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March 2010 Conference+ Meetings World www. c- mw. net 27 CITY FOCUS W hen I was a student of Spanish in the 1960s, living and studying in Spain, the three most advertised visitor attractions in the Madrid region were Toledo, the royal palace of El Escorial, and El Valle de los Caídos ( The Valley of the Fallen, Spanish Civil War memorial). These were much higher profile than anything in Madrid itself. How things have changed. Madrid has undergone a massive programme of regeneration and investment. It's a city largely waiting to be discovered, undeservedly in the shadow of Barcelona and the ' Costas'. It is a beautiful city of wide, tree- lined boulevards, elegant palaces, attractive squares, spacious parks and gardens, and panoramic vistas to the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. I revisited the city recently to speak to a group of students following a one- year Masters degree programme in ' Management of Congress and Convention Tourism and PCO Operations' at the European University of Madrid. The 22 students were mostly from Spain but included some from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and Sweden. All could speak English, although with varying degrees of fluency. They were engaged, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. This investment in people mirrors huge investments in Madrid's conference and incentive infrastructure. A new airport terminal, new hotels, a modern underground system ( which charges just one euro for any journey), renovated visitor attractions, an unparalleled reputation for cuisine, six UNESCO World Heritage sites within a one- hour drive, three convention centres and a fourth under construction ( due to open in 2012), all combine to position Madrid as a major player in the global events industry, and a serious contender for a top 10 place. The base for my stay was the five- star Hotel Meliá Castilla, which has the most extensive range of conference facilities of any hotel in the city: 25 meeting rooms, from the Auditorium ( a 580- seat purpose-designed presentation theatre with in- built translation, voting and projection facilities) to five other rooms seating over 350 theatre- style, plus a series of seminar and boardrooms. Four of the more unusual city- centre venues I visited included The Teatro Real, a stunning venue, primarily for opera and ballet, built in 1850 and refurbished in the 1990s. It has wonderful views across the Plaza de Oriente to the Royal Palace and can seat 1,748 in the main auditorium. The venue also has a 250- seat theatre with translation booths, a smaller meeting room for 70 and a spectacular restaurant. The venue hosted the inauguration ceremony for the Spanish presidency of the European Union in January. Madrid's manana arrives Tony Rogerssays Madrid has invested well in its meetings people and places. The Casa de América, dating back to 1872, is another beautiful venue, originally the home of the Marquis of Linares who commissioned the most important painters of the time to create a truly exceptional palace. The rooms are ornate, but they are not huge, ideal for groups of around 60- 70. The Casino de Madrid, just a two- minute walk from the Puerta del Sol, is now part private members' club and part event venue managed by NH Hotels. It can be used for cocktails, dinner or meetings for up to 150. A Michelin- star restaurant sits atop the building alongside a terrace with spectacular views over the city. The Círculo de Bellas Artes is one of Europe's foremost arts organisations. Founded in 1888, Picasso once attended painting classes here and many other famous names have graced this elegant, neo- classical building. With large meeting space, it can host cocktails for 1,000, dinner for 500 and has several smaller meeting rooms. It also boasts a roof terrace for large receptions. Madrid is certainly a city that deserves to be discovered, as it offers so much for business and leisure visitors alike. Further information Madrid Convention Bureau: www. esmadrid. com/ mcb Tony Rogers is an international meetings industry consultant and former chief executive of the British Association of Conference Destinations and can be Madrid panorama with famous Post Office buildingcontacted through www. tony- rogers. com Madrid facts ?? The city has ten Michelin Guide listed restaurants ?? In August 2017, 2,000 international fiscal experts will spend four days at the Annual Congress of the International Fiscal Association ( IFA) ?? The city is the third largest in the European Union and is an important communication hub with Latin America.