Amsterdam came to my close attention after seeing that two event planners from my close network hosted events there in the past six months. I closely follow trends in destination selection and I was interested what is it in Amsterdam that it was selected. I’ve been to Amsterdam two times in the past on leisure, and therefore knew very little about it for MICE. When I was invited by Amsterdam Marketing to join a media trip organised in collaboration with Hilton and KLM from 22-23 July 2018, I gladly accepted, as I knew that it will bring extra value to you my readers. It seems that this city is currently on the pitch list!
Amsterdam is a cool city. You come there and you feel the vibe, of being in an international hotspot of 180 nationalities and plenty to choose from in a city that never sleeps. It’s vibrant, modern, tech savvy and efficient. I was extremely impressed that our two-day event for 9 journalists had a dedicated app!
Additionally, let’s look at facts and figures to support my first impressions. It has an extensive infrastructure to support any business event. The 650 hotels have a total capacity of 40,752 rooms, there are 1,325 restaurants, 44 museums and 55 theatres and concert halls for diversified cultural offer and bleisure opportunities. It has a business ecosystem with more than 2,700 international companies and 1,100 start-ups.
Amsterdam is very proud of its spirit of commerce, that goes back to the beginning of 17th century. The Dutch East India Company was the second multinational corporation ever founded and was the first to issue shares, making the first ever company to be listed on the stock exchange. That marked the beginning of the Golden Age, and made Amsterdam the capital of the world. It ingrained its strength into being open to international business and entrepreneurship.
Per year, it welcomes 17,000,000 visitors, out of which 1,114,569 are business travellers who spend on average 237 Euro per day.
Hilton Hotels in Amsterdam
Hilton was the official partner of this trip, and gave us an insight into its extensive business offer. We visited the three properties: Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Hilton Amsterdam and DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. It’s pretty impressive to have three in one city! Each has its own characteristics, and they spread across key transit areas, especially Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station at the train station.
We started the trip with a get together at the Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the latest opening by Hilton three years ago. What struck me the most when entering was the modern architecture and the glazed roof, letting-in lots of day light.
We haven’t seen any of the 433 guest rooms, but continued to view the next property, Hilton Amsterdam. This one is most probably the most “leisurly” one, with 271 rooms, as we saw guests with big shopping bags and families. But it also has a good capacity for events, with the largest space able to accommodate 600 guests for a drinks reception. Also the famous John and Yoko Honey Moon Suite makes it a destination for fans of the music icon. It’s a true piece of history that adds a lot of character and personal touch to a corporate brand like Hilton. But that wasn’t the only surprise that was waiting for us at Hilton Amsterdam. We were treated for a BBQ lunch at the Water Terrace Restaurant on the marina.
And, what’s better to unwind after the lunch than taking a boat tour to our next site visit, to Royal Concertgebouw. Our group of 14 was very comfortable on board of The Cruise With Us salon boat along the canal. It was very relaxing and our guide brought us up to speed on all we needed to know about the city.
The home of classic music and a concert venue, the Royal Concertgebouw is also a popular central location for private and corporate events. The venue is internationally known for being the home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the leading in the world. In addition, the venue is claimed for its acoustics, and if you don’t have any background in music, like me, that would be an interesting fact to learn about! The moment you become aware of it, you will appreciate the sounds delivered there. We had lots of fun testing it in one of the rooms where by standing on one specific spot one can hear herself. That could be a good exercise to energise your audience after lunch! The venue is suitable for groups from 10 to 3,000 delegates.
The Heineken Experience
Since 1991, what used to be a brewery, The Heineken Experience is now a Beer Museum, and probably one of the most popular visitor attractions. After a short guided tour of the museum, including interactive 4D experience, we were treated for a private beer tasting and cheese paring in one of the meeting rooms. The five meeting rooms can accommodate up to 850 delegates and the little terrace offers beautiful views over the city.
In the end we received a customised Heineken bottle with our names on it. Unfortunately that was the only downside of this experience, because I took the bottle in my hand luggage (completely forgot about it!) and it delayed me on security control. The airport security offered me two options, either to check-in the luggage or to empty the bottle so I can keep it. I chose the latter. Luckily I had enough time to go through this process, otherwise I could have missed my flight.
