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Savaria Historical Carnival, Szombathely (Photo: Shutterstock)

In a nutshell: AT THE CROSSROADS OF THREE COUNTRIES

Szombathely (former Savaria), the birthplace of Saint Martin of Tours is closely connected to many European cities. Saint Martin pilgrim routes start in Szombathely and over 3000 villages in Europe carry his name, around 500 just in France, where he was quite a popular figure. This is an extremely important part of Hungarian history. Especially for towns in the west of the country near Szombathely that are waiting to be discovered by international meeting planners. Interesting stories await at every step, so incentive organisers, pay attention! This is a place, where you won’t run out of activities for your participants. We uncover some of them in this MTLG.

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Szombathely Main Square

Vas County

Szombathely is the capital of Vas County, the western-most region in Hungary situated on the border between Slovenia and Austria. The name comes from the word szombat, “Saturday” and hely, “place”, referring to the medieval markets held on Saturday every week. Vas County borders the counties of Györ-Moson-Sopron to the north, Veszprém to the east, and Zala to the south, along with Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. There are around 6.000 ethnic Slovenians living in Vas County. The region is known for its thermal springs that allowed medical tourism to flourish. You probably won’t find a hotel without a well-developed wellness and spa offer in this area.

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Szombathely Main Square (Photo: Shutterstock)

Romantic scenery

West Hungary is a poetic combination of the hilly countryside by the Slovenian-Austrian border and endless fertile plains that take you back in time. Times of wooden waggons and nostalgia. The region also has an abundance of parks and luscious gardens, the underlying theme of many towns. The most picturesque gardens are those that belonged to wealthy Hungarian families, like the garden of Batthyány Castle in Körmend. With a little effort, your guests will find themselves in an unforgettable venue that comes alive in spring, when everything is blooming. Gardens are one of the specialities of West Hungary. Make sure you also visit the charming Szalafő – Pityerszer educational path that combines learning about nature, architecture and cultural heritage.

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Photo: koszegibor.hu

History as part of the experience

You might think that this town has gone mad by highlighting its Roman heritage everywhere, but what can the inhabitants do if they keep bumping into Roman shrines and ancient merchant roads? Savaria was the capital of the Pannonia Superior province of the Roman Empire and one of the most important Roman posts. You can learn more about Szombathely’s rich history in the Savaria Museum which houses the most valuable relics of ancient Savaria and is also used as a special venue. For true history geeks, the Hungarian Temple of Isis is also worth a visit. Iseum, the former shrine built for the goddess Isis, now provides a peculiar, eerily beautiful open air space for operas and plays during the summer. You can also travel back in time by attending the historical Savaria Festival, one of the largest historical shows in Europe held every August. Paying homage to the rich history of Szombathely is the Historical Theme Park (Történelmi Témapark), where you can try out replicas of equipment and tools used by the city’s earlier Roman residents.

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Historical Theme Park (Történelmi Témapark)

Iron curtain

In the middle of the 20th century, the region became the western border zone. By 1989, Szombathely and its surroundings would be completely cut off from the rest of the world. We all know how the story ends, but one good thing did come out of it for this region. Nature was left completely untouched and pristine. Today, one can see what it is like to be standing in one country with one foot and in another country with the other. A rather peculiar experience. Iron curtain, an expression coined by Winston Churchill to describe the symbolic segregation of Europe to East and West. On the Hungarian-Yugoslav border, the expression was anything but symbolic. Iron curtain took on a physical form. It’s hard to imagine that a previously inseparable region was now separated by a wire fence, minefields and control stations across the country. With a special pass, Hungary could be entered through a borderland 15 kilometres from the official border.

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The cradle of Hungarian wine making

Kőszeg, known as the “Jewel Box of the Country” is a small town with a romantic historical centre. In addition to its rich historical heritage and appeal for incentive programmes, the town is also famous for its high-quality wines. Kőszeg is particularly well known for the Kékfrankos, or Blaufränkisch grape variety and strong dark red wines such as Zweigelt and Blauburger. They also produce some splendid Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs, as well as a number of lesser-known gems such as the light, Hungarian red, “Kadarka” and the inimitable “Cserszegi Spicy”. A perfect way to visit the vineyards is along the Kőszeg-Vashegyi Wine Road. The wine road itself is breathtaking and there are plenty of places, where you can stop and enjoy the panorama of the Kőszeg hills.

