Convene On Site

Getting the Royal Treatment in Vienna

Although many cities describe their venues as palatial, few can do it as convincingly as Vienna, where Access 2012, an annual trade show highlighting the Austrian meetings industry, was held on Sept. 24–25 at the Hofburg Palace, the grand former residence of the Habsburg royal family and now the site of the HOFBURG Vienna conference center.

The palace is in the city’s center – listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO – and was just one of many historic venues on the itinerary when the Vienna Convention Bureau and partners brought meeting planners and media, including Convene, to the city for an Access 2012 hosted-buyer program.

We arrived via Austria Airlines at Vienna International Airport, where a recently opened terminal allows for a quick and painless connection to the City Airport Train (CAT), which takes travelers to the city center in 16 minutes and stops directly at the 579- room Hilton Vienna, the city’s largest conference hotel. I was with a group of North American hosted buyers staying at the 458-room InterContinental Vienna, a short walk from the station across Stadtpark, whose curving paths, gardens, and many statues reminded me of a smaller version of New York’s Central Park.

Vienna’s walkability is one of its major charms: Walls built to protect the city from outside attack remained standing until the middle of the 19th century, keeping the city center remarkably compact. Our hosts provided a pass for Vienna’s subway and tram system, but the cobblestone streets proved so easy to navigate that I found myself walking everywhere.

We got to know the city – and each other – better on our first afternoon by participating in a “riddle rallye,” a scavenger-hunt–style game, which we played in teams, deciphering clues pre-loaded onto a smartphone app. The game led us to such gems as Café Demel, renowned for its pastries and chocolate, and culminated in an open-air reception at the University of Vienna, a popular venue for scientific and academic conferences. Consistently ranked as the top city in the world for international meetings by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Vienna hosts more than 2,000 scientific conferences and corporate events each year.

At the two-day Access 2012, 1,800 meeting professionals from 15 countries met with representatives from 200 Austrian exhibitors at the opulent HOFBURG Vienna, which offers 182,000 square feet of exhibition space and 35 rooms and halls in a setting lit by crystal chandeliers and featuring ceiling paintings commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph.

Amid the historic grandeur, Access Academy provided an educational program attuned to trends in meeting design and technology, including presentations on how venues can meet the demands of interactive meetings. The trade show also involved event suppliers, including those specializing in lighting and entertainment. Meetings and events are increasingly converging, said Andrea Bauer, whose company Vereint, Ltd. managed Access 2012 and who designed the educational program. “Pure events don’t work anymore – they need content,” Bauer said. “And content needs emotion.”

The program’s evening entertainment included a trip to the edge of the Vienna Woods, to Fuhrgassl-Huber, a traditional wine tavern. To say that Furhgassl-Huber is capacious is an understatement – it can accommodate groups of up to 800 people. But it manages to exude homey warmth, offering diners groaning buffets loaded with Weiner Schnitizel, smoked meats, vegetables, and salads, amid music and pitchers of wine.

Our group also got a taste of Viennese café society when, during a day filled with site visits, we stopped for lunch at the famed Café Central, where such luminaries as Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud were patrons. Today the café is operated by Palais Events, which also manages three other unique meeting venues in Vienna, including the stunning Palais Daun-Kinsky, a lemon-colored stucco building filled with marble stairways, sculptures, and painted ceilings, which can accommodate dinners and small conferences of up to 180 people. The Palais Ferstal, home to the city’s first stock market, can accommodate groups of up to 735. And the newly renovated Weiner Börsensäle, another former headquarters to the stock exchange, accommodates conference groups of up to 540.

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On the Itinerary

Vienna offers more than 25,000 hotel rooms. These six leading conference hotels, all in the city center, were on our itinerary:

  • Hilton Vienna: 579 rooms; 26,000 square feet of meeting space
  • Hotel InterContinental Vienna: 458 rooms; 19,000 square feet of meeting space
  • Radisson BLU Palais Hotel: 247 rooms; 11,000 square feet of meeting space
  • Ritz-Carlton Vienna: 202 rooms; 11,785 square feet of meeting space
  • Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof: 196 rooms; 4,600 square feet of meeting space
  • Vienna Marriott Hotel: 323 rooms; 12,500 square feet of meeting space

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.