventions.
American Express used the theme park for a combined conference and
motivation event for 1100 sales staff last year, with delegates arriving
from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The event took over the Hotel
New York and, as well as meeting sessions, involved various sightseeing
trips, chateau visits, dinners in central Paris and, of course, visits
to the amusements at Disneyland.
‘Some people were a little sceptical about using Disneyland,’ says
Drewer, whose Spectrum Communications organised the event. ‘But it was
the benefits of the Hotel New York that swung the decision and the whole
event worked very well.’
For smaller, high-budget events, there is plenty of choice: the city’s
collection of five-star hotels are mostly elegant, turn-of-the-century
properties around the eighth arrondissement, close to the Place de la
Concorde. Establishments such as the Royal Monceau, Crillon, the Ritz,
Forte’s George V, the Plaza Athenee and the Scribe are all ideal for
board-level events - if they have space. Typical costs for the Royal
Monceau, with 219 rooms and six meeting rooms are a 24-hour inclusive
rate of pounds 295 per person.
Paris has some vast hotels that are geared up to handling conferences of
all sizes. The Sofitel St Jacques, on the Left Bank, has 800 rooms and
41 meeting rooms, taking from ten to 1200 delegates. Meridien has two
large hotels, one at Etoile with 1025 bedrooms and Le Meridien
Montparnasse with 953 rooms. Both hotels are making an effort to attract
the conference market with special packages. Two nights in either,
including return travel on Eurostar, accommodation, breakfast, lunch and
meeting room start from pounds 204 per person. Inter-Continental also
has two hotels, the Grand and the Inter-Continental Paris, both very
traditional in style and very popular with the British market.
For smaller groups, there are several attractive hotels with meeting
facilities. Two hotels belonging to the Demeure group, the Baltimore and
the Le Parc Victor Hugo, with 105 and 115 rooms respectively, try to
attract the British market. The Victor Hugo, in the upmarket 16th
arrondissement, is like an English country house, built around an
attractive courtyard. The main meeting room takes up to 350. For small
incentive groups, the Hotel Vernet is located close to the designer
shops of the rue Faubourg St Honore and has a Michelin-starred
Conference business represents 15% of Disneyland Paris’s turnover and
the improving public perception should help increase the volume.
Disneyland Paris, or Euro Disney, as it used to be called, has just
announced its first profit, pounds 14.9m, and a 21% increase in visitors
over 1993/94. When it opened, the park and its six hotels went through
bad teething problems in the conference and incentive market, with
reports of inflexible management, high prices and niggling technical
faults in the Hotel New York - the main convention property. The company
claims the situation has now been rectified. The hotel opened an
additional 2000m2 of meeting space in 1994 and around 2000 delegates can
be accommodated. The current 24-hour rate, including all meals, is
around pounds 180 per person. From June 1996, Eurostar trains will run
directly from Waterloo International to the park, which has its own
Just inside the peripherique ring road, the Palais de Congres, one of
Europe’s largest convention centres is joined to the 970-room Hotel
Concorde Lafayette. With 50 meeting rooms, four auditoria seating up to
3700 people and 8000m2 of exhibition space, this facility is best suited
to large, high-tech events. Work is currently in progress to add another
2000m2 of exhibition space and a state of the art amphitheatre seating
570. Further out of town at La Defense, the futuristic CNIT centre seats
up to 1200 in its largest hall, with 13 smaller meeting rooms. La
Villette, a third convention centre at the Cite des Sciences science
park to the north east takes up to 1500. A new centre, le Carrousel du
Louvre, has been developed directly under the Louvre museum, hidden
below the historic buildings and the famous glass pyramid. The four
conference rooms, taking up to 1800, are popular for gala evenings and
fashion shows as well as meetings.