1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Catalonia’s capital can’t fail to impress as a MICE destination. Paul Revel visits a city that's bucking the recessionary trend
AMERICAN EXPRESS UNVEILED its meetings and events forecast for 2013 at the EIBTM trade show in Barcelona, with a gloomy outlook for Europe. Declining budgets will be stretched to pay for a slightly less sharp fall in the number of meetings. Particularly dispiriting was the Spanish forecast of a 10 per cent fall in meetings spend – and yet the same report predicts Barcelona as fourth in the league of top European meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destinations.
So why the paradox? Jose Antonio Ruiz is head of meetings and events at Amex partner agency, American Express Barcelo Viajes. He says the city has long been a popular MICE location among European countries, but investment in infrastructure over the last 20 years has helped it grow a global reputation: “The last two decades have seen the opening of new hotels and the renovation of others, a major expansion of events spaces and venues, and a proliferation of restaurants and dining facilities.”
Ruiz adds that the 2009 opening of Terminal 1 at Barcelona El Prat airport and the launch of the high-speed AVE train line in late 2008 have improved travel choices and helped promote Barcelona as a MICE hub both internationally and at home. “At a time when Spanish companies are keeping a close eye on meetings and events spend, local destinations are a good option,” he says.
MICE planners are unlikely to find too many grumbles from delegates when booking Barcelona. The city is one of Europe’s more desirable and glamorous destinations, with a treasure trove of cultural assets, including stunning architecture from Catalan gothic to art nouveau and Gaudi’s famous fantasies, and world-class art collections including the Picasso Museum, the Miro Foundation and the spectacular hilltop palace known as MNAC – Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. MNAC was showcased as a superlative MICE venue to the world’s travel and meetings industry when EIBTM hosted its opening party there in November (see picture, below).During the show, exhibition director Graeme Barnett signed a deal to continue staging EIBTM in Barcelona until 2016. He cites the city’s International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranking – third in the world for 2011 – as an illustration that “Barcelona has all the assets required to host major international events, with an impressive array of meetings, conference and event venues, and a mix of high quality and affordable hotel accommodation. These factors help create high satisfaction levels among our attendees, particularly our hosted buyers from around the world.”
WIDE CHOICE OF VENUESAs well as the city’s four large-scale convention centres (see box below), Barcelona has a large portfolio of hotels, many with extensive meetings facilities. Both the Barcelona Convention Bureau (BCB) and online booking specialist HRS list more than 280 hotels of three-star or above. High-profile properties include the Mandarin Oriental, the W and Ritz Carlton’s Hotel Arts, whose Enoteca restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars for 2013, bringing the city’s impressive haul of stars to more than 30. The GTMC selected the Arts as its venue for this year’s annual conference. GTMC general manager John Williams says: “Our sponsor airline for the event, British Airways, has superb connections to the city, so it’s highly convenient for delegates from the UK. But equally important, it has so much to offer – we’re spoilt for choice in terms of food, settings and attractions, and the Arts is a fabulous hotel.”For all the city’s attractions, cost looks set to remain a key factor in MICE planning decisions. Aurelie Berger heads Barcelona’s MICE division for global destination management company Pacific World. She says: “Barcelona remains a strong destination in the MICE sector and the market remains very stable. But we are seeing an increased level of attention to costs, and the standard of hotels between five and four stars being chosen much more carefully.”
Beyond the hotels and conference centres, the BCB cites a wealth of memorable venues for events, including the 14th-century seafront Casa Llotja de Mar, the art nouveau Palau de la Musica and Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo (pictured above), plus the Palau Sant Jordi sports complex, built for the 1992 Olympics.The BCB offers an advisory service for meetings planners, helping them with requests for proposal for venues and services, as well as assistance to organise activities and cultural programmes. It also arranges familiarisation trips for MICE buyers.Lee-Anne Penn is account director at events agency Zibrant. She says the city has become a popular business meeting destination for the pharmaceutical sector, and “this trend is continuing to grow in 2013 with a steady number of events being placed there”. She says the city has offered good value over recent years, and points to the refurbished Hilton Barcelona, which has re-opened with a declassified status, as ideal for pharmaceutical meetings, where compliance is often a challenge.But after talking about economics and compliance, Penn waxes more lyrical: “In its enviable position, wedged between forested mountains and a sweeping expanse of Mediterranean sea, Barcelona is not only stunningly beautiful, but also Spain’s most cosmopolitan city.”
BARCELONA INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE (CCIB)CCIB is a modern space facing the sea, covering a total of 100,000sqm, with capacity for up to 15,000 delegates (www.ccib.es).
FIRA MONTJUÏC EXHIBITION CENTREThis historic venue includes the Barcelona Congress Centre and comprises eight halls with a total area of 115,000sqm, including an auditorium with seating for 1,700 (www.firabcn.es).
FIRA GRAN VIA EXHIBITION CENTREThe modern Fira Gran Via has eight halls covering a total of 198,500 sqm, including a multifunctional meeting and convention space that can host from 100 to 3,000 delegates (www.firabcn.es).
PALAU DE CONGRESSOS DE CATALUNYA Including an auditorium with seating for 2,027, a 2,050sqm exhibition area and function rooms ranging from 25sq m to 1,240sq m, the PCC is also home to the five-star El Hotel Rey Juan Carlos I (www.pcongresos.com).