PARIS OF THE EAST

With its imposing urbanism and a thunderous history under the leadership of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian capital has not changed much since our last visit in 2009. Acting as a gristly remainder of tough socialist times, Bucharest is still a concrete jungle with a distinctly eastern European presence that is very slowly fading, but somehow impossible to fully shake off. Not much has changed in the field of the congress industry either. The congress scene is mostly run by foreign hotel chains, filling up their spaces with great success. Sadly, a big part of Bucharest’s incredible congress potential is yet to be capitalized on, mostly due to a lack of connectivity in the offer and almost non-existant destination marketing. Bucharest can therefore be marked as a city with one of the most untapped potentials for the development of congress tourism in New Europe.

DID YOU KNOW?
Bucharest’s Palace of Parliament, also known as the People’s Palace, is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function and the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon in the US. It covers some 330,000 sqm.

Secession – Recession – Depression – Regression
Romania lies deep in Eastern Europe and with that come many stereotypes. Today, it is supposed to be living a life of democracy and human rights, and a quarter of a century after the revolution a life of economic growth. At least that is what the official statistics says, but looking at the huge billboards concealing decaying buildings underneath them, a life of prosperity and growth seems more like an illusion, especially understood against the fact that almost 2 million Romanians have left the country to find a job. A more thorough inspection shows that Romania has actually become a colony of western corporations, with numerous shopping centres that overpower Bucharest’s suburbs. Endless streets of apartment complexes full of jumbo-commercials and accommodation space that clearly can’t cope with the fast population growth just adds to the equation. Behind the neoliberal facades are extremely kind and welcoming faces living in the Romanian capital and the initial feeling of mistrust quickly grows into a friendly relationship, a link so often abused in the past by occupying forces and dictators. Despite mixed feelings left by the city, the kind-hearted nature of Romanian people is a great asset for the future.

Urban Generation Y
The Romanian urban Generation Y with the latest iphone in hand is skillfully mastering the terrain of informational technology and seems completely distanced from their Eastern European character and Romanian stereotypes, including those of secret services still controlling Eastern European countries. When talking to the locals, a different vista opens up and you start to see that Romania is actually in some sort of caste division, most noticeable in the schooling system that has become accessible only for those with money. Bucharest truly is a city of mixed emotions, torn apart by communism and a turbulent history. It is somehow unable to rid itself of the bad image, but in the last couple of years it has been starting to get back on its feet. It is the young generation that is raising hope there and I believe they will be the ones that will reorganise the city and move it forward.

A lively night life
Numerous restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs are sprouting up like mushrooms in the old city centre. Among them are also some cool conceptual stories that can easily be compared to those in more reputed destinations and they will definitely capture your interest. Most of the bars are open into the early hours, attracting eager party travellers from all over the world. Bucharest is becoming known as a city with one of the most unforgettable nightlife experiences, which is a pleasant surprise compared to our previous visit. This can certainly broaden your congress visit, but for a more authentic experience you will have to find hidden nooks that only the locals know about. There is no lack of those in Bucharest and currently one of the most popular ones is definitely in craft breweries, offering local craft beer and great food.

White elephant
White elephant is a name the locals like to use when speaking about the imposing Palace of Parliament. It is actually quite hard to avoid in almost every description of Bucharest, as the building is truly monumental, towering over the city like something out of a fiction movie. It is the second largest building in the world with the Pentagon taking first place. It was built on the land of the former Uranus neighborhood, from which all of the residents were removed and the buildings demolished. The statistics about the palace are stupendous: from kilometers of hallways and the longest curtains and rugs to vast spaces that have remained empty to this day. Looking at the sheer size of both the palace and the museum of modern art, it seems that an even bigger congress centre than the current one could be placed inside. But don’t be mistaken: the existing International Conference Centre, founded in 1994, is already colossal, offering 13,125 sqm of space, 8 congress halls and all the necessary accompanying facilities. The congress centre has been the host of numerous conferences at the highest level and is, at least in the field of international associations, the driving force of all events in Bucharest.

Congress Vox Populi
City avenues, fountains and magnificent historical buildings quickly remind a visitor of why Bucharest is known as the ‘Paris of the east’. The largest city between Berlin and Athens is slowly waking up from its transitional congress slumber and becoming an international congress destination. A vivid creative scene and a brutal fusion of modern and socialist architecture makes for an easy comparison with the scene in East Berlin at the start of its transition. Aside from its typically wide boulevards, the romantic charm of Paris perished during the socialist times, but Bucharest was just starting to strengthen its iron character. Right now, the capital is developing with impressive speed, offering equally impressive congress venues including the mind boggling Nicolae Ceauşescu palace, housing the congress centre. Big international congresses are a rare occurrence in Bucharest, despite the fact that it has excellent air connectivity and a rich tourist offer, both of which could transform it into a strong and developed congress destination. In addition to better marketing, connecting individual congress providers is what Bucharest has to do if it wants to escape its overwhelming existence in the congress shadow. In times of rapid digitalization, the electric city seems to be living in isolation from trends in the international congress scene.

