Editor’s note: This story is part of our InterConEuro2014 series, highlighting InterContinental Hotels meeting and incentive programs in Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Davos.
During a one-on-one conversation at InterContinental Budapest with Alice Sipos, senior project manager for the Hungarian Convention Bureau, she said that Budapest is gaining exposure in the American market.
“We have noticed big interest coming from American planners for Budapest meetings,” Sipos told us. “For example, at EIBTM, two years ago, not a lot of association representatives came to visit us. But then at PCMA in Chicago last year, and IBTM America and IMEX America, more and more congress organizers were scheduling appointments. Which means that North American planners are noticing us, so we’re trying to work harder and harder on the U.S. market.”
As one of the three Imperial Cities during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with Vienna and Prague, the Hungarian capital is mesmerizing in terms of its architecture bordering both sides of the Danube River. Budapest was known as the “Paris of East” at the beginning of the 20th century, and then it became well known for its many Art Nouveau and Bauhaus buildings.
We visited in November as part of a U.S. planner fam trip, and we were blown away by the city’s drama, which we hadn’t entirely expected. Sipos says that is a common sentiment from first-time visitors, and the DMO is going to be increasing the number of meeting-themed fam trips because of that.
“We are planning to invite more and more congress organizers to show them Budapest,” she explains. “This is really important because just showing pictures is not enough, so knowing this market, the convention bureau is trying to bring more organizers to create Budapest meetings. But the first goal is getting the appropriate people to accept. Showing them our city is actually the easy part.”
Unlike Vienna and Prague, which are major European tourism centers, Budapest can be explored very much like a local without the constant crowds. Naturally, the DMO wants to change that to a degree and boost arrivals, but it’s a pleasure to be able to walk in the center of a European capital today and really experience the essence of the city.
There’s a surprising amount of cultural performances during every week of the year in Budapest, and we were impressed with the welcoming spirit throughout the city. Everyone spoke English wherever we traveled, including the hotel staff, and this is very much a youthful city with so many young locals walking along the Danube at sunset.
“Hungarians have a great sense of humor and we work very hard to impress foreign visitors, and of course, we have really good restaurants, typical Hungarian or fine dining, operas, theaters, and other places for music,” says Sipos. “Music is very important in our lives. So we have an academy of music and palace of fine art. We have theaters for people who can’t afford to go to the opera, who can see the same performances for a much lower price. So culture and our heritage is important for us.”
Speaking of price, Sipos says that Budapest is much less expensive than the other two Imperial cities. That is also helping attract interest from U.S. planners who are returning to Europe in larger numbers in 2015, but who are also still searching for exceptional values. She adds that she’s also seeing an increase in Vienna/Budapest split programs for conventions with a pre/post travel component, as well as incentive travel programs. Modern high-speed trains make the run between the two cities in 2.5 hours.
Looking ahead, Budapest is eagerly anticipating the construction of a new convention center, tentatively scheduled to open in 2018, so presently the biggest groups tend to be mid-size associations gathering at the Budapest Congress Centre. The largest hall seats 2,000 pax.
For 2015, the Hungarian Convention Bureau is creating new U.S.-specific marketing materials and new photography. Check out the DMO’s new “Think Hungary – More Than Expected” promotional video above, which won second place for international tourism marketing at this year’s Cannes Media Awards.