Editorial Board of Kongres magazine again prepared an overview of the top meeting destinations in the region, which have been evaluated in the context of the project KONGRES MEETOLOGUE. Within the project we are discovering lesser known destinations and compare them with the more well-known and established ones. 

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To date, we have visited and evaluated 34 destinations at which we have thoroughly reviewed, analyzed and evaluated:
– Natural and cultural factors
– General and transport infrastructure
– Tourist infrastructure
– Meetings infrastructure 

Each destination has also received a subjective grade. At the end of the year, due to the many changes and innovations, some destinations that were already evaluated in 2010 and 2011 were reassessed. As an additional criterion, we have taken into account this year’s ranking of individual cities on the ICCA scale (ICCA Country and City Rankings 2012) and Merecer’s global scale of quality of life in individual capital cities. Cities are divided into two categories:
– Large and medium sized cities with more than 150.000 inhabitants
– Smaller regional and local towns with less than 150.000 inhabitants

Among smaller cities with a large advantage the first is Dubrovnik, which is also in absolute terms the second best convention destination of the region. Up to ten cities were then classified with minimal differences from famous tourist destinations, which are also increasingly directing towards congress tourism. Interesting surprises include fast-growing new Croatian congress destinations Umag, Zadar, Šibenik. The most in the last year regressed Maribor and Osijek, as both cities have not yet exploited their vast potential.  

1. DUBROVNIK, Croatia, population: 42.615
Destination grade: 4,61
Dubrovnik is a city growing and developing due to the meetings industry. It will be a big part of the future of this industry for the entire region. First, as the most successful Croatian and regional brand on the global meetings market. With little exaggeration we can claim the destination brand of the entire region will hang on Dubrovnik.
World destination is again attracting well-known names and world class events. It is the strongest brand of the region in the meetings industry which hardly disappoints or leaves indifferent. Dubrovnik ignites love at first sight. Dubrovnik is the flagship of regional tourism and is the first association of meetings organizers we meet daily. It has still not reached its full potential. It is the closest in the region to renowned Mediterranean convention destinations Cannes and Monte Carlo. It has the biggest potential in the area of corporate and other incentives; after the completion of the convention centre also in the area of international associations conventions.

2. BLED, Slovenia, population: 5.205
Destination grade: 3,93
Bled is definitely among the leading Slovenian meetings destinations. Tidiness, wonderful nature and entire infrastructure are ideal bases for development. As a recognisable brand Bled stands out among other meetings destinations in the region. It most closely resembles Dubrovnik, which caught up with the pre-war congress tempo by taking the right steps. The overall personal experience in Bled is a positive one, despite the feeling of low season sleepiness. The ratio of price to quality is mostly good. The low competitiveness level of the destination is influenced by the disconnectedness of both its offer and marketing. As a result the current perception of quality is lower than with largest competitors. In Bled the saying ‘Less is more’ is very true. The potential for the meetings industry is immense, it just needs to be harnessed in the right way. Its advantages were traditionally built on congresses and conferences of international associations, which can once again fuel its development. It just needs to adapt to change faster.

3. OPATIJA, Croatia,  population: 11.659
Destination grade: 3,94
An elegant tourist lady to which years are showing and appears at times a bit tired, but is still very charming. It will need a facelift as soon as possible and a vitamin treatment to be able to fully compete with the competitors on the Croatian Adriatic, and above all to fight for its congress place in the battle with Dubrovnik. 170 years of tourism tradition is based on the positive energy of the riviera and the exceptional natural conditions. This is a great sign for the revival of Opatija congress tourism, which has recently relaxed slightly in comparison with the hyperactive Croatian Adriatic competitors. The city already boasts the entire infrastructure, but it is beaten mostly by an unfavourable image and somewhat slow adjustment to the new market conditions. A change of the structure of hotels is also necessary, as ‘cosmopolitan’ Opatija today only boasts three hotels in the 5-star category, whilst in Dubrovnik there are now 14.

4. KLAGENFURT, Austria, population: 94.796
Destination grade: 3,92
Klagenfurt as centre of Carinthia with its tidiness, safety and ratio between price and quality is one of the best convention destinations in the wider region. Personal experience is pleasant. Image of destination positively affects the result of a congress or an event. Klagenfurt is a likable and pleasant alpine congress destination that is reminiscent of Gorenjska region in Slovenia in many respects. Not surprisingly, co-operation between regions has been developing lately, however we also note some competi- tiveness in the field of meetings industry. It is interesting that closeness to border represents an advantage and an opportuni- ty for majority of meetings industry suppliers. Key advantage of Klagenfurt is definitely fairy tale like well maintained and pleasant environment and quality offer and professionalism of suppliers. In this respect Carinthia and Klagenfurt are slightly ahead of other destinations in the region. But most important is touristic culture and good co-operation between suppliers that qualitatively round up standard meetings offer.