BUCHAREST INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2017

A. Natural and cultural factors: 4.31

Along with Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, Bucharest is one of the four capitals of the Danube region. Located in southeast Romania, the city is crisscrossed by rivers flowing into the Danube and many picturesque lakes. Bucharest is defined by parks, green spaces and seven hills, on which main city areas developed. Due to its position in the midst of the Romanian plains, the surface area of the city is vast but diverse, thanks to monumental buildings and a rich history that can speak for itself. One of the most striking buildings has to be the colossal Palace of Parliament, built by the former dictator.

B. General and transport infrastructure: 4.55

Bucharest is a city of contradictions and surprises. Other than its legendary metro, the public and traffic infrastructure seems a bit in flux and unable to cope with the fast-paced tempo of this mighty city. What shocks visitors are the modern high-fashion shopping streets on one side of the city and the depressing socialist neighbourhoods on the other – a super-modern skyscraper will share its street with an abandoned, gutted office building held together with electrical wires. Despite its many contrasts, everything seems solid and other than some quite sketchy districts the feeling of safety is surprisingly good.

C. Tourist infrastructure: 4.59

There is an endless selection of bars, cafes and restaurants, and 124 hotels providing a total of 8,000 rooms. The hotel offer in Bucharest deserves high praise, owing to some truly excellent international hotel names such as the Hilton Athenae Palace and Intercontinental Bucharest. The entire tourist offer is also incredibly rich and diverse, so it’s a shame that it is promoted and presented so shyly. Finding tourist signs or information centres is quite a task, but nevertheless there is huge tourist potential yet to be exploited.

D. Meetings infrastructure: 4.34

The congress offer is concentrated inside the main international hotel chains, such as at JW Marriott, Intercontinental Bucharest and Radisson Blu Bucharest. A major boon is that there is an abundance of special venues in museums, theatres and historical buildings, capable of hosting up to 800 guests. For bigger meetings there are always options like the staggering Palace of Parliament, Romexo Exhibition Centre, or the Chamber of Commerce’s conference centre. Congress infrastructure and some excellent DMCs and PCOs are currently the strongest links of Bucharest’s congress offer, but they are still left with the challenge of finally coming together and forming a convention centre.

E. Subjective grade: 4.48

What Bucharest is missing is a recognizable congress brand, a working and proactive convention bureau helping the city take advantage of the numerous historical and natural landmarks and a few top-notch congress hotels. Despite the excellent air connectivity, Bucharest seems to be isolated from the international congress industry and not capitalizing on its USPs. Despite a very positive personal impression, it’s hard to disregard the mixed feelings about its overall congress offer.

F. Marketing buzz 3.42

The city has tremendous potential, but for now its attributes are poorly presented. Added to this is the fact that Bucharest is one of the few European capitals that does not have a convention bureau and is therefore losing out on destination marketing – its sole source of quality marketing comes from the international hotel chains. Looking at the creative array of numerous excellent marketing agencies, there is nothing stopping Bucharest from taking advantage of the many digital media and content marketing tools, but it is virtually non-existent and meeting planners have to turn to DMCs and outsider information for more insight.

MTLG INDEX / 2017 EDITION

DESTINATION CAPACITY

  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotel rooms: 3,640
  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotels: 91
  • Banquet hall maximum capacity: 800
  • The largest hall in the city (in m2): 5,110 m2
  • Destination population: 2,106,144
  • Maximum hall capacity in theatre style: 2,100

COMPARISON WITH THE REGION

Bucharest is a city of contrasts, and that can be said for its congress scene as well. Giant palaces and modern congress hotels on one side and a poorly recognizable trademark and unconnected congress offer on the other. This is one of Bucharest’s main drawbacks, compared to more active cities like Belgrade and Sofia. That aside, Bucharest is still one of the most reasonably priced congress capitals. With a little effort you will be able to find anything you need for all kinds of events, and the kindness of the staff in the hotel sector is way above-average. It seems that the city just needs a little bit more energy to position itself next to destinations in the first congress league. Looking at the pace at which Bucharest’s congress development is going, it is where it truly belongs to be. Last year, Bucharest took 81st place on the ICCA scale with 32 congresses, but we think it could do much better, since it has all the available conditions in place to do so. From the time we last visited Bucharest has seen major improvements in air accessibility and the public infrastructure is also getting better every year. The quality of living as well as the overall atmosphere for congress participants also took a turn for the better.

COOL MEETINGS

TUICA
The most popular drink in Romania is made of plums, apples or peaches, and is as strong as whiskey.

BEST INCENTIVE IDEA

World Caffe
Teams representing countries with specific customs and identities must get into the role and put in place, right down to the smallest details… attractive cafés! Customers from all over the world will set foot in the recently opened cafés and will appreciate the originality of the services and products.

MTLG CATEGORY

XL  MEETING DESTINATION

Destinations that can host up to 2000 attendees.

Check out the new MTLG categorization for 2017 here.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

BUCHAREST INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2017 
DESTINATION MARK:4.03
Natural and cultural factors:4.31
General and transport infrastructure:4.55
Tourist infrastructure:4.59
Meeting infrastructure:4.34
Subjective grade:4.48
Marketing Buzz:3.42
ICCA index:4.00
Numbeo quality of life Index:2.46
Numbeo Safety Index:3.96
ACI Airport Connectivity Index:4.14

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