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March 2011Conference+Meetings World www.c-mw.net21Northern Italy is expanding its international meetings muscle, with new infrastructure and newconvention bureaus being developed. Vikki Carleychats to Gabriella Ghigi, Exhibition Manager of Italy'smajor tradeshow devoted to the meetings industry, BTC.Italy's northernevent jewelsNorthern Italy is experiencing anevents and meetings overhaul. In the last few years significantinvestment has been put into theinfrastructure of the region, which hasmeant new conference centres, exhibitiongrounds, renovated airports and new lowcost transport links. Existing event facilitieshave also been redeveloped in parallel tothe increased demand.This region has also investedconsiderably in its destination marketingprojects, seeing the development of manynew convention bureaus, in areasincluding Turin, Rimini and Florence, aswell as Versilia, Varese, and Bergamo inLombardy, Venice, Verona and LakeGarda, Lake Maggiore and the LangheRegion in Piedmont. All are keen to take aslice of the meetings pie available to them.The meetings facilities in the region varyconsiderably, with high-capacity conferenceand event centres in Turin, Milan andRimini, then more historic venues, largeinternational hotels and design hotels andluxury resorts in various parts of the region.Large investment has been made in thecoastal town of Rimini, where ?117m hasbeen ploughed into a space-age designconvention centre, the Palacongressi. The38,000sqm venue will be the largestconvention centre in the country onceinaugurated. Although the Palacongressiwas originally due to open in May 2010,the venue management, Fiera group, is stillpleading "technical" difficulties with theconstruction. This, at time of writing, is stillcausing a delay and the centre hasn'topened. Three conventions were due totake place at the venue in September 2010but had to be transferred to the nearbyRimini Fiera Expo Centre. These, and thosescheduled at the venue in the short term,have also been transferred to the old Fiera.A little south of Rimini, in the seasideresort of Riccione, a new city-centreconference centre was opened recently. Aspokesman for the centre said: "RiccioneConference Centre was developed as part of a wider initiative to promote the town'stourism offering. It is one of the fewconference venues in Europe that is locatedin the heart of the town that hosts it, andthe town is a real conference-friendly town."Other cities with adequate conferencefacilities that have recently upgraded theirinfrastructure include Bergamo, 50 km from Milano, which has invested in itsairport. The city has introduced many newlow cost flights. Milan Convention Centre was built in 2002and doubled in size in 2005. Now it has 36meeting rooms with seating for between 10and 2,000 delegates. The eight multi-purpose halls offer over 80,000sqm and canbe transformed into plenary halls with up to5,000 seats. Gabriella Ghigi Exhibition Manager ofItaly's major trade show devoted to themeetings industry, BTC, said the economicdownturn hit Italy's meetings marketsignificantly. "But the industry is now startingto see change, in the way of investment anddevelopment," she noted."Corporate clients reduced their budgetsfor events and many event agencies had tostreamline their workforces, look for newbusiness and clients and merge with otheragencies," she added.Examples of this include the AlessandroRosso Group which acquired some of themost established events agencies in thecountry, including Newtours, Teamwork andGastaldi Global. The AIM Group, with manyoffices in Italy, expanded into 10 cities inEurope and the USA, and the VeneziaCongressi, an established professionalconference organiser (PCO) was acquired bythree PCO's based in other cities: MZCongressi, Sistema Congressi and TheOffice, now run it between them.According to Ghigi, like most of Europe'sevents market, corporate clients in Italy didnot stop organising events during thedownturn but reduced budgets and requiredthe highest quality/price ratio, shortestplanning times and cut all unnecessaryREGIONAL FOCUS????Charting new conference waters'There is a slow butsteady recovery.' Conference+Meetings WorldMarch 2011REGIONAL FOCUSexpenses. "Latest news from the domesticmarket," said Ghigi, "indicates that there isa slow but steady recovery, which has beenvisible from the second half of 2010 and setto continue in 2011".She added: "Turin in particular, which willbe the host city for the celebrations of the150th anniversary of the unification of Italy,already has a rich calendar of events. The Italian meetings industry is definitelyregaining its role in the country's economy,but, as elsewhere, with a much more sober style."Current demand for Italian events comesmainly from corporate organisations. Out of100 meetings and incentive travel eventsthat are organised, about 75 per cent arepromoted by corporate organisations, andthe remaining 25 per cent are organised byassociations, public bodies, unions andpolitical parties.The majority of these events have 50-300participants. According to the ItalianConference Market Survey, meetings up to300 participants make up 90 per cent of allmeetings organised in Italy, with littlevariations from one year to the other.The research further shows that corporateclients are concentrated in the richest andmost industrialised regions of Northern Italysuch as Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, EmiliaRomagna and Tuscany. Their main areas ofbusiness fields are automotive, chemicals,energy, IT, food and beverage, fashiondesign, telecom, consumer electronics,insurance, banks, financial and consultingservices.Italian conference market survey,Osservatorio Congressuale, which focussedon the country's market in 2009 showed itrecovered after its blackest period at the endof 2008. The strong performances of thesecond half of 2009 offset the declines inthe first six months of that year.2009 still closed with a negative figure interms of meeting numbers, which came inat 102,515, but with participants andattendance in positive territory. The numberof conference delegates neared 21.5m, up 2.82 per cent on the previous year.Attendance days grew by 2.92 per cent and topped the 35.5m mark. Average event duration also jumped, rising from 1.62to 2.6 days.An analysis of the various venues suggeststhat hotels suffered, even in the second halfof the year. Meeting attendance at hotelsrose two per cent, conference centres oneper cent in the first half and 12 per cent inthe second. Attendance at events held athistoric residences grew two per cent in thefirst half and 16 per cent in the second.In the second half of 2009 the impact ofthe recovery was mainly evident in eventsize. The biggest increases were registeredin meetings with 300-500 participants, upfive per cent versus the January to Juneperiod. Other categories also saw growth,albeit at lower rates. There was three percent growth for meetings with 50 to 100attendees and two per cent for those with100 to 300 delegates, two per cent forthose with 500 to 1,000 participants andalso two per cent for events attended bymore than 1,000 people.With regard to conference clients, themeetings promoted by corporateorganisations again confirmed their healthand grew five per cent in the second half of2009. Scientific association meetings camenext, up three per cent, while theorganisations/political parties/unions/SMERFsector up two per cent. In the second half of2009, national and international meetingsshowed signs of recovery with advances ofseven per cent for the former and nine percent for the latter. The figures for 2010 arenot yet released.Destination results were varied in 2009,with big cities and cities of art experiencinga critical period at the start of the year,before leading the recovery in the secondhalf. There were significant rises in all themain indicators: there was a rise of 13 percent in conference attendance days and of12 per cent in the of meetings. Delegatenumbers her were 31 per cent up.Minister for Tourism Michela VittoriaBrambilla noted Italy had risen from sixth tofourth place in the latest InternationalCongress and Convention Association(ICCA) rankings." It is now positioned justafter Spain and the UK. "This is significant,as it tells us that we have to invest in thissector, because it eases the seasonality oftourism," she said.Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Duomo FlorenceRimini: the wait for PalaCongressi goes onParis Tourist Office / Ame?lie DupontParis Tourist Office / Jacques Lebar