1. PRAGUE, Czech Republic, population: 1.272.690
Destination grade: 4,64
Prague has for a long time not been an Eastern European gem, but a true European tourist metropolis with a diverse and comprehensive offer, luxury hotels and sometimes too high prices. The story is reminiscent of Škoda, of which the Czechs are very proud and is one of the oldest automotive brands in Europe. Reputable, solid and reliable pre-war limousines were after the war changed by cars that were behind the times. Today, Škoda shines again and again puts the Czech manufacturer where it once was. The same can be said for the meetings industry, where Prague began to seriously falter against the locations top of the European league. If we look at the position of Prague regionally, Prague will not take primacy in the region over Vienna, but it certainly has all the conditions to remain for a long time the first congress destination among East European capitals.
2. BUDAPEST, Hungary, population: 1.729.040
Destination grade: 4,53
BRIDGE THE MICE GAP
If we put congress destinations of New Europe in a football perspective, then inthe first league dominates Vienna, immediately followed by Prague and Budapest. This also showed on our scale where among the large cities Budapest ranked third. The city has no shortage of picturesque special venues nor the most luxurious hotels and ‘crazy’ and diverse incentive venues. If Prague and Dubrovnik are love at first sight, then Budapest is love in the long run. In addition to the selection of 16 five-star hotels, fromIntercontinental to Kempinski hotels and 61 four-star hotels, it impresses with a unique specialty historic spa resorts. All this has been for many years an excellent and well-established MICE destination and a well-oiled congress machinery. In addition, Budapest is, unlike its rivals, also a very pocket friendly meetings destination.
3. LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, population: 282.994
Destination grade: 4,46
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY
Mostly Ljubljana makes a good first impression, which is partially due to the consequence of the burden with ‘”apriority” conceptions in the light of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Instead they find a congress destination which is friendly and favourable to the meetings industry while competitive in terms of price and quality at the same time. According to its conference infrastructure, Ljubljana belongs to the group of capitals suitable for me-dium-sized and smaller meetings (up to 2.500 participants). It is positioned side by side with the new EU member states and geographically in the region of the Western Balkans. Thus, according to congress stakeholders in Ljubljana the most competitive destinations are Zagreb, Belgrade, Prague and Budapest. Compared to the newer EU capitals and countries of South East Europe, Ljubljana is ranked in the second half. It is preceded by Budapest and Vilnius, and we should also highlight the rapid growth of Belgrade.
4. GRAZ, Austria, population: 269.539
Destination grade: 4,33
SECOND CITY FIRST
Being the first is sometimes difficult, and Graz was among the first to develop the branding of the entire destination, congress grants and many other marketing innovations, from which other regional convention bureaus drew inspiration. However, former pupils have caught up and in the field of branding and in some other areas are now ahead of their teacher. Graz may not be the most seductive convention destination, however, it should be highlighted that Graz and Styria live with congress tourism throughout the year. A de- veloped infrastructure and year-long additional offer helps this, where tradition combines with the present and where everyone can find an offer for their taste, needs and pocket. With the focus on green meetings Graz will also definitely find the right answer to the ubiquitous crisis, which has not bypassed congress tourism.
5. KRAKOW, Poland, population: 755.546
Destination grade: 4,24
Of all the Polish cities Krakow is the one with the greatest soul and is the most fraught with history. Being the main tourist city it has excellent conditions in place for the development of congress tourism. With the construction of the new convention centre it has also received a real affirmation. In Poland Krakow will be the destination of the new generation, which will soon be recognised as a high quality, compact and most versatile meetings destination in Poland due to the cultural heritage, new meetings capacities and because of its huge scientific potential. The activities of the Convention Bureau are a good indicator of what the destination is capable of and what expectations it can meet. Krakow’s recipe is successful and a case of good practice for other more traditional central European destinations.
6. ZAGREB, Croatia, population: 1.088.841
Destination grade: 4,21
WHITE ZAGREB TOWN
In the region, Zagreb managed to best maintain the Central European culture that is reminiscent of Vienna and creates aspecial atmosphere. In addition, it is a ‘pocket-friendly des- tination’ that offers a lot for reasonable money. It is the ideal combination of a metropolis with charm and a small town atmosphere. I predict a great congress future for Zagreb.I estimate that in the international congress market it is well established and in addition to Ljubljana and Belgrade it represents the future backbone of the continental meetings industry of the region. All three cities are progressing steadily on the charts of de- veloped meetings destinations; the final breakthrough of the entire region is intertwined and dependent on the marketing of major regional cong ress cities in the international market.
7. BELGRADE, Serbia, population: 1.546.812
Destination grade: 4,18
A CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS
Looking at Belgrade in terms of conference infrastructure, investments are necessary for it to be able to compete in the premier league of European cities. Most convention facilities need renovation to get rid of a dominant retro style from the beginning of 1970s. The city has enormous potential, which is still significantly untapped. Belgrade bases its congress story on the rich culture at the crossroads of East and West, the central position in the South- East Europe and a lively social life. Belgrade is a city on the rise and a rough congress diamond, which has enormous develop- ment potential and can be placed geo-strategically side by side with world congress capitals, if it improves its infrastructure and handles the entire meetings sales chain. Promises of a new era are new hotels like Falkensteiner, which will open in November, the renovation of the Continental Hotel has also started and which will operate as Crown Plaza from 2013.
8. VILNIUS, Lithuania, population: 557.126
Destination grade: 4,15
BALTIC CONGRESS TIGERS
Vilnius is a city open to foreigners and different cultures, which is best reflected in the cosmopolitan old town with a dominantly Baroque seal. Particularly surprising are the simple, hospitable and open Lithuanians who make it a pleasant destination and are nothing like the Scandinavian restraint.
Over the last few years Vilnius learned diligently, polished its offer and was preparing for its entry into the international congress scene. In their favour they have the charm of the city, which is cosmopolitan, urban, very European and full of hidden surprises. It’s a city where socialist modernist architecture coexists with the Baroque centre, and unlike some other Eastern European congress destinations this makes it very attractive. By joining the EU the city has become a credible partner of the international meetings industry, making is one of the new, undiscovered convention destinations that appeals because of its freshness. For all three Baltic Congress Tigers – Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn – we predict a sunny congress future.
9. GDANSK, Poland, population: 456.874
Destination grade: 4,05
CITY OF SOLIDARITY AND FREEDOM
Gdansk differs markedly from other Polish cities because of the special atmosphere in the old town and its many historical sites suitable for congress tourism. There is an attractive mix of west and east, of northern culture and of the old and the new, all adding to the city’s unique identity. Gdansk is known as a place of freedom, which is written into its genetic code and is reflected in the rich cultural heritage and current cultural and artistic production. As a result of the hyperactive Convention Bureau, Gdansk as a destination is in an extremely high position in comparison with other Polish international destinations. To achieve excellence Gdansk needs to focus on better regulation of its traffic and its accessibility, which is not yet at an adequate level, although the other infrastructure is excellent and comparable with competing European destinations.
10. SPLIT, Croatia, population: 178.192
Destination grade: 3,98
Political stability, safety, ratio of quality to price and general competitiveness of the destination are the main attributes of Split’s offer. Split does somewhat worse in the area of meetings industry support, e-services and the image of Split as a congress destination. Among the Adriatic congress destinations Split has become serious competition to Dubrovnik in the last years. The main disadvantages of the destination are bad cooperation between the service providers, lack of air traffic connections to key markets and not enough destination marketing. If Split gets a real convention centre in the future it could become one of the leading congress destinations in the Mediterranean. New and excellent hotel capacities, good road connections to Europe and wonderful surroundings, with islands offer- ing numerous incentive programme opportunities, all bolster this proposition. Split is one of the most unexploited congress destinations in the Mediterranean.