Europe Cashes in as UK's Economy Turns the Corner

Article excerpt

Value-for-money is the motto for success on the Continent

European convention bureaux are hoping to do good business at Confex this year in the light of the much-touted British economic revival. The Continent didn't do badly during the recession; on the incentive front it picked up business from long haul destinations.

The pattern of shorter, more tightly targeted trips is likely to continue now recovery is under way, thanks to the new realism sweeping corporate culture.

A European meeting or incentive trip is often cheaper than its equivalent in Britain, even after air fares have been included. And as organisers still make value for money a top priority, hotels continue to come up with value-added packages.

Even traditionally glamorous destinations such as Monte Carlo are coming up with deals such as that offered by the Societe des Bains de Mer, which owns three of the best hotels in the principality. Two nights full board costs from as little as |pounds~280 per person, with free Air France flights (subject to availability) thrown in.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel is likely to boost interest in northern France. Resorts within easy reach of the Channel ports, such as Le Touquet, are already attracting meetings business from the UK. Delegates seem happy to travel shortish distances by luxury coach and this option can have organisational as well as cost advantages.

Rail travel to Paris and Brussels, two perennially attractive cities for meetings and incentives, grows even more appealing as travel times from city to city rival flying. Maison de la France will be at Confex highlighting new conference centres in Nantes and Lille. The latter can be reached on the French fast train network TGV.

Meanwhile, ferry companies are stepping up their marketing activities this year in preparation for the Chunnel. Olau Lines, which is exhibiting at the show, has an on-board conference package.

Destinations in the former Eastern Bloc are offering that 'something different' at Confex. Improvements in infrastructure have made eastern Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic serious contenders in the meetings market. Hungary has a headstart on many of its neighbours as it began to reform its economy ten years ago. This is reflected in the steady trade in international congresses and conventions carried on over the past decade, with a particularly strong focus on medical and industrial conferences and association meetings. Budapest is currently gearing up to host World Expo in 1996, taking advantage of an improved road network that makes transfers easier. Hungary's equine culture appeals to British groups for incentives, says the director of the Hungarian Convention Bureau Susan Szentpeteri. The steppes provide scope for Magyar riding displays, transfers in horse drawn carriages, gipsy serenades and medieval banquets in fairytale castles. Budapest's opera house and historic buildings offer a cultural focus.

Prague, tipped as an up and coming city, is seeing steady trade with groups from Germany, Austria, France and Spain. Prices are more favourable following an inflationary period, says Cedok's conference and incentive director Daniel Kalina. "There is now a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets and new hotels offer in-house conference facilities," he points out.

Mirjana Zilic of the Croatian National Tourism Office admits that immediate business prospects are not looking too hot, so instead the authorities are concentrating on improving infrastructure next year. "People are still afraid to go to Croatia, which is natural. But our message to the British market at Confex is that we are not to be forgotten," she says. "The situation will change in the future and we already have 75 congress halls and 7500 rooms in international class hotels."

Infrastructure is also developing rapidly in the former East Germany, says Gerrit Jessen, director of leading destination management company Pro-Berlin Concepts. …