Confex 1997 Preview: Weird and wonderful - Sue Bryant gives a detailed overview of overseas destinations near and far which offer new or improved options to the incentive travel and conference sectors

The overriding impression of Confex ’97 is one of new ideas and opportunities. As the overseas events industry continues to hoist itself out of the doldrums, all kinds of strange and wonderful destinations are hoping for a slice of the UK market.

The overriding impression of Confex ’97 is one of new ideas and

opportunities. As the overseas events industry continues to hoist itself

out of the doldrums, all kinds of strange and wonderful destinations are

hoping for a slice of the UK market.

One of the predictions for the UK holiday industry’s future is that of

change, with more independent travel and experimentation with new


If the hopes of places such as Abu Dhabi, Hungary, Sri Lanka and Iceland

are anything like realistic, the conference and incentive industry will

soon be headed the same way.

There’s no question that companies are once again spending money on

overseas events. But they are spending it in a much more thoughtful way.

’There is a trend toward integrating motivational activities with skills

development and linking those with team building,’ explains Graham

Keene, managing director of LMG International. ’Further integration

comes from launching incentive programmes together with new product

introductions at corporate conferences.’

LMG works on the premise that team programmes are more effective than

individual ones because the success of every participant depends on the

performance of the team. Based on this theory, the company ran a highly

successful incentive for Janssen Pharmaceutical, where the winning team

won a trip to Nepal.

But however structured the events are, the late-booking trend


’Sometimes it’s hard to offer people space when they’re booking so

late,’ says Henri Ceran, director of SEMEC, the body which manages the

Palais des Festivals conference centre in Cannes. ’Of course, we still

have dates in busy months like June and September, but when clients have

very precise dates in mind, it’s difficult.’

Nevertheless, suppliers are trying to deal more efficiently with this

trend. British Midland, for example, has introduced new software which

will give instant fare quotes for groups on any given date by looking at

the space available in each price category on the aircraft. This can

save buyers valuable time as airlines often take up to 24 hours to

provide a quote.

Some unusual venues will be targeting buyers at Confex this year. Abu

Dhabi will be unveiling its new International Exhibition Centre, a

state-of-the-art facility in the capital of the United Arab


A return to more indulgent venues is apparent, too. Grand Heritage

Hotels will be promoting its newest management contract, the Grand

Pavilion in the Cayman Islands, ideal for Caribbean incentives. As well

as being a famous offshore finance centre, the islands have superb

beaches and diving and a good 18-hole golf course. The 93-room hotel is

ideal for international meetings, with high-tech equipment and nine

conference rooms.

Meanwhile, the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla is to target

board-level meetings for four of its exclusive hotels, among them

Malliouhana and Cap Juluca, both perfect for up to about 25 guests

looking for seclusion and luxury.

For something altogether bigger and livelier, San Diego’s Catamaran

Resort Hotel will be exhibiting at the show for the first time. One of

the few beachfront properties in the city, the 315-room hotel has three

large ballrooms and plenty of outdoor areas for themed evening


With such rapid expansion in the cruise market, it was only a matter of

time before cruise companies started to aim at the meetings industry in

a more focused way. Silversea Cruises - a company offering some of the

most luxurious products - has announced its intention to go for the

individual incentives and small meetings market, following the success

of a series of familiarisation visits for targeted clients. Not

surprisingly, the corporate buyers loved the ships, both of which have

private suites for conferences and dining. But what really impressed

them, according to director of national accounts UK Brian Hordon, was

the all-inclusive pricing policy.

’We hosted our ten most important travel partners on Silver Cloud for

four days with a programme including a full working seminar in the

Observation Lounge, individual meetings in the owner’s suite, and a

black-tie dinner with a special menu,’ he says. ’It was a real

demonstration of how important programmes can be delivered in Silversea

style.’ But luxury does not come cheap: seven nights in the

Mediterranean costs from pounds 4,795 per person.

Long haul might be booming, but undiscovered corners of Europe are

hoping to attract UK business as well. The beautiful Tuscany region in

Italy will be launching a new brochure Montecatini Congressi, focusing

on the spa resort of Montecatini Terme, 40km from Florence. The resort

boasts three congress centres as well as spa facilities, and has space

for 4000 delegates to meet, eat and sleep.

Also fresh to the market is Valencia’s new congress centre, the Palacio

de Congresos, designed by Sir Norman Foster and expected to open early

in 1998. Three auditoriums will seat between 250 and 1500, and there

will be ten smaller rooms, as well as 1000 square metres of exhibition


The city’s investment in the new centre is huge, with a hotel being

built in the same grounds and, eventually, a new tram line to the city

centre and airport.

The Basque country is hoping to attract more convention business on both

sides of the border. Biarritz, now served by two new flights from

Charles de Gaulle airport, opened a convention bureau in 1996 and has

already hosted Buick, Philip Morris and Siemens. And Spanish destination

management company Cyrasa has opened an office in San Sebastian, hoping

to attract UK incentive business. There are facilities in the area for

outdoor activities, golf, Basque cookery lessons, jai alai

demonstrations and cultural visits to Spain’s greenest corner.