Rai Amsterdam and AIDS2018 Congress
From there, our next stop was to visit Amsterdam’s largest venue, Rai Amsterdam. That week it hosted the world’s largest medical event, the International AIDS Conference. That was a very unique opportunity, one that I’m very thankful for to Amsterdam Marketing for facilitating and giving us an exclusive insight. The process to bring this event to Amsterdam began in 2014, and through an extensive bidding process, involving key stakeholders, the city won the bid. Not only Rai Amsterdam was the main meeting point, it was a city wide effort to raise awareness and involve the locals. This event attracted around 18,000 visitors, and 800 journalist, including high profile speakers such as Prince Harry and Bill Gates.
The logo created for the AIDS2018 was a combination of city’s symbol of The Amsterdam Coat of Arms with the triple X, that symbolises Amsterdam’s motto: Heroic, Determined and Merciful, and the X was replaced with the global symbol for solidarity for HIV and AIDS. Very simple, but yet strong and meaningful it was present across city centre, airport and even on a tram.
This conference was for both professionals but also open to the general public. We visited the Global Village, and were there for the opening ceremony. For the second time in its existence, Rai Amsterdam also set up a space with 6,000 chairs for the official sessions.
Blue Pepper Restaurant
Our dinner location was the Blue Pepper, a popular Indonesian restaurant. We were treated for a six course tasting menu. Here I learnt that in Amsterdam you are encouraged to try one of the many international cuisines because Amsterdam is so open and diverse when it comes to food.
After dinner, the day was not yet over, because we had then our final stop at DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, where I also stayed overnight. This hotel has 553 rooms, and 18 meeting rooms. We went to the top floor bar, the Sky Lounge, notorious for their views and a hot spot for locals and tourists. The DJ was playing her live set on the terrace, and I caught the beautiful sunset.
After a long day, when my alarm went on at 3:45AM to catch an early flight from Frankfurt airport, I was happy that my room was just few floors away. I woke up to a sunny view of Amsterdam, and having very little time for breakfast benefited from the coffee takeaway option at the hotel.
Amsterdam Conference Centre Beurs van Berlage
Before long we were on our way to our next site-visit of Amsterdam’s former stock exchange building: Amsterdam Conference Centre Beurs van Berlage. The Amsterdam Conference Centre Beurs van Berlage is ideally suited to events from 500 to 1,300 participants. Relating back to the introduction, where I mentioned Amsterdam’s tradition in spirit of commerce, this venue is in my view the one that tells this story best. It encompasses the history of trade, craftsmanship and mercantilism, but at the same time it’s a state of the art venue with latest technology and full service offering.
As we were there, they hosted the “I will speak, I will speak” exhibition, dedicated tell the stories of people who are living with HIV or AIDS around the world. The exhibition presented films, photos and written stories of the individuals.
Eye Film Museum
Our next stop, and one before the last, was the Eye Film Museum. Located across the rive IJ and the train station, it’s very bright, spacious, modern venue that offer delegates a glimpse into the film industry, and the possibility to make it part of the event experience. Especially if choosing to use one of the four cinemas for screening, the largest offering 315 seats, or the Studio. The Studio, for up to 40 people theatre style, can be used for educational workshops that necessitate film-related equipment. The Arena is the most impressive space, but due to being a public area, can be used only for exclusive hire of the venue, which is possible only once a month.
This restaurant is located inside the A’DAM Toren building on the 19th floor. Not only it gives a 360 degrees panoramic view, it’s also rotating so you can enjoy the view while staying at your seat. We were treated for a three course lunch menu, with small surprises including the signature drink before the meal (non-alcoholic) and a fragile chocolate praline before the dessert that breaks and melts in the mouth. Was very delightful! The show kitchen is also a highlight so you can see the young chefs in action.
To conclude, my takeaways and learnings from this trip. Firstly, I was surprises to find out that very good venues are located within a short distance from the main train station, namely the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, the Eye Museum and Restaurant Moon. Secondly, I found out that the very corporate Hilton hotels have a lot of local character and integrate the local culture or storytelling. This especially can be seen in the architecture of the Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and at Hilton Amsterdam with the John and Yoko Honeymoon Suite and the Marina Harbor, that allows the delegates to embark on a boat tour (a very typical activity to organise in Amsterdam). And lastly, I learnt that Amsterdam is very proud of being an international city, with 180 nationalities and home to 2,700 international businesses. Spirit of commerce is part of their DNA, and if you organise an event in Amsterdam, you can take this into account and rather than looking to have only a local experience (e.g. local cuisine), celebrate its creativity and openness to the world.
You can view the full photo album from the trip on my Facebook page.