Austria: country of contrasts

Austria’s four leading convention cities offer amazing variety. Angela Antrobus looks at their locations, attractions and strengths…

Vienna, Austria’s elegant capital near the river Danube, is one of the world’s top meetings cities. It’s in north-eastern Austria and no flights from any European capital exceed three hours. There are direct flights into Vienna International Airport from North American, Asian and African destinations, no entry restrictions and new central and eastern European markets are on its doorstep.

Many multinational corporations choose Vienna for their eastern European headquarters and a number of international organisations are headquartered there. These factors, along with its widely acclaimed universities, high ratio of people working in research and development, cultural and musical heritage, green credentials and efficiently run conference infrastructure, are some of the reasons for its business events success.

Austria Center Vienna (ACV) hosts more large-scale conferences than anywhere else in the country. Last month, more than 25,000 participants attended the European Congress of Radiology, a regular event at the venue. Its financial impact is important for the city and ACV wants to keep this and other events coming, which is why the 30-year-old building is being remodelled.

For the past five years, it has been investing in new spaces, new lounges, new lighting and an updated digital infrastructure. Now it has announced the danubeSAIL, a giant multi-functional event space under a sail-shaped roof to be built in front of the main building. Used in either an open or closed configuration, it will help create direct paths between all the different areas and an attractive space for guests. In addition, a new entry building will provide individual access to each level of the centre.

In September, the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology will hold its congress at Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Center. It has a congress centre and four exhibition halls all under one roof and with movable partition walls. The largest meeting space possible seats 3,000 theatre-style.

Last year, the International Association of University Presidents chose the magnificent setting of Hofburg Vienna for its triennial congress. The staterooms of the Imperial Palace, the former winter residence of the Habsburgs, now fitted with modern technology, provide a magnificent backdrop for events ranging from congresses and exhibitions to banquets, concerts and Viennese balls. The largest of the 35 meeting rooms seats 1,210 theatre-style.

To the west, near the German border, sits the baroque city of Salzburg. The backdrop of mountains is very familiar – this is Sound of Music territory. In the middle of Europe, it is connected to high-speed rail networks and motorways and the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Airport has direct links with many European cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg, and with Istanbul, useful for delegates from Asia. It’s about a 10-minute drive to the city centre where many key venues and attractions are within walking distance or just a short ride by low-priced public transport.

The key industries attracting association meetings to Salzburg are recycling, life sciences/human and veterinary medicine, ICT, smart data and data services, intelligent building and settlement systems and creative industries and service innovations. The city has launched the Science and Innovation Strategy 2025 to build upon regional knowledge-based strengths in science, research and enterprises in order to maintain a presence on the international stage.

Messezentrum Salzburg exhibition and convention centre can host meetings for up to 5,000 delegates theatre-style in its largest room or has 21 meeting rooms when all the room-dividing partitions are in place. Salzburg Congress Centre offers up to 15 conference rooms seating from 20 to 1,350 theatre-style in the Europa Saal. Some conference hotels have space for up to 800 in plenary.

Innsbruck, capital of the Tirol region, lies in the heart of skiing country. The airport is about five kilometres from the city centre and operates daily direct flights to major European cities. It has one five-star hotel and over 50 four- and three-star hotels which support Congress Messe Innsbruck (CMI) in hosting small to medium-sized congresses in a special Alpine-urban environment.

CMI comprises three conference venues, Messe Innsbruck, Congress Innsbruck and congresspark igls situated five kilometres above Innstruck. Between them, they have 39 multifunctional rooms and five exhibition halls. One of the highlights last year was the congress of the European Society of Thoracic Surgeons with 1,500 international participants. This year will bring some 1,000 experts on snow and avalanches to the International Snow Science Workshop in October. “The convention centre’s in-house facilities, incorporating the PCO Tyrol Congress and logistics, technical and catering services, ensure the organisation of all events runs perfectly,” says CMI’s CEO Christian Mayerhofer.

The second-largest Austrian province is Styria, known as the ‘green heart’ of Austria because of its extensive forests and vineyards. The capital is Graz, Austria’s second largest city, 200 km south-west of Vienna and not far from the Slovenian border.

Several venues make up the Messe Congress Graz brand: Congress Graz, a historic venue in the city centre with 19 rooms, Messecongress Graz with 25 ultra-modern meeting rooms and connected to the Stadthalle, which can seat 5,500 theatre-style, and Messe Graz fairground.

Graz hosts many business, technology, medical and scientific congresses, thanks to the excellent international connections of its scientific institutions, universities and technical colleges and industrial and commercial companies. Yet it remains a very relaxed city, enjoying an almost Mediterranean mild climate, and is proud of its emphasis on sustainable ‘green’ events, cultural legacy and culinary delights. Conference subsidies are available for events guaranteeing a minimum of 300 overnight stays.