Gothenburg has Europe’s largest integrated venue


Jan Erik reports on how Sweden’s second largest city has become a major player in the MICE market.

You might be forgiven for knowing very little about Gothenburg. Lennart Johansson, Director of the Gothenburg Convention Bureau, acknowledges that it is considered a second city in a less well-known country and it presents a challenge in attracting meetings and incentives. However, my two-day trip to Gothenburg has revealed how much it has to offer after massive upgrading of its facilities.

In December 2014, a third tower was completed at the Gothia Towers Hotel, part of the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre. This added an extra 500 rooms, bringing the total number of rooms to 1,200 and making the centre Europe’s largest fully integrated hotel and meetings venue under one roof.

The whole complex covers an area of 180,000sqm with capacity for 9,500 people. It includes 63 meeting rooms, 41,000sqm of exhibition space and a show arena. The largest hall seats 2,800, while the Congress Hall seats over 1,500 delegates and can accommodate a banquet for 1,100. The seating can be raised into the ceiling within a couple of hours. Or, it can be divided into 4 sections with soundproof walls. Overall, the centre is so huge that there is a smartphone app for navigating your way around it. If even more space is needed, the venue can be combined with the indoor sports and event arena, Scandinavium, just next door.

Within the 4-star Gothia Towers Hotel is a 5-star sister hotel, Upper House, with 48 rooms and 5 suites and a three-storey spa, including, for the brave-hearted, a glass bottomed outdoor pool that protrudes from the 19th floor, 50 metres above ground level. The meeting rooms and restaurant on the 28th and 29th floors offer superb views across the city.

In the last three years Gothenburg has increased its hotel capacity by 1,500 rooms. There are now 2,650 hotel rooms within 5 minutes’ walk of the Exhibition and Congress Centre in the centre of the city and 7,350 hotel rooms within 25 minutes. Johansson points out that this illustrates that Gothenburg is a pocket-sized metropolis with everything close by. Delegates can easily meet each other and network, as well as enjoy the cafes, restaurants, shops and sights.

Greenest city
Gothenburg leads the way in setting new standards within eco-certification. Virtually all hotels in the city are now environmentally certified, making Gothenburg the greenest hotel city in the world, according to Johansson. He comments that an event can be certified to prove that the only footprint left is the one from your shoes. Gothenburg was named by ICCA as the number one eco-destination for 2012-13 and by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as Sweden's National Earth Hour Capital 2015. This green theme is reflected in some of the industrial research and development carried out in Gothenburg, such as the city’s new electric buses. There are three science parks and 70% of Scandinavia’s industrial capacity is within a 500km radius, with companies such as Volvo, Astra Zeneca, Ericsson, SKF and Stena AB. The city is also home to the largest port in Scandinavia and is one of the biggest university cities in the Nordic area, with 60,000 students.

The rapidly expanding Lindholmen Science Park, a five-minute ferry ride across the river from the city centre, is now home to around 350 companies, as well as 2,500 students. The number of international partners at Lindholmen is increasing, including Chinese companies, now that Volvo is Chinese-owned. As well as transport, Gothenburg is highly respected within medical research, as well as IT, and consequently hosts many events in these areas.

Lindholmen has its own meetings centre, which, combined with the Radisson Blu Riverside hotel, opened in 2013, offers 15 conference rooms, the largest for 600 people, as well as exhibition space and 265 hotel rooms, 24 for disabled guests. The Visual Arena boasts a 3D screen, 3.2 by 6 metres in size, with very high resolution (4096 x 2160 pixels), which can be used to manipulate detailed graphics within, for example, town planning, anatomy, gaming, or car modelling.