France, despite the strong Franc last year, managed to attract some big,

multinational business. Volkswagen flew 12,000 delegates to Cannes for

the launch of the new Passat, while BMW took over the coastal town of

Deauville for a launch for 1650. ’We needed easy access, accommodation,

catering, different routes for test drives and an auditorium and

exhibition halls,’ says BMW UK communications manager Suzanne Gray.

’Deauville was the destination that reacted best to arrange the airport

transfers and top-class hotels, and had a convention centre in the


It was the Centre International de Deauville, from an operational and a

technical point of view, that made us finally select their town.’

Further south, Monaco is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the

Grimaldi family in 1997. As well as various festivities, several new

conference facilities are opening. The Metropole Palace Hotel has a new

room on its top floor that takes 400 and has an adjacent sun terrace,

while the Beach Plaza’s new Sea Club, due to open in April, has meeting

facilities for 550.

Destinations which have been in the news for less favourable reasons

will also be at Confex. Egypt is seeing renewed confidence from general

tourism, with the incentive market likely to follow, while international

hotel groups continue to invest in Israel. Hilton is building beside the

Dead Sea, where Hyatt has just opened a spectacular spa hotel.

Meanwhile, Inter-Continental has announced a new resort project in

Eilat, at the foot of the desert mountains just outside the city.

A complete contrast in weather terms, Northern Ireland - despite its

troubles - has seen a steady increase in conference business because of

its first-class hotel and meetings facilities, according to convention

bureau manager Michael McCormick. ’It’s been a year of significant

development, particularly on the hotel front. International groups such

as Jury’s, Hilton, Stakis and Holiday Inn are now firmly established.

And independent properties throughout the region have upgraded

conference facilities and increased capacity.’

Several suppliers are launching new products or directories at


Leading Hotels of the World, a consortium of 308 luxury hotels and

resorts, is exhibiting for the first time and will be launching a new

directory, Meetings and Incentives. As well as hotel information,

detailed itineraries for incentives have been suggested by 87 of the

hotels featured.

The Jersey Conference Bureau will be unveiling a new logo, new

advertising campaign and a new, 52-page conference guide to the island.

This year, Jersey has introduced a membership scheme with a code of

practice, ensuring the highest possible standards to buyers.

Technology is playing an important role in event planning. Most

suppliers now have Internet sites, although the meetings information on

these is often secondary. However, CD-ROM technology can be very useful

to a busy event organiser, and Inter-Continental Hotels will be

launching an updated CD to promote its hotels in London and Scotland,

with more than 75 screens of information dedicated to its meetings


Clearwater Communications, meanwhile, will launch its Web site

( which it claims is the first tool of

its kind for the meetings industry. The database has information on

meeting venues, suppliers of equipment and services, leisure facilities

and hotel details for venues all over the world.

The beauty of the system is that it automatically faxes or e-mails

suppliers if the user requires more information. And unlike some

convention bureaus, there’s no membership charge, so any supplier can

list their services.

The Association Internationale des Palais de Congres is also developing

its Web site ( with 56 members currently


Among the new members are the Palais des Congres-Expositions in Dijon

and the impressive, pounds 1bn Tokyo International Forum, reckoned to be

the world’s most expensive centre, with space for 28,000 people. AIPC is

currently surveying 1000 meeting planners worldwide to try to gain a

better understanding of their requirements in congress centre


But according to another body, the European Federation of Conference

Towns, Europe is in danger of losing out when it comes to big,

multinational events because of the lack of EU policy on business

tourism. Last year’s Irish presidency failed even to look at the

Philoxenia Project, the EU Tourism Unit’s proposed policy on tourism

promotion for Europe, because of objections from some member states.

’It’s important that Philoxenia is rescued from the neglect that

threatens it because of a few member states which see tourism as a

non-activity, while Europe continues to lose congress and other tourism

business year by year to other destinations,’ warns EFCT president

Olivier Lepine.

The EFCT is now lobbying the new Dutch presidency to give tourism

matters priority. The issues will be discussed at the EFCT seminar at



Travel for Industry organised an incentive trip for computer supplier

Frontline Distribution, which wanted to reward its top performing

dealers in Unix products. It was felt that skiing was suitably glamorous

and motivational and the 13 winners were treated to three days of winter

sports in the French resort of Chamonix.

Helicopter sightseeing, snowmobiling and a ’fun’ giant slalom course

were all part of the activities organised by TFI, with the group testing

the apres-ski in Chamonix to the full.

’One thing that skiing in groups achieves very quickly is relationship

bonding with a high degree of effective teamwork,’ says TFI sales

manager Jane Alleyne. ’Skiing is about personal targets satisfyingly met

in a group atmosphere.’ Frontline Distribution was delighted with the

event, which, it claims, helped build partnerships with its resellers,

reinforced its products and rewarded its top performers.


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