Sydney Paulden was entranced on a visit to Unexpected LuxembourgLuxembourg decided it was time to make itself better known to the MICE markets and I was one of the lucky people invited to a show-round of some of the country’s facilities and attractions. I was surprised at how small the country really is but also by the many benefits it has to offer to event organisers. It measures 82km by 57km (51 miles by 35) and so, within minutes, a group can enjoy excursions taking in river locations, vineyards, medieval chateaux, city centre convention centres, a variety of hotels, rail journeys through mine workings and walking tours through ancient rock tunnels.
It was also very apparent that groups will be made very welcome there and that every visitor would return home with a feeling that they had been privileged to take part in a romantic fantasy.
Soon after arrival, we guests were offered aperitifs in a beautiful courtyard in front of the Grand Ducal Palace. It was a Hollywood setting.
Luxembourg is the world’s only Grand Duchy and it is headed by Grand Duke Henri. His Royal Highness, accompanied by the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, strolled out of the palace to join us, very informal, very friendly.
- Clervaux Castle Museum Clervaux Castle Museum
- Francine Closener Francine Closener
- Urspelt Castle Urspelt Castle
Flying from London
Getting to Luxembourg from London was very simple. The flight on a Luxair Bombardier Q400 aircraft took just one hour from London City Airport.
Luxembourg is the name of the country and, of course, its capital city. The country’s total population is around 580,000 and less than half are native-born Luxembourgers. There is no doubt that groups from any part of the world will feel at home. The locals are multi-lingual, speaking French, German and English, whilst their own tongue is Luxemburgish, or ‘Letzeburgesch’. They refer to their country in their own language as ‘Lëtzebuerg’
I think back to Luxembourg now as the country of castles. At first we all hurried to take pictures of the castles we saw, but eventually they became too numerous. There seems to be one perched on the crest of every peak in an extensively hilly landscape. The capital city itself is built on several levels. The palace is on an elevated plateau, but there is an extensive area known as the Grund, which is lower down in a valley. The result is that there are remarkable vistas wherever you look – up or down.
Dating back to the era when it was essential to make the most of natural places of safety, the hillsides are a warren of caves and tunnels that can feature very effectively in any incentive or leisure programme. During a walking tour of the town, we were surprised in one of the darkest stretches of one of these caverns by a re-incarnation of an early knight in colourful costume who gave us an insight into the early history.
A problem for incentive organisers in Luxembourg is not what to put into a programme but what to leave out.
For example, one of our excursions was to the Moselle (or Mosel) River, to walk round the small town of Schengen where the famous treaty was signed that abolished frontiers between the European states that are now known as the Schengen Area. There we were served lunch in one of the vineyards that have helped to make Mosel wine a world-renowned label.
Luxembourg has two major conference and exhibition centres. LuxExpo is the largest and can seat up to 4,000 delegates.
Luxembourg Congres is an ultra-modern facility that can accommodate any kind of event for up to 800 theatre-style.
There is a choice of scores of hotels to suit all budgets, representing the best-known international brands and also private properties. It also boasts a number of hotels in picturesque castles. I visited the 18thC family-owned and run Urspelt Castle close to Clervaux. It is a National Monument but with 56 uniquely individual guestrooms and unusual indoor and outdoor meetings spaces. Its grand hall can seat 500.
The main street, a narrow thoroughfare on a hillside, was marked out by a welcoming red carpet. On either side were all kinds of sideshows and food stalls. This really was a Street Party. There were seafood barbecues, strolling jazz bands, a working shire horse, freely flowing wine and children whizzing around on segways. A variety of hotels bordered the scene, but the focal point was the 12thC castle (of course) at the top of the hill. An impressive visitor attraction in itself, the castle actually held two fascinating exhibitions. One was called ‘The Family of Man’, comprising 500 images from 300 photographers of about 70 different nationalities. The emotive photographs illustrate themes such as Birth, Work, Family, Children, War and Peace.
The other exhibition consists of detailed models of 20 fortified castles from different parts of Luxembourg.
‘It is true’, explained Francine, ‘that the city of Luxembourg is one of the EU’s capitals and has for a long time specialised in finance, but we see this Meet Luxembourg initiative as the first in a series of events that will show the world how much more we have to offer as a city and as a country. We will also use workshops and study trips.’
The Minister said that the MICE sector is one key area in which the country could diversify effectively. ‘We host many financial conventions’, she told me, ‘but we are also aiming to increase the events in sectors such as IT, Automotive and Logistics. In 2014 we set up what we call the MICE Cluster. It is headed by Olivier Barbieux and has over 25 member organisations, all of which gain to benefit from the promotion of Luxembourg as a MICE destination. Together they can work to a common national strategy’.
The Minister said that 16% of visitors arrive for MICE events and that the intention is to see that figure increasing to 20% and possibly 25% in the near future.
‘We are a comparatively low cost destination, seeing that we are a European capital city’, she said, adding that transport is not a big item in an organiser’s budget because of the short distances from one location to another, that Wi-Fi is generally free of charge and translation booths are, of course, absolutely no problem.
It was very obvious from the way we were received and hosted, that event organisers can be sure of co-operation at the highest level.
The CML – Cluster Mice Luxembourg
Founded in 2014, its 26 public and private members include LuxAir airline, the University, the main hotels, the country’s two sizeable conference centres (Luxembourg Congres and LuxExpo), Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology and the Museum of Modern Art.
CML is part of the National Tourist Board and has formed six technical committees concentrating on separate themes.