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Tue 22 Apr 2008 04:00 AM

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A German affair

Germany continues to cement its position as Europe's leading meetings industry destination.

Germany continues to cement its position as Europe's leading meetings industry destination, boasting a raft of new venues and other developments.

Located in the dead centre of Europe, Germany is a crucial meetings industry destination for companies throughout the world.

With increasingly good air access and an outstanding number of new and refurbished exhibition and convention centres springing up, the destination is also winning the attention of convention and conference organisers in the Middle East.

Germany's legendary efficiency extends to its meetings industry, with the German Convention Bureau (GCB) offering planners a one-stop-shop for most enquiries, according to GCB managing director Lutz P. Vogt.

"Your first contact for planning an event in Germany is the GCB," he explains.

"The GCB will work closely with the meeting planner, beginning with providing assistance in choosing an appropriate location, finding the necessary contacts, and obtaining proposals to ensure that the implementation of your plan meets your specific requirements."

The GCB works with some 250 partners including leading hotels, convention centres and destinations, car rental firms, event agencies and other service providers for the German meetings and conventions industry.

Convention centre development and upgrading exceeds that even of the GCC; the last year alone has seen the opening or renovation of congress centres in Darmstadt, Mannheim and Stuttgart that are setting new standards for innovation in energy-saving, noise reduction and ecological methods.

"In Germany, major financial investments are being continually made in convention centres and reasonably-priced four- and five-star hotel accommodation," says Vogt.

"In terms of sustainability and energy efficiency, Germany is setting standards worldwide, and German convention centres and meeting hotels have embraced this movement."

And the development does not stop there; a raft of state-of-the-art centres is set to open or re-open before the end of 2009.

The EUR 100 million (US $157 million) Lufthansa Training and Conference Centre Seeheim, set to open in Q1 2009, will provide a 600m² conference hall and 483 rooms for delegates, while the World Conference Centre Bonn, the international congress centre in the former German parliament building, will receive a major expansion to the tune of EUR 145 million ($278 million).
Until the latter opens in mid-2009, an additional congress centre with seating for 3500 people will be built opposite the Bundeshaus - German for parliamentary building - in addition to a four-star-plus hotel with 350 rooms.

In the capital, the andel's Hotel Berlin will provide an additional 3800m² of conference space and a 582m² ballroom, as well as a 500m² wellness area and 557 rooms when it opens in early 2009.

In 2007, the GCB, the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) and the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC) commissioned the European Institute for the Meetings Industry (EITW) to create the Meeting & EventBarometer 2007.

The barometer presents quantity and sales figures and compares event regions in Germany.

According to the results of the survey, Berlin was the favourite region for meetings and events for organisers.

"One of the primary reasons for this lead position is the state-of-the-art and competitively priced meetings infrastructure," said Vogt.

"Berlin is the centre of some of the 20th century's most compelling history, as well as one of the most forward-looking and fascinating cities of the 21st century. Home to Europe's top museums and a centre of culture, art and music, Berlin is also a place to relax at fine restaurants and enjoy a vibrant night life."

Berlin's success as a convention and exhibition destination has to be attributed to no small degree to Messe Berlin, one of the biggest trade fair companies in the world.

The company's Exhibition Grounds provide 160,000m² of exhibition space with an additional 100,000m² outdoor area, and are directly linked to the ICC Berlin, Europe's largest convention centre.

Despite the vast area of the combined facilities of Messe Berlin and ICC Berlin, the venues are running at full capacity for the next 12 months, raising questions as to how the company can expand to meet growing market requirements.

Renovation and reconstruction of certain parts of the existing ICC Berlin has been considered, as has an entirely new state-of-the-art venue, but no plans have been decided upon at this stage.

Berlin was followed in the Meeting & EventBarometer 2007 by the Rhine-Main area in second place, then Munich, Cologne/Düsseldorf and Hamburg sharing the number three spot.

Stuttgart, the Ruhr Area, Dresden, Hannover and the Rhine-Neckar region with Mannheim, Heidelberg and Karlsruhe followed.
"The cities and regions stand out in particular for their wide variety of hotels, meeting locations, museums, theatres, Michelin star-rated restaurants, historic castles and unusual locations; from train stations to trendy bars, discos, over-30s parties, clubs and restaurants to skyscraper tops," Vogt added.

"Last but not least the cities are blessed with excellent air, rail and motorway access and are less than two hours flying time from Paris and London.

Vogt also highlights the fact that many of Germany's leading car manufacturers have built state-of-the-art facilities that offer opportunities for event planners, including the chance to to view or test drive their fabulous vehicles.

Facilities include BMW in Munich, Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Porsche in Stuttgart and Leipzig, and Volkswagen in Wolfsburg and Dresden.

This month will see the 2008 instalment of IMEX, the world's biggest meetings and incentive travel exhibition, which is held every year in Frankfurt.

Some 3400 exhibitors from 150 countries attended the 2007 instalment of the show, representing national and regional tourist offices, major hotel groups, airlines, destination management companies, service providers, trade associations and other meetings industry related suppliers, as well as 3500 hosted buyers from 57 countries worldwide.

The GCB is the strategic partner of IMEX and the organizer of the Germany stand - which alone has 165 exhibitors - and 15 German seminars.

Organisers of the show are currently working with Etihad to bring hosted buyers to the show from the region, and buyers from the UAE and Bahrain have already been confirmed, Vogt added.

Inspired incentivesLutz P. Vogt, managing director, GCB shares some ideas for keeping incentives groups happy or breaking up a multi-day congress:

• On September 20 at precisely 12 noon, the Lord Mayor of Munich, Mr. Christian Ude, will open the 175th Munich Oktoberfest by tapping the first "Hirsch" barrel of the festival. With 6.5 million visitors consuming 6.8 million litres of beer, 102 roast oxen, 42,492 knuckles of pork and featuring a total of 642 stands, the meadows of Munich remain unchallenged as the world's biggest fair in the Oktoberfest's jubilee year. (www.oktoberfest2008.de)

• It would be hard to overlook the world's largest free-standing advent calendar - at an amazing 857m² it is an unmissable attraction at Leipzig's Sachsenplatz. One of the 2 x 3m doors is opened each day from the December 1-24. (www.leipzig.de)

• Nine days of celebrations, more than 5000 sailing boats and tall ships, more than 1000 events and an average of 3.5 million guests will again make Kiel Week the biggest sailing party in the world in 2008 (June 21-29). A classic maritime experience is guaranteed - whether you are just a spectator or a participant on an exclusively chartered yacht. (www.kieler-woche.de)

• Germany's first and only floating conference and event centre, the Mercure Hotel Hamburg City "event pontoon" offers convention planners 450m² for gatherings of up to 350 people. The two rooms of the conference area can accommodate 160 delegates, but the welcome glass of champagne is best enjoyed in the lounge or on the club terrace overlooking the canal. (www.thefloatingexperience.de)

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