More flight connections
To match its growing international profile, Gothenburg has boosted its flight connections, from 42 direct routes in 2006 to 100 direct routes in 2015. From the airport to the city centre takes just 20 minutes by bus. The Exhibition and Congress Centre is the first stop. Johansson points out that Gothenburg is easily reachable from intercontinental hubs, such as Helsinki, Amsterdam, and Germany, although there is no direct flight to the US as yet. Such connectivity scotches the common misconception that Sweden is too far away, according to Johansson. Other misconceptions are that Sweden is too cold and too expensive. However, he points out that in summer the temperature is about the same as in London and that, while Gothenburg is not a cheap destination, research commissioned by the convention bureau suggests the price per delegate over 24 hours is below the European average. Anthony Bright, responsible for MICE business at the convention bureau, says that rack rates range from €85 to €140 for three star hotels and €140 to €215 for four star, including VAT, breakfast and Wi-Fi. There are only two 5- star hotels in the city, reflecting the nature of the tourism and events Gothenburg receives. Alchohol is expensive, but Bright says it is possible to arrange a three-course evening meal, including a couple of glasses of wine, for around €65.

Other conference facilities
Although undoubtedly the jewel in the crown, the Exhibition and Conference Centre is not the only major conference facility in Gothenburg. Alongside Lindholmen, there are several other key meetings venues.

Eriksberg is an old shipbuilding hall. A big red brick building, with old cranes in the roof, it holds 2,000 delegates. Next door is the Quality Hotel 11, with its own meeting rooms and 260 4-star hotel rooms.

The Clarion Hotel Post opened three years ago. A former post office building, many of the original features have been kept. It has a grand, plush, historical feel, with high ceilings and 500 rooms, which are a mix of old and new style. There are 15 meeting rooms, the largest 915sqm and holding around 900 theatre style. Next to this is a large Winter Garden with a glass roof.

Two other conference hotels are the Radisson Blu Scandinavia and Elite Park Avenue.

Visitor Attractions
Gothenburg is a delightful city set in West Sweden, which is a wilderness of exceptional natural beauty. The city itself is very green, filled with trees and rolling wooded hills and dotted with traditional picturesque houses. It was designed in the early 17thC by the Dutchman responsible for Amsterdam and Jakarta and is criss-crossed by canals and tramlines. A lovely way to see the city is the Volvo Time Travel Tour, run from the Novotel, where you can drive or be driven in old Volvo cars, with guided commentary. Car buffs will also enjoy the Volvo Museum and the Volvo Experience Centre, where you can tour the factory and test new vehicles.

Even better, there is a ferry trip into the archipelago. We reached the Styrsö Pensionat hotel - open year round, with 13 double rooms and dining for up to 80 - in about 25 minutes and enjoyed crayfish and beer while admiring the view of the other islands and the sea. The cool, clean water around Gothenburg means the local seafood - fresh oysters, mussels, lobsters, crayfish, prawns and crabs in abundance - grows more slowly and develops a fuller flavour. Its delights can be sampled at Sjömagasinet, one of the best fish restaurants in the city, with a beautiful harbour location. On a seafood safari, you can see your dinner caught fresh, and cook and eat it on an island. There is certainly no shortage of culinary delights in Gothenburg, which has 6 Michelin-star restaurants. One of the best is Koka, where we ate a delicious multi-course meal, together with carefully selected wines. Or more casually, one can enjoy Gothenburg’s food and café culture with a Food Walking Tour, which includes a visit to Restaurant Gabriel in the fish hall, owned and run by a world champion in oyster opening.

As well as good food, Gothenburg provides the range of cultural and entertainment attractions you would expect in a major city. To provide delegates and their partners with free access to these, including travel on public transport, City Cards can be tailor-made to a group’s requirements. Additionally, most museums and attractions can be used for events. The Convention Bureau can also dress up the city for a conference, with signs, banners, flags or a welcome reception with the mayor.

In the surrounding area, it is possible to hold events in venues such as coastal island fortresses and manor houses, or to make excursions, to see, for example, Bronze Age rock carvings. The convention bureau is currently developing pre- and post-meeting tour packages to take in the coastal and inland sights.

The Swedish Exhibition and Conference Centre is now a giant venue for meetings, congresses, shows and trade fairs. And the city and its surroundings are green twice over, combining natural beauty with a serious commitment to eco-friendly living and working. So, when you first mention Gothenburg to others, they may hardly have heard of it. But, once you have been yourself and told them about its facilities, its natural beauty and its ecological credentials, they may turn green - with envy.

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