Budapest: Beyond Expectations

Post authored by Ping He, CMP, Director of Global Sourcing and Partnership Development at Experient 

The Hungary Tourism Board hosted a worldwide workshop in Budapest from June 3-6 and invited 50 people from around the world to participate. I was fortunate to have been one of the two U.S. delegates chosen and was also invited to attend their advisory meeting. I have to admit, the trip exceeded my expectations in many ways and it’s easy to see why Budapest has become a major player in the global meetings industry.

Easy access

From most U.S. cities, there is no nonstop flight to Budapest—you have to transfer from Germany or other neighboring countries because Hungary does not have its own air carrier. However, Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France play a major part in getting passengers in and out of Budapest and make the process simple and painless. My flight landed in Munich where I was stopped for a security check, and from there, it was only a short flight to Budapest. When I arrived, I found that going in and out of Budapest Airport couldn’t be easier. It is a very small airport and only has two terminals: one for European Union countries one for non-European Union countries. Since I had already gone through customs in Munich, I did not need to go through customs again when I arrived in Budapest, which I found to be very convenient. Travel from the airport to downtown was also relatively easy and only took about 35 minutes. On my return, I flew back via Dusseldorf and went through customs in there.

A view of the Budapest skyline at dusk. To the left is Buda Castle on the Buda side, and across the bridge on the right is Parliament on the Pest side.

A city with a magnificent view

Budapest is a city formed by the union of two ancient cities, Buda and Pest, which are divided by the river Danube. Connected by ten bridges, Buda is on the West side and Pest is to the East. The first night I was there, I was invited to have dinner in a restaurant on top of the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. (If you have watched the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the first scene in Budapest was filmed there.) The city is absolutely stunning from far above. Glancing down from the towers, you can see the flat Pest side where the House of Parliament resides, and the hilly side of Buda where the Palace of Buda Castle is located. The iconic Parliament is the second largest parliament building in the world, next to Westminster. It is made of over 40 million bricks and is enormous. The Neo-Baroque building of the Palace of Buda Castle burned out during the second World War and partially collapsed, but it was rebuilt over a period of eