Monaco has a global profile out of all proportion to its size. It’s tiny – the whole country could fit into London’s Hyde Park, but it carries a big reputation, having been long associated with celebrities, gamblers, aristocrats and tax exiles.
It boasts one of the world’s oldest royal dynasties – the Grimaldi family celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1997 – and superlative real estate prices: demand for property far outstrips supply, with many of its 50,000 workers commuting in each day. And every year, Monaco hosts one of the most fabled races on the Grand Prix circuit. All good fun, but this louche luxury reputation is not helpful to those promoting the destination as a judicious choice for meetings and events.
Sandrine Camia is director of Monaco’s Convention Bureau. She says some potential clients have a “misconception of rates – they don’t know that Monaco is, for much of the time, better value than many European capitals, especially in winter months”.
She says her latest MICE campaign “targets the medical, information and communication technology, finance and environmental sectors, which are the main industries of our MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] business. We don’t think that our expertise in these sectors, nor our convention centre infrastructure and assets, are as well known in Europe as they should be.”
That’s not to say MICE business is suffering. The convention bureau reports a slight year-on-year rise in MICE business for 2014, which represents 30 per cent of total tourism activity. Camia says the principality hosts 500 events throughout the year, not including sports events – which, led by motor racing and tennis, bring the total to around 700.
Lionel Pedemay, UK corporate sales manager for the Fairmont Monte Carlo, agrees that the country’s image presents challenges. “The perception is that Monaco is all about luxury and is very expensive, when, in reality, it’s a perfect business destination, and less expensive than key business cities such as Paris or London.”
The Fairmont hotel is one of the country’s major business hotels, and its largest – its 600-plus rooms are sizeable chunk of the principality’s total of around 2,500. The vast modern complex with its angular cruise-liner architecture is a contrast to the ornate art nouveau façades of the more historic hotels around town. It was opened in 1975 by Princess Grace (as the Loews Hotel Monte Carlo), and has become a landmark property.
It has the best seats in the house for viewing the famous hairpin bend on the Grand Prix circuit – including from its beautiful rooftop pool deck. The hotel was acquired by Fairmont in 2005, and has since undergone a lengthy e45 million refurbishment.
It has a range of MICE areas for up to 900 delegates, but is also often hosting guests attending events at the country’s main convention centre, the Grimaldi Forum, a short walk away. In fact, the Forum is a short walk from pretty much everywhere in Monaco given its size – and this is one of the destination’s big selling points.
Pedemay says: “Monaco is not only a country, but a venue – a walking-distance country means huge saving on transportation.” Camia at the convention bureau echoes this, saying that having 2,500 rooms within walking distance of the Forum, which boasts an ISO 14001:2004 environmental management certification, makes the country attractive for organisations wanting to stage ‘green’ events. The Forum’s eco-technology includes an air-conditioning system powered by cold seawater pumped from deep below the complex. It features 35,000 sqm of events space including two exhibition spaces totalling 10,000 sqm and three auditoria with state-of-the-art staging and audio-visual facilities.
Camia says the UK is the country’s third-largest source market for MICE (after France and Monaco itself) with a 14 per cent share, while pharma/medical is the leading sector with a 19 per cent share, followed by new technology and finance/insurance.
So what is Monaco doing to attract MICE organisers? According Camia, the Monaco Convention Bureau can respond to a request for proposal within 24 hours, offering “coordination, support and expertise” to conference organisers.
“Monaco is a one-stop-shop destination, with official government support and a single coordinator to streamline communications during an event,” she says. An added raft of incentives, called Monaco Meetings Offer, come into play when an organiser books a large-scale event with certain criteria, such as minimum room nights and occupancy of the Grimaldi Forum. These include a 35 per cent discount on airport transfers, free accommodation and transfers for site inspection, special rates on hotels, a dedicated project manager, airside welcome desks and more.
Another boost to Monaco’s events’ industry is the active involvement of the royal family in promoting it as a business destination, with Prince Albert acting as patron to some of the high-profile events at the Forum.