A city to meet in
In recent years, Gothenburg has taken up the battle with Europe’s capitals for the title of most attractive conference city. The offering is based on an innovative business community, knowledge-intensive academia, a focus on sustainability, and above all, proximity to entertainment and nature.
IT IS A WET AND COLD November morning. As far as weather goes, Gothenburg isn’t showing its best side. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the around 30 international delegates who have taken over the Horizon conference room at the top of Gothia Towers’ third tower. Quite the opposite: “As a congress organizer I prefer when the destinations proposed don´t offer sunshine and warmth. That means that the delegates rather stay within the conference than going outside,” says Inge Hanser, CEO of the conference management organisation Hanser Service and chair of INCON.
INCON is a global network for some of the world’s biggest conference organisers and association management companies and the delegates are in Gothenburg specifically to discuss global meeting structures and conditions. Given that conference organisation is her livelihood, Inge Hanser clearly has an eye for what it takes to hold a successful meeting. And Gothenburg has proven to meet most expectations.
“The Swedish Exhibition & Congress Center and Gothia Towers is city-centered and it is a multi-functional place with an excellent combination of convention centre, hotel, exhibition area, restaurants and leisure areas under one roof. This is really outstanding, compared with other big conference cities in Europe,” she says, and continues, “what is also very special is the hospitality. The people are very helpful, open-minded and friendly in Gothenburg. It´s not a hectic atmosphere. I don´t know if it is because it´s a smaller city, but it makes you feel very safe and well catered for.”
Security in particular has become an increasingly important component for future meeting cities in a time when the surrounding world appears to be more and more threatening. Gothenburg is also considered affordable compared to the Scandinavian capital cities.
As a visitor in Gothenburg, both the archipelago and downtown are within reach, with an expansive offering of recreation and entertainment. Getting to and around the city is also easy, with its location in the heart of Scandinavia – right between the three capitals of Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Carin Kindbom, President and CEO of the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre Group, is thrilled by the praise from the conference organisers. “Receiving high marks from a major player like INCON is incredibly important and encouraging for us. The fact that they’re holding their conference here is a fantastic opportunity and serves as international validation for both the meeting place and for Gothenburg,” she says.
Today’s meetings are specifically about trends in the organisation of medical conferences. Martin Jensen, co-president of an international advisory body in the field (IPCAA), lectures on the collaboration between industry and academia. “From a medical society perspective it´s important with a strong local presence within your research area. This will enable the congress to leave a legacy, that will benefit the local community.”
With Gothenburg’s higher education institutions, such as Chalmers, Sahlgrenska Academy and the University of Gothenburg, together with researchdriven companies like Volvo and AstraZeneca, there is a broad foundation for meetings of the research and business communities.
“A good partnership with the city’s local ambassadors is absolutely essential for our operation. We work with numerous players in the business community, academia and society and we’re always open to new partnership opportunities,” explains Carin Kindbom.
One such local ambassador is Olle Larkö, Professor at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital. He is invited to today’s conference as a guest of honour and a judge in an internal workshop. Over the years, he has also hosted a number of research conferences. The biggest included 8,000 European dermatologists six years ago.
“Conferences are opportunities for continuing education. By attracting people here, we increase visibility for both the city and Sahlgrenska Academy, making it easier to obtain research grants and recruit new students and researchers, among other things. Thanks to such excellent help from the city through Göteborg & Co, we’ve managed to hold really great events,” he says.
For several years, Gothenburg has worked intentionally with sustainability and in 2016, it was selected as the world’s most sustainable meeting city according to the Global Destination Sustainability Index. The ranking includes not only meeting facilities and hotels, but also weighs how the city works with sustainability issues overall.
“It’s an indication that the partnership between the business community and the city is really working. Almost all of our hotels are environmentally certified and all major meeting facilities have the highest environmental classification, along with the airport. As a city, Gothenburg is also incredibly advanced in terms of its environmental efforts and social and economic sustainability, which this ranking system also measures,” says Camilla Nyman, CEO of Göteborg & Co.
The meeting industry has been growing for a long time and continues to expand. The number of commercial guest nights in Gothenburg has doubled since 2000. In absolute figures, this means progressing from 2.3 million to 4.5 million in 2015. Meanwhile, competition in the industry is on the rise, and the major players are investing heavily.
“In northern Europe, we’re competing with cities like Copenhagen, Glasgow and Berlin, but we have international competitors on every continent. In order to evolve and not lose speed, we find inspiration from meeting places in Hong Kong, Singapore and various facilities in the US,” explains Carin Kindbom.
Camilla Nyman agrees that it is important for Gothenburg to continue to boost its attractiveness as a destination and she specifies a few areas with potential for improvement. “Accessibility can always be improved, especially by train and air. Another challenge is finding new meeting categories to work on and meeting ambassadors who can help us. And also making the destination better known internationally.”
CEO Inge Hanser says that Gothenburg has all the conditions to achieve even greater success: “Gothenburg is a sleeping beauty. If it gets more promotion and marketing internationally I´m sure Gothenburg will host even more meetings in the future,” she says.
GOTHENBURG’S MEETING INDUSTRY EXPANDS
The meeting industry has been growing for a long time and continues to expand. The
number of guest nights in Gothenburg has doubled since the year 2000. In absolute figures, this means an increase from 2.3 million to 4.5 million in 2015 – which means that as a destination, Gothenburg has turnover of about SEK 28 billion, exports SEK 11 billion and generates 17,000 jobs on a yearly basis.
THE SWEDISH EXHIBITION & CONGRESS CENTRE GROUP IN NUMBERS:
The Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre Group, of which Gothia Towers is part, is owned by a foundation with the purpose of promoting trade and industry in Sweden.
One meeting year generates in brief (2016):
- 412,592 conference person-days
- 5,906 directly exhibiting companies
- 603,146 fair and meeting visits
- 1,832,909 visits total (an increase of 3,5% compared with the previous year)
- An impact of SEK 2,720 million on the hospitality industry (an increase of 3,8% compared with the previous year)
Three thoughts on Gothenburg as a meeting city
“An ideal meeting destination should be city-centered, have good transportation systems, restaurants and leisure in close proximity. To be honest, I didn´t have very high expectations before I went to Gothenburg for the first time, but it´s a lovely meeting destination.”
Inge Hanser, Chair of INCON
“Delegates have less and less time to travel. Their preference is that it shouldn´t take more than six hours from the office to the destination. Also, having only 20 minutes from the airport to the city centre is an advantage for destinations, including Gothenburg.”
Martin Jensen, Co-President of IPCAA
“We have a strong academic and industrial foundation in Gothenburg, with brands such as Sahlgrenska, Chalmers and Volvo. That means we can offer proud traditions and plenty of research-based expertise. We also have close collaborations that facilitate fast decision-making paths.”
Olle Larkö, Professor at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital
This story is also published in our magazine Moments.