For almost 600 years until the early 20th century, the Habsburg dynasty was the wealthiest ruling family in Europe. Their official winter residence was the magnificent Hofburg Palace in central Vienna, where today the President of Austria presides. Inside one of the palace wings, Hofburg Congress Center was the setting for last year’s Austrian buyer/supplier tradeshow. It is difficult to imagine hosting a conference for 1,800 people in a more elegant, reverential setting.
“Regal” was likely invented in Vienna, which for centuries has been a primary meeting place for Europe’s elite. There is arguably nowhere with the quantity of well preserved grand palaces, museums, cafes and hotels as the Austrian capital, situated closely together in a spotless, graciously landscaped and perfectly planned urban core. Meeting here at Hofburg, for example, is a spectacle beneath towering Rococo ceilings and priceless chandeliers, with natural light streaming through windows built during the Renaissance.
These types of venues are a major factor for why Vienna has ranked #1 globally during the last eight consecutive ICCA city standings.
“Apart from the excellent infrastructure and top location in the heart of Europe, above all, our hospitality, the innovative power of our tourism companies and the special quality of our attractions add up to make Austria an ideal venue for conventions and conferences,” says Dr. Petra Stolba, CEO of the Austrian National Tourist Office. “And there have never been more opportunities for the planning of events.”
During the conference, we learned the two most popular conference/incentive destinations in Austria are Salzburg and the Tyrol region in the Austrian Alps. Everyone knows Salzburg from The Sound of Music. Kitzbühel, however, was an amazing surprise. Combine either destination with a program in Vienna to balance out the capital city’s aristocratic aplomb.
THE RITZ-CARLTON, VIENNA
If Vienna lacks anything, it’s globally-branded luxury hotels designed with this century in mind. The Ritz-Carlton, Vienna opened last fall with a very modern mojo, cool rooftop lounge and the fresh market-themed DSKRIKT restaurant. The best part was meeting Roland Hamberger, the young director of sales/marketing who showed us around.
“It’s veely, veely very nice, I just love it!” he says about his new property, like a kid with a new Piaget. “So far, people say, ‘Thank God there’s something new.’ You know, we just had George Michael here two weeks ago and he loved it. It was just fabulous, I mean veely!”
The 202-room property with 43 suites lives inside four historic grand palaces built around 1860. The Asian-inspired lobby and Mid-Century Mod furnishings in the Melounge coffee and cake room, with hues of champagne/chartreuse, feel like a tsunami of global cool just swept in from Shanghai.
The 21,000-sf Guerlain Spa is the largest in Vienna with limestone walls and lots of white orchids and candles around the beautiful 58-foot pool. Underwater, the hotel pumps in Viennese waltz music.
We’re in the dark D-Bar with tall arched windows, deep banquets and cute little cocktail seats covered in buttery burgundy leather. Holding a glass of prosecco as if he was birthfed on it, Hamberger describes the decor: “It’s very young, very fresh, very crispy, you know, it’s just…,” and then he flutters his eyes like he needs a breath because, “It’s just so veely special.” Total meeting space is 10,000 sf.
At the 459-room InterContinental Vienna, you hear Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Minor in the elevators while Vivaldi’s Four Seasons provides backdrop at the pretty Cafe Vienna in the lobby. The Vienna Convention Bureau and all of the hotels play heavily on the city’s history as the world’s wellspring of classical music.
There are two hotel entrances including one with parking for multiple buses and group registration. The combination of smooth business flow and Viennese interior decor in the public spaces and meeting rooms works well for large conference groups. As you walk into the lobby, you’re immediately impressed with the Old World charm.
“We are the most authentic Austrian hotel when it comes to corporate hotels for meetings and conferences in Vienna,” says Armand Thelen, sales manager. “You have that ‘wow’ when you walk into the lobby and see the big beautiful chandeliers, all of the dark wood and classic Viennese cafe.”
Thelen adds that the InterContinental was the first globally branded hotel to open in Vienna in the 1960s; it’s the only meeting hotel with natural light in all meeting spaces, and it’s the only group hotel with outdoor meeting space. There’s a huge skating rink next door during the winter that the hotel F&B team can cater for skating events.
The meeting ballroom on the second floor is divisible by six, with capacity for 300. All together, there are 16 event rooms including a selection of breakouts for 50 each, with a combined total capacity for 800-pax galas.
Back on the lobby level, a previous fine-dining restaurant with large windows facing the street is now exclusively a group restaurant and event space with a dedicated kitchen. Also on the ground floor, MediterraNeo is a fun fine-dining restaurant with a country-style kitchen ambience. The grilled salmon on a bed of ravioli was perfectly paired with a lively gewurztraminer, followed by a delicate strawberry and raspberry cheesecake.
In terms of location, the InterContinental is well positioned between the Hofburg and Belvedere Museum. We popped over to see Viennese painter Gustav Klimt’s two famous masterpieces, Judith and The Kiss. Don’t leave without seeing those. Also visit the Museum Quarter adjacent to the Hofburg for contemporary art and shopping.
Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom
CLASSIC MEETS MODERN
Here are a few more hotels and venues we sampled in a range of Viennese vibes from classic grand dame to sleek and chic. Making it easy to get around, the circular Ringstrasse Avenue and trolley car system rims the city center. Just past this on the banks of the Danube River, the severely modern Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom was designed by French celebrity architect Jean Nouvel, who’s designing the new Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi. Because it’s just outside the city center, this is a high-rise hotel with the best views in town. To capitalize on that, the top floor LOFT Restaurant is entirely wrapped with floor-to-ceiling windows. Definitely go here at least for lunch/dinner for 100 pax and the most contemporary shopping in the city next door.
The 184 rooms/suites are all white, ebony and glass with sharp lines and minimalist decor. Likewise the meeting space on the fourth floor inside nine rooms with capacity for 130.
During the conference, we heard mention of the 35-suite Palais Coburg as the “best” hotel in Vienna. People talk about it in hushed tones with a degree of reverence, so we stopped by for lunch on the outdoor terrace. This was, by far, the best mushroom soup with little crunchy croutons—ever. Expecting something perhaps a little pretentious, we were pleasantly surprised with the heartwarming service.
The suites run 570 sf to twice that size in four categories: Modern, Imperial, Palais and City. The last three celebrate the hotel’s heritage dating back to the Coburg dynasty who built this as their home in 1846. We love the Moderns with their slanting roofs, loft vibe and bone/plum palette.
For events the “Bastion Foyer” lobby is located atop fortress ruins from the Renaissance. The old red bricks have been left exposed and form part of the walls in both the lobby and Casemate meeting halls. Upstairs, the Johann Strauss and Marie Antoinette meeting halls are well suited for Viennese Waltz lessons and receptions with live classical music.
The 579-room Hilton Vienna is the largest hotel in the city with meeting space for 1,800 delegates. It’s centrally located on top of the train station, so you’re only 20 minutes from the airport, and all of the rooms are the exact same except for 23 suites. There are 11 breakouts with natural light, 19-foot ceilings in the grand ballroom for 400 pax (banquet) with Klimt-style artwork, and big windows overlooking Stadtpark. Overall, the ambience is fresh, bright and militantly maintained.
“There are not too many hotels with our flexibility, capacity and location,” says Ronald Diesenreiter, hotel manager. “[And]many congress planners appreciate the direct airport access.”
Located in one of the oldest parts of Vienna, the elegant Palais Ferstel is located inside the original Austro-Hungarian Stock Exchange built in 1816. It is now used for events such as galas, receptions and lectures for 400 attendees. Next door, the Café Central is a Viennese institution epitomizing cafe culture. If there’s one place you have to visit, this is it. Opened in 1876, the Belle Epoque salon was a primary muse for literary/academic titans from Freud to Trotsky. This was where we ended our time in Vienna. It was really kind of perfect, almost choreographed like the last act of a play. But then, the Viennese are rather good at this sort of thing.
THE SOUNDS & SIGHTS OF SALZBURG
If you’ve ever wanted to listen to “My Favorite Things” in 14 different languages, you can at the Salzburg Museum. Through September 15, “The Trapp Family: Reality & The Sound of Music” exhibit chronicles the history of the famous singing troupe and their role in the 1959 blockbuster filmed here. Salzburg is two hours by train from Vienna.
You can’t imagine a more picturesque town than Salzburg, with the Hohensalzburg Castle on a mountaintop directly above the walled medieval Altstadt (Old Town). Extending from the historic square next to the museum, the narrow streets are lined with innumerable shops and small cafes busy from morning to late at night.
You have the best views from across the Salzach River in the more modern part of the small city where Julie Andrews and the kids sashayed through town singing “Do Ray Mi.” Tours dedicated to the movie and Mozart, who was born here, start on this side of the river in the manicured Mirabell Park. At the opposite end of the park, the 166-room Sheraton Salzburg Hotel is connected to the 165,000-sf Salzburg Congress Center. They did a smart job with the design of the hotel, from the Mansard tin roof to the airy, comfy interior. You will especially like the Mirabell Restaurant with views of the park. There’s also 3,200 sf of dedicated meeting space.
Grand Tirolia Spa
GRAND TIROLIA KITZBÜHEL
A 75-minute train ride from Innsbruck, the alpine town of Kitzbühel is a classic European ski town with Old World Baroque architecture tucked in the Austrian Alps. On the edge of town, the 82-room Grand Tirolia Kitzbühel Golf & Ski Resort sits atop a hilly plateau looking down over the heavily forested valley. On either side, long meadows scale up the parallel mountain ridges disappearing into the clouds. The main selling point is the incredible sense of bliss inside one of the most luxurious group-friendly resorts in Tirol. For events, the Atrium Event Hall hosts 400-pax receptions.
Everything is designed with natural woods, stone and large windows framing the spectacular scenery. There are three restaurants with floor-to-ceiling views of the golf course and mountain backdrop. Try the lacquered suckling pig with caraway sauce and pommes macaire. The large rooms are another major highlight with their woodsy-luxe ambience and awesome views of the valley. And the 16,000-sf Grand Alps Spa is a destination wellness center with 11 spa cabins, myriad saunas and a year-round indoor/outdoor pool.