Lisbon the friendly, fascinating city of multiple venues and attractionsLisbon is a destination where organisers never fail to find something new and interesting no matter how often they take groups there. For newcomers, Lisbon is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. No one is disappointed on a first inspection of the city, its environs and its venues.
A ‘must see’ giant statue on the coast at Lisbon is the Monument to the Discoverers, remembering and honouring the people through history who have sailed from that very point to find new lands, new continents and to extend man’s knowledge of the world in which we live. The statue is there because on that coast is the cape that is the closest piece of Europe to the new world of the Americas.
Lisbon is, therefore, not to be seen as the end of what we know, but the beginning of what we want to know. It has for centuries been seen as the platform for adventure and experience.
The city lends itself to that role for event organisers. It is on the mighty Tagus River which imperceptibly merges with the Atlantic Ocean. It is a bustling city of grand parades and Victorian avenues and also of ancient narrow cobbled streets on the hillsides. It is an irresistible draw for shopaholics and also for sun worshippers. It has a remarkable cultural heritage and wide beaches for all kinds of water sports.
Although there are boundary demarcations on the map between Lisbon itself and the neighbouring provinces of Estoril and Sintra, event organisers do not need to recognise these when setting up a programme to suit their needs. It means that they have at their disposal all that a major city can offer, as well as the villages and fairy-tale palaces in the winegrowing hills, the rugged terrain so short a distance out of Lisbon, the freedom of the beaches, the night life of coastal casinos and the endless array of specialist seafood restaurants lining the coast where the fish are freshly caught.
Modern or historic venues and conference centresLisbon has virtually any kind of meeting venue that any organiser might be seeking. They range from the multi-space Conference Centre at Belem to a choice of historic palaces; from the ornate Royal Coach Museum to modern towering hotels such as Corinthia Lisboa with 518 rooms and a 3000sqm conference space.
Lisbon was a great centre of trade when India and the Far East were an important source of spices and the city grew rich very quickly. Many remarkable palaces were built by the nobility and merchant traders and when these have been transformed into hotels they have to be visited to be believed. Pestana Palace and Lapa Palace are two examples that are conveniently located in the city and there are others in the surrounding region.
An urban district interesting in itself and a rich source of meeting spaces is the futuristic Parque das Nacoes – Park of the Nations. In the east of Lisbon, it was created from scratch when the city was the host to Expo 98 World Fair. Portugal took the chance to show what it could do architecturally and its fruits are still a big attraction today.
Of special interest to visitors are, for example, the Oriente rail and metro station, the Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre and the renowned Oceanarium.
Lisbon’s appeal to organisersInterviews with British event organisers who have used Lisbon elicited the following points in favour of using the city.
Short flightLisbon is under three hours flight, with frequent services from the UK. Air Portugal (TAP) has up to 6 flights a day. Lisbon is also well served by airlines from most European cities as well as the Americas. This makes it a convenient location for conferences that expect delegates from many parts of the world.
Value for moneyIn these days of the high-value Euro, Lisbon has the advantage of being a comparatively low-cost destination. It ranks near the bottom of European city hotel rates and has generally a low cost of living index.
However, it is highly experienced in hosting upmarket events and offers the right level of facilities, service and attention, thus providing good value for money.
Good relations with the outsidePortugal has been an ally of the UK for centuries and English is widely spoken, especially in Lisbon. The Portuguese are always ready to help foreign visitors.
No time differentialPortugal, it is often forgotten, is in the same time zone as the UK. Lisbon is itself an hour behind the rest of Europe, but has the same time as Britain. This makes for easier communications as their hours of work are in synch with ours.
Tour by different transport modesITCM has taken several groups of UK buyers on Fam Trips over the years and has enjoyed travelling in the city in different modes. We have been by motor cycle and sidecar, veteran cars and by private tram.
The tram routes wind through the city and up and down the very narrow streets on the hillsides.
Whichever form of travel, groups are usually taken to a high vantage point so that they can be given a panoramic view of the city, for example at the top of Edward VII Park, where various landmarks can be pointed out that they will then be visiting. Another such vantage point is on Alfama Hill at St Jorge Castle.
It mustn’t be forgotten that much can be seen on a walking tour, especially on the waterfront near the outskirts of town.
On one of the ITCM Fam Trips we were dropped off in Belem. This is the coastal district from which, in the 15thC and 16thC, ships set sail to discover and then explore the New World across the Atlantic. A landmark that sailors looked for when returning to Europe was the Tower of Belem, still a major visitor attraction.
On the same waterfront promenade is the renowned Monument to the Discoveries, with the sculpted figures of the great seafaring explorers. Literally across the road from there is the 16thC Jeronimus Monastery in which there is the memorial tomb of Vasco da Gama.
A candlelit banquet in the monastery building is an occasion that lives in the memory fondly for ever.
Close by is an attraction well worth a visit – the Royal Coach Museum with the finest examples of gold-plated transport available in the 17C and 18C.
Depending on the nature of the walking tour, it might be worth considering going as far as the Centro Cultural de Belem.
A modern building with all the flavour of the historic area in which it is located, it is almost a town in itself and embodies a very comprehensive conference centre. There are 17 named function rooms, the largest able to seat 1400 theatre style.
Where the Tagus takes youAlthough Lisbon is a famous port on the Atlantic, where Europe faces the Americas, its river should play a part in incentive and leisure programmes. The River Tagus can provide groups with a leisurely way of seeing the cathedral, the castle, royal palaces and a series of impressive bridges, not to mention the wildlife, including pink flamingos.
Dinner or lunch can be served on a range of vessels, from a sailing ship, to a river frigate or a traditional ferry boat.
Lisbon Convention Bureau - the first port of callThe Lisbon Convention Bureau markets Lisbon as a prime destination for congresses, meetings, events, incentives and business travel in general. It is a department of Turismo de Lisboa, a non-profit association responsible for the promotion of the Lisbon Region.
The Bureau can be a first point of contact for anyone exploring Lisbon as a destination for an event. It has 200 members encompassing meeting facilities, hotels, event agencies, ground handlers and other service providers.
The Bureau welcomes enquiries and can speedily put potential buyers in touch with DMCs, hotels, PCOs, conference centres or specialist suppliers and guarantees the superior quality of their service.
The range of services offered by the bureau includes bid preparation, co-ordination of site inspections, ideas for social programmes and identification of suitable venues.
Promotional materials available on request range over Meeting planner guide, presentation folders for congress bids, brochures, leaflets, shell folders, CD-Rom, video presentation, posters and maps.