by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
We bent low as we boarded the Bombardier DHC – 8 – 400 direct flight from Dublin to Luxembourg. It was a 1 – 2 configuration with little overhead luggage space, its compact size reflecting in our minds the tininess of its country of origin. Luxembourg is only 82km wide and 57km long. It would fit snugly into any of the world’s sprawling mega-cities with lots of room to spare. But for a destination to be engaging, size is immaterial and when you visit Luxembourg it catches you unawares, its pleasures and treasures all the more delightful because they’re so unexpected.
We visited Luxembourg on the invitation of Patrick Hoffnung and Antje Voss of Luxembourg Congrès, operators of the majestic European Convention Center Luxembourg (ECCL) and our 24h immersion there turned any preconceptions on their head. For Europeans of my vintage, Luxembourg is the tiny country that managed to win the Eurovision song contest way more times than it seemed to deserve – its 5 wins place it 3rd in the overall rankings after Sweden and Ireland. It’s also the quintessential “European” country as a founding country of the European Union and the host for many of its institutional seats. A landlocked country, bordering Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg combines Gallic style and Germanic structure and has no fewer than 3 official languages, German, French and Luxembourgish.
UNESCO Heritage Site
The city is built around deep ravines and high cliffs and this topography alone makes for some stunning urban vistas with church steeples and castle turrets extending high above the mid autumn variegated foliage of the dense plantation in the valleys. Narrow cobbled laneways take you up and down the steep inclines leading unexpectedly to broad urban piazzas with handsome, spotlessly clean period buildings and no graffiti – a scourge in other EU cities – in sight. The Old City of Luxembourg is actually a UNESCO world heritage site and is cared for by the 100,000 inhabitants who live there with meticulous attention to detail and – obviously – immense dedication and pride. @Supergreybeard, who has a fetish for order and cleanliness (that’s hard to believe, I know) declared it to be the cleanest city he has ever seen.
Highly Efficient, Low in Cost
While retail globalisation has certainly come to Luxembourg with C&A, Zara, Massimo Dutti and H&M in evidence, there are still no large shopping malls in the city centre although a large department store, built to a design by Sir Norman Foster, will open in 2017. The majority of the shops are small, specialist family owned stores. They exude pride of ownership and bring you face to face with the personality of the city. Contrary to perception and assumption, prices around Luxembourg are not at all excessive (despite average salaries here topping the EU rankings). The government of Luxembourg has kept its hands off gasoline, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol while public transport is both high in efficiencies and low in cost.
Big on Conferences and Meetings
As the seat of many European institutions, Luxembourg is used to hosting meetings and conferences and, in fact, has created a kind of conference village in the modern Kirchberg region of the city. Located a short bus ride from the Old Town on one side and the airport on the other, Kirchberg hosts the secretariat of the European Parliament and employs over 4000 people in a beautifully planned campus where iconic contemporary buildings stand in dramatic contrast to elegant old edifices of the Old Town. @Supergreybeard and I were taken around the European Convention Center Luxembourg (ECCL) by Patrick and Antje of Luxembourg Congrès and discovered a magnificently designed conference venue surrounded by a full supporting infrastructure of 4 and 5 star hotels, more than a dozen restaurants and the cultural treasures of Park Dräi Eechelen that include the Ming Pei designed Museum of Modern Art.
The ECCL is currently hosting conferences, meetings and events associated with Luxembourg’s presidency of the European Union (which concludes in Dec 2015) and, in general, is closed for 3 months each year for EU related activity. Outside of these times, however, it offers a compelling solution for corporate and association conferences for up to 800 attendees, the capacity of its main auditorium. Larger events can also be accommodated by using the ECCL, the interconnected Hemicycle (700 seater auditorium) and the adjacent Philharmonic Hall (1200 seater auditorium). Few European cities or, indeed, cities anywhere in the world, can offer such facilities a mere 7km from an international airport and a 2km stroll from a UNESCO Heritage town. The total cost of operating a conference in Luxembourg is significantly lower than other European capitals as the reality of a “conference resort” means that everything is on-campus, within walking distance, greatly reducing transportation costs.
Get there soon
With its population of barely half a million and a footprint smaller than many global cities Luxembourg is indeed a tiny country. However, it punches way above its weight across any and all criteria for destination selection as used by association or corporate buyers. So what’s the catch? There is none. Other than, perhaps, its weak image as a MICE destination. Having tipped our toes into the benefits and delights of this hidden gem our advice is be the early adopter. Get there soon before the word gets out that Luxembourg is indeed a force to be reckoned with for truly unique and memorable MICE events.
Pádraic Gilligan (@padraicino) and Patrick Delaney (@supergreybeard) are Managing Partners at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy advising destinations, hotels and venues on marketing, strategy and training for MICE.