Lars Wöhler: Meetings, conferences and events in Darmstadt

According to the International Congress and Convention Associa­tion’s 2010 Statistics Report, Germany is the No. 1 conference country in Europe and is in second place behind the USA on an international scale. With 6,420 con­­­­ference and event venues, the meeting and conference market is of major signi­­ficance for the German eco­n­omy. In 2010, some 2.7 million events with an average duration of 1.6 days were held. Germany-wide, Hessen is in third place as one of Germany’s top event locations and in a comparison of Germany’s metro­­­­politan regions, the Rhine-Main region is in second place after Berlin.

Based in the Rhine-Main region and close to the scientific community, the science city of Darmstadt offers excellent conditions for a successful conference and event centre. Some 6,000 events with almost 500,000 attendees who stayed an average of 1.79 days were held at a total of 37 event venues, inclu­­d­ing seven event centres, twelve conference hotels and 18 special locations in unusual places such as castles, palaces, museums and reno­­vated factories. The venues ranged from the Orangerie in the south of Darmstadt through the Western City Bar and the central railway station towards the west of the city to the more centrally located darmstadtium; in this context the Science and Con­­fe­rence Centre makes a crucial contribution. With its avant-garde architecture, an excellent IT infrastruc­­ture and sustain­able eco-management, the darmstadtium conference building is one of the most successful in Germany. For seminars, con­­ferences, meetings, trade fairs, or discus­sions for large or small numbers of parti­­cipants, business travellers find a very wide and varied selection of con­­fe­­rence venues in Darmstadt. An equally important part element here is the already exis­ting variety of conference hotels in the city.

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Which factors characterise an ideal conference location? The selection of suitable premises depends primarily on whether the location is available on the desired dates. At the same time, the price-performance ratio, good trans­­port connections and a central contact point are the essential criteria for the organisers. The number of participants and the theme of the event should also be appropriate to the offer. And the neces­­sary equipment must be available, as must full restaurant facilities and sufficient parking spaces. The event loca­­tion should be easy to get to for visitors, including with the use of public transport, and overnight accommodation must be nearby.

Which advantages does Darmstadt have for organisers? Darmstadt is easy to get to via the Rhine-Main and Rhine-Neckar metropolitan regions. The proximity to Frankfurt Airport, fast rail connections and the direct proximity to the A5/A67/A661 motorways are also regarded as positive. The inner-city infra­­structure en­­sures that the conference venues are easy to reach via public trans­­port. Darmstadt is compact and gains points with its short dis­­tances from point to point. Restaurants, cafés and hotels play their part as a “feel-good” factor in ensuring that Darmstadt’s inner-city atmo­­sphere is pleasant and inviting. Darmstadt’s cafés and restau­­rants have a total of some 6,000 places available, of which some 3,000 are in the open air, and local hotels have over 4,200 beds. However, a study by the European Institute for the Meetings Industry (EITW) noted that the hotel situation in Darmstadt did have potential for improvement. The planned construc­­tion of a hotel, parti­cu­­­­l­­arly in the 4-star category, was regarded as significant. As a result, an increase in demand in both conference and overnight accommodation can be expected.

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Darmstadt offers com­­petitive advantages over other cities, especially due to the close link between business and science. Darmstadt lives up to its name in the conference sector. According to a survey of providers of the EITW 2010, science-related associations make up a considerable part of total demand. 39.3 per cent of the organisations hosting conferences are industry as­­sociations and societies, 11.4 per cent are universities and institutes, 29 per cent are made up by the private sector, and 20.3 per cent are from other providers. darmstadtcongress has taken on the task of continuing to reinforce Darmstadt’s posi­­tion and function as a conference and event location for busi­­ness and science. The association of com­­panies and orga­­nisations partici­­pating directly and in­­directly in organising events in Darmstadt advises orga­­nisers in matters such as accommodation, hospitality, designing a back­­ground pro­­gramme or selecting a loca­­tion for eve­­ning get-togethers. Providers of venues, hotels, restaurants/cafés, trans­­port com­­panies, the Darmstadt Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the city marketing orga­­nisation are also represented, as are event and communications agencies and the local brewery.

Besides the conference market, culture is another important pillar of the tourist and leisure market in Darmstadt. This offers tourists and conference visi­­tors a varied programme in which exhibitions at the Mathildenhöhe or in the Kunsthalle art gallery, concerts in the Centralstation, the theatre or operas in the state theatre and excursions to the World Nature Heritage site at the Messel Pit, to the Odenwald or to castles and villas in the immediate area are further highlights for Darmstadt as an event location.

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Sustainability in the event sector is a trend. The 2011 Germany Meeting & Event Barometer shows that sustainability for the conference sector is becoming an increasingly important issue. Some 85 per cent of Germany’s event planners are of the opinion that the significance of the so-called “green meetings” will remain constant or rise. When talking about sustainability, Germany is one of the world’s leading nations. More and more conference buildings are organised in a more resource and climate-friendly manner and win the “Green Globe” quality seal. The certification is highly regarded in the tourist and MICE indus­­try (Meeting, Incentive, Congress, Event) and is supported among other things by the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC). Besides energy efficiency, condi­­tions imposed by “Green Globe” include the purchase of regionally produced products and services and training employees in ecological, economic and social issues. Darmstadt’s darmstadtium fulfils these conditions and is thus one of the top 25 German conference providers that are permitted to use this quality seal. Through the comprehensive use of geothermal heat, biomass and solar energy, the science and conference centre supplies the building with an almost complete supply of renewable energy. However, the darmstadtium is not only considered to be a flag­­ship of this conference and event loca­­tion in terms of sustain­­ability. As part of the campus of the Darmstadt Uni­­versity of Technology, the centre is closely linked with the University and thus has a clear selling point compared with other conference centres. The darmstadtium thus functions as a crucial platform for the increasingly important practice of the transfer of knowledge.

The conference and events sector both in Darmstadt and in Germany is confident about the future. According to the meeting and event barometer, all types of events are on the increase. Along with seminars and conferences (64 per cent), the number of exhibitions and presentations is also growing and makes up ten per cent of the total for Germany. This is reflected not least in the increase in the available budgets of over 60 per cent of organisers. The Rhine-Main region is considered to be Germany’s most attractive location after Berlin. This fact also lends the conference market in the science city of Darmstadt many advantages. The availability of function venues is clearly competitive compared to other cities. The enormous potential has already been recognised and must now be continuously expanded in future.

 

woehler_MG_8837_01c_XThe author was born in 1973. He studied economic geography at the universities of Marburg, Bayreuth and Birmingham. He was general manager of the congress and tourism departments and the city marketing promotion association of the city of Aschaffenburg from 2006 to 2010. He has been managing director of Wissen­­schafts- und Kongresszentrum Darmstadt Verwaltungs-GmbH darmstadtium since December 2010.