5. HVAR, Croatia, population: 11.103
Destination grade: 3,90
Hvar is still quite wild and largely uninhabited island. Over the beauty of the island, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, there is no point in wasting words, since there is no shortage of various urban legends for approval. Among other things, it used to be called Austrian Madeira.
Logistically the organisation of events on the island is certainly more complex than on the mainland. However, today in addition to the quite degraded ferries of Jadrolinija youcan use the more comfortable passenger catamaran, which can also be privatised. Despite the notoriety of the island and its visibility Hvar is still sweet, genuine and full of sincere, authentic Mediterranean experiences. Island culture fascinates and conquers even despite the more difficult access. It is worth it! None of the more than 1.000 Croatian islands has such karma and recognition as Hvar. Definitely a “must” Croatian destination, right behind Dubrovnik. Distance from the mainland gives it a touch of boutique smallness.

6. PORTOROŽ, Slovenia, population: 2.849
Destination grade: 3,84
Portorož is unquestionably an appropriate destination for the meetings industry, given its climate, cultural diversity and range of social and leisure options. The architectural form of Portorož was defined by Edo Mihevc and includes colourful modernist architecture enriched with Mediterranean elements. Expensive yet accurate and precise renovation of the secessionist hotel Palace and several historic buildings ensured we can also still enjoy a part of its historic glamour too.
The historic laurels of the leading Adriatic congress destination are slowly starting to gather dust. Portorož is still in hard competition with Dubrovnik, Opatija and new Adriatic congress destinations that are developing all the time.A rich congress history, tradition and the existing infrastructure are a competitive advantage. The meetings industry is by no means a tree to sleep under and simply harvest its fruit of wealthy congress participants. Despite that, Portorož has proven resilient and adaptable many times in the course of history, so some innovativeness and marketing opportunities should ensure it has a bright future.

7. UMAG, Croatia, population: 7.769
Destination grade: 3,77
Sometimes we inadvertently overlook destinations that we remember as leisure. With what has changed in recent years in Umag and north-western Istria, it gives a whole new di- mension to the destination. Umag is primarily an incentive destination, where we were convinced by hospitable locals and employees in hotels. It provides security, comfort and a range of environmentally friendly outdoor activities. Integration of local suppliers is in full swing and gives the impression that the entire destination aspires toward world- class incentive, sports, culinary and experiential services. Among the competing congress destinations, Umag even a year ago would be easily overlooked, but today it is already hosting the most demanding events such as the most im- portant Microsoft event Windays. This proves that the des- tination is profiled as a congress and especially incentive location. To the good functioning a great destination man- agement contributes a great deal, which in a form of a cluster from 2010 is promoted under the brand “Colours of Istria”.

8. ZADAR, Croatia, population: 76.343
Destination grade: 4,76
Zadar is an ideal destination for organisation of smaller conferences and incentives for up to 100 participants. In this area it has the greatest opportunity, as meeting planners are always looking for new attractive convention destinations. Unfortunately, Zadar is missing a convention bureau and a more targeted marketing, which affects the congress image of the destination. The charming city with thousand years of cultural heritage, the proximity of the islands, five national parks and improving flight connections. It’s no wonder that a number of foreign media see it as a cool convention destination. Conference organisers are always looking for new and different destinations. Zadar is the logical choice, as it has enormous potential of natural and cultural conditions. Moreover, it is a cool destination with a specific urban rhythm. Currently, the main drawback are congress facilities that only allow smaller events as well as congress infrastructure which is not yet built and in function. Once everything is in place, Zadar will certainly be an important congress player.

9. ŠIBENIK, Croatia, population: 46.332
Destination grade: 3,72
Once industrial, military and port city, it now has a sound basis for the development of congress tourism after a period of transition. It offers a very genuine and authentic ex- perience and a real boom. Foreign investors are coming, new tourist facilities are being built and also in the field of meeting industry, with the appropriate positioning, it prom- ises a bright future. Šibenik very rarely raises any association with the meeting industry. In the process of transition from an industrial city into a tourist destination it has not yet asserted its image among competing cities. Despite this it is a fact that it has ex- cellent conditions and is somehow considered to be a hidden jewel of the Croatian congress offer. For ease of accessibility it may be a suitable location for small association conferences as well as a variety of incentive programmes.

10. BUDVA, Montenegro, population: 18.000
Destination grade: 3,69
Budva is famous for its night life and it seems that the inhabitants of Budva are on vacation all the time, with cafes full during the day and the night clubs at night: it’s a true paradise for posers. The fame of Budva eventually over grew the reality, but nevertheless this is a city worth its name and represents a solid convention destination. Budva is one of the central incentive destinations on the Adriatic coast, with very successful marketing, despite numerous deficiencies in poor accessibility and current capacity selection. The development plans for the ‘Monte Carlo of the Adriatic’, openness to foreign investors and very liberal policies could position the Montenegro coast very high on the meetings industry map in the next few years, while it is already the leader in the area of incentive programs. If this “wild beauty” improves its accessibility, price competitiveness and infrastructure, it can be a worthy competitor as a meetings destination, even as one of the top destinations in the wider region of the Mediterranean.

In 2014, we are going to evaluate 15 new destinations, among others Ekaterinburg, Salzburg, Bratislava, Bucharest, Subotica, Istanbul, Venice, Udine and others. Call the editorial board if you want to arrange for an assessment and visit to your destination.  


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