In June of this year, I attended a corporate event in Italy for the first time. It was in Trento, a mountain destination close to Switzerland and Austria. I visited some highly unique venues (one was previously a tunnel, the second a museum), had the best pizza I’d eaten in years, took coffee breaks highlighting Italian’s best espresso, and loved the warm hospitality of local people, some of whom couldn’t speak English, but I always found a way to handle the situation. This business trip was a short getaway, but it felt like holidays and not a conference. I set for myself a goal to explore Italian’s MICE destinations further.
Strong international growth for Italy
Fortunately, this opportunity already materialised this year when I attended an event organised by ENIT (the Italian National Tourist Board) on 22 October at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. This event was part of the annual roadshow in three German-speaking countries, and after Zurich continued to Munich in Germany and Vienna in Austria. This year marks the 100-year anniversary for ENIT, which is responsible for promoting Italy internationally as a travel destination. Since 2016, ENIT has had a new business structure that optimises resources in order to increase the efficiency of expenditure and promotion to foster the growth of key geographical markets. Its promotional activities have been proved successful, and in 2018, Italy surpassed France in international overnight stays, and it’s catching up with Spain. Italy also has very strong performance in the association meetings market, and according to the 2018 ICCA rankings, it ranked sixth internationally and fifth in Europe for the number of meetings that took place.
When we talk about MICE, one of the first questions that comes up is how accessible the destination is. Italy is easily accessible by air, rail and road. It has 31 international airports, making every part of the county within reach. Italy’s busiest airports by the number of passengers are Rome Leonardo da Vinci, Milan Malpensa Airport and Venice Marco Polo Airport. Furthermore, it has also an extensive high-speed railway network of 16,530 km of railway with stations throughout the country.
‘The beginning of a long journey’
Bianca Bartalena is the head of ENIT in Switzerland and is based in Zurich. The Swiss branch reopened only one and a half years ago, and Bianca took the role of representing Italy on this significant geographic market. According to Bianca, ‘This reopening is very important for ENIT because for the last couple of years, there was no physical presence in Switzerland, and for Italy, the Swiss market is the fifth most important market worldwide. Switzerland borders Italy, so many people are familiar with the destination and love it. The Italian community is also the first international community in Switzerland, so the link between Switzerland and Italy is particularly strong. The Italian presence is notable, but at the same time, there are many unexplored opportunities to showcase the Italian MICE offering to the Swiss market. Italy remains one of the best countries in the world because of its uniqueness: food, culture, nature and warm feelings; we love welcoming people.’
Bianca explained why they chose to host the event in Zurich for MICE buyers ‘MICE is very important due to major companies being located in the Zurich area, and we want sustainable growth in terms of quality. In 2018, Italy was ranked by the ICCA as the sixth destination worldwide in terms of the number of association meetings. What makes the county highly suitable for corporate events is the combination of bleisure (combining business and leisure). We can offer excellent venues but also varied opportunities for after work. For example, to have an espresso, pizza, visit a museum or incorporate local activities to the locality, such as watching an opera or an activity that involves Ferrari or Maserati. We also have beautiful beaches, hills, wine; you can ski—the choices are unlimited. Italy is only three hours away from Switzerland, and it’s wonderful value for money. The companies know and love Italy, but maybe they don’t know it as much as they should do as a MICE destination for their business events, team buildings and incentives. Companies can save money and have a wonderful, quality experience with high standards. We are professionals, hard workers, and we are growing, both in leisure and in MICE.’
Bianca stated that the evening is an initial MICE promotion, ‘This event is the first step in MICE promotion, and I want tonight to be really the beginning of a nice, long journey.’
A total of 23 sellers came from Italy. These sellers included hotels, venues, convention bureaux and destination management companies/ agencies from all over the country. The general consul of Italy in Switzerland also attended the event. The first part of the event was informal networking with local event planners and executive assistants. The second part was a 3-course menu, Italian inspired, dinner, followed by destination presentation and a raffle where several lucky attendees won a trip to Italy.
Unlimited opportunities for corporate events: slow, active or luxurious?
Did you know that Italy has 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Fifty of them are cultural and five natural. When organising events in Italy, you’ll be introduced to the authentic Italian lifestyle, and you can incorporate it into your events. Suggested activities can be divided into three categories: slow, active and luxurious.
If you decide to take it slow for your event, you can organise a food experience, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano tasting, pasta making, gelato making, pizza baking, buffalo mozzarella tours, wine tasting and vineyard tours, with a high possibility to combine it with a UNESCO sightseeing experience at one of the 55 sites. One of the attending suppliers was Silvio Lacchini, Hotel Director of four properties in Cremona, one of which is the Dellearti Design Hotel, which in 2002 won the ‘European Hotel Design Awards’ as best new design hotel in Europe and was the first Italian hotel to deserve that recognition. Cremona is a small medieval art city in northern Italy and one of the cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to it being the birthplace of Stradivarius violins, which are known as the most valuable in the world due to their unique sound and heritage. These violins are highly regarded by musicians and their audience and attract visitors from all over the world for that reason to Cremona. In 2012, Cremona became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for violin craftsmanship, and the city has a strong cultural identity with this mastery. People who visit Cremona will usually also visit the medieval square, the cathedral and the Torrazzo Bell Tower, the tallest Bell Tower in Italy. Silvio told us about the latest venue to open in Cremona, the Chamber Hall at the Museo Del Violino, with a capacity for 460 attendees. This auditorium was designed by a notorious Japanese acoustics engineer, Yasuhisa Toyota, and it’s made out of the same wood that is also used to make the violins. This auditorium has highly unique acoustics that are specifically designed for listening to violins, and corporate events can also be held there.
If you want to make your events active, you can choose between Vespa tours, vintage Fiat 500 tours or experience the Italian Motorvalley. For the mountain experience, you can take up hiking or skiing on Etna, biking on the Appian Way or high mountain trekking on the Alps and Dolomites.
And to add a luxurious and prestigious touch to your corporate events, you can take your guests to Italian fashion shows, Ferrari rides or Maserati tours.
The opportunity for corporate events are vast and go beyond the imaginable! Here is a full list of Italian partners who attended the roadshow, for you to get inspired, curious and start planning your next event in Italy:
- AllegroItalia Hotel & Condo
- Milan Marriott Hotel
- Rome Marriott Park Hotel
- Carattere Toscano Hotels & Resorts
- RG Naxos Hotel
- Sina Hotels
- Grand Hotel Via Veneto
- Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa
- Greenblu Hotels & Resort
- Falkensteiner Hotels & Residences
- Grand Hotel Royal e Golf
- Best Western Blu Hotel Roma
- Bettoja Hotels
- BW Plus Hotel Galles
- Ortea Palace Luxury Hotel
- Ambasciatori Place Hotel
- Rocco Forte Hotels
Destinations – Convention Bureaux
Destination Management Companies and agencies
Venues & experiences
Photos and video: Thomas Loris