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Kőszeg (Wikimedia Commons)
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Kékfrankos grapes (Photo: Taste Hungary, tastehungary.com)

Mjus World

Mjus World Resort and Thermal Park is the perfect choice for meeting planners. As a whole, the hotel is very appealing, not surprising, since the owners are passionate Italian hoteliers with a keen eye for detail. Being born out of a former shoe factory, the hotel has its own specific character and offers plenty of space and comfort. More demanding requests like a private party by the pool can also be granted and there are plenty of other interesting event spaces around the resort. In a very short time, the hotel became the go-to venue in the region.

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Photo: Aljaž Čad (Kongres Magazine)
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Photo: Aljaž Čad (Kongres Magazine)

The meeting scene

From a meetings industry standpoint, the offer is most well-developed in Szombathely, Sárvár, Körmend and Bük. The entire region is very compact and simple to get around. Different venue combinations are possible which is a big plus for meeting planners.

Szombathely has some hotels with conference capacities. Hotel Claudius has a hall for 250 participants and Forum Hotel is a smaller boutique hotel with a seminar room. Szombathely also has numerous special venues, like the Savaria Museum or the Iseum. There’s also some cool restaurants and bars like the Deck Bistro and Bar.

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Iseum Savariense (Photo: Wikimedia)
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Deck Bistro (Photo: www.tripadvisor.com)

Sarvar is a charming town with a beautiful arboretum and a well-known spa resort. Sarvar’s meeting offer is mostly condensed into Hotel Spirit and Hotel Park Inn. Hotel Spirit has a reputation as one of the best spa hotels in Hungary.

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Bük is also a town known for its spa and wellness services. Spa tourism is at the heart of the offer, but practically all hotels have some meeting capacities. Caramell Premium Resort is the biggest hotel in Bük. It has a congress centre with a large hall for 400 participants. Another modern conference hotel is Greenfield Golf & Spa that has 5 meeting rooms, the largest one capable of accepting 230 people. Hunguest Hotel Répce Gold has a meeting room for 80 people and Danubius Health Spa Resort Bük has 3 halls, the largest one for 150 participants.

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Danubius Hotel Bük

Körmend is located right next to the border with Austria. The town developed by the Rabba river and its history is closely tied to the wealthy Batthyány family. The Batthyány Castle is a luxurious 18th-century mansion that became the symbol of Körmend. Mjus World Resort is only a kilometre away from the old town centre. The hotel is located in the more industrial part of town. It stands on the foundations of a former shoe factory. Mjus Shoes is an Italian shoe company that moved its production in 2016 and the owners transformed the factory in Körmend into a first-class resort.

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Batthyány Castle, Körmend

By way of conclusion

The destination has immense potential that is unexploited because the offer is not connected through a convention bureau. The entire region could be so much more competitive, but instead, each provider works individually. There are a plethora of amazing incentive stories that haven’t been taken advantage of. Right now, the region is mostly focused on wellness and medical tourism. The only specialized conference hotel on a higher level is the Mjus World Resort and Thermal Park in Körmend. Mjus World Resort management is working pro-actively to promote the region on the international market. They are aware of the region’s potential for incentive travel. In other places, conferences and congresses are of secondary importance. We hope this changes in the future.

DID YOU KNOW?

Szombathely is the oldest city in Hungary, and one of the largest. Szombathely was once a Roman colony, which spas, paths were worn by many Roman emperors, and it was called Savari.

SZOMBATHELY INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2020

A. Natural and cultural factors: 4.66

Szombathely has been the centre of the region since ancient times. The landscape is typical of the Pannonian Plain, where mild hills blend in with the endless fields. Small, close-knit villages full of historical monuments can be found throughout West Hungary. Vas County is at the crossroads of three countries. A few kilometres from Austria and Slovenia, the region is diverse and attractive for organisers of incentive programmes and an abundance of thermal springs add to the experience.

B. General and transport infrastructure: 4.63

Borders affected the faith of Hungarian people, their lives, economic processes and ethnic structure. Some say they played a fatal role. When Hungary entered the EU, its strategic geographic position became a big advantage. Good connectivity with Budapest and Vienna also helped. Railway connections in the country are solid and Szombathely is one of the major hubs. The high feeling of safety just adds to the quality of life in Szombathely and its surroundings.

C. Tourist infrastructure: 4.55

This part of Hungary has great natural assets in the form of thermal springs and healing water. Spa tourism is the main activity here and almost all of the hotels cater to that kind of clientele offering thermal complexes and wellness treatments. The incentive offer is diverse, but unfortunately, scattered and unconnected. Excellent tourist stories can be found in cities as well as smaller villages. In addition to the classical spa offer, many adventure and water parks are being built, catering to families with children.

D. Meetings infrastructure: 4.34

The meetings infrastructure is disorganised, but solid nevertheless. The same goes for the incentive programme offer, which is starting to come together into a very appealing incentive product. Unfortunately, marketing is left in the hands of individual providers, something that we wish would be improved. At the moment, there is plenty of hotel capacity, but not enough capacities for events with over 200 participants.

E. Subjective grade: 4.58

Vas County is often overlooked as a meetings destination, but improvements in the hotel sector are giving it a new dimension. It is an excellent incentive destination with a lot of development potential. Safety, comfort and eco-friendly activities are guaranteed. We can’t forget the culinary offer, which is also very rich. The less active will certainly find themselves in the wine cellars tasting top-notch Hungarian wine and trying out their tasty cuisine.

F. Marketing Buzz: 3.91

If you’ve ever heard of Vas County or Szombathely, it’s probably thanks to individual incentive providers, hotels or venues. A pioneer in this field is Mjus World. They inventoried the entire incentive offer of the region and positioned it on the map in a very short time. Quality information about the region is still hard to find and they have their work cut out for them when it comes to digital marketing.

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Szombathely Main Square (Photo: forumszombathely.hu)

MTLG INDEX / 2020 EDITION

S MEETING DESTINATION

Destinations that can host up to 700 meeting attendees.

DESTINATION CAPACITY

  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotel rooms: 1,200
  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotels: 19
  • Banquet hall maximum capacity: 300
  • The largest hall in the city (in m2): 410 m2
  • Destination population: 253,305
  • Maximum hall capacity in theatre style: 400

SZOMBATHELY OVERALL PERFORMANCE

Natural and cultural factors 4.66
General infrastructure 4.63
Tourist infrastructure 4.55
Meetings infrastructure 4.34
Subjective grade 4.58
Marketing buzz 3.91
ICCA Index 1.02
Numbeo Quality of Life Index 2.69
Numbeo Safety Index 3.55
ACI Airport Connectivity Index 4.58


OVERALL SCORE: 3.85

COMPARISON WITH THE REGION

Szombathely and the surrounding towns are experiencing a positive transformation that is elevating their already attractive incentive experience. There are a ton of activities to fill up the schedules of your participants. In comparison to more notorious incentive destinations, Szombathely presents excellent value for money. It’s also relatively close to major European meetings industry markets and Vienna Airport is only an hour and a half drive away. The major downside is unrecognizability. Establishing a convention bureau would definitely help in terms of development, promotion and building a strong image on the meetings scene.

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Boating Lake, Szombathely

COOL MEETINGS

Babos pogácsa – a variety of Hungarian pogácsa, a small, round, savoury pastry with beans incorporated in the dough. This pogácsa is typically made with a combination of flour, cooked and mashed beans, lard or another type of fat sour cream, eggs, yeast dissolved in milk, salt, and pepper.

MUST SEE

Iseum and Ruin Garden – The Iseum Savariense is the most important architectural antique monument in Szombathely. There is a permanent exhibition called “The Home of the Goddess Isis in Savary” and also festivals are taking place at the Iseum.

BEST INCENTIVE IDEAS

Underground Mjus
At Mjus World Resort & Thermal Park, they give you the chance to experience the true “guts” of their hotel and see how everything operates. Miles and miles of pipes, fascinating machinery, valves and tanks, you will get to see what is under the feet of hotel guests and learn about the great engine that makes everything run in their Thermal Park.

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WHO TO CONTACT

Mjus World Resort & Thermal Park

Rákóczi F. u. 154 – 9900 Körmend, Hungary
T: +36 94 514 111
E: info@mjusworld.com