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
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
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
(http://www.BusinessMeetings.com) 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 (http://www.aipc.org) 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
The EFCT is now lobbying the new Dutch presidency to give tourism
matters priority. The issues will be discussed at the EFCT seminar at
THE WHITE STUFF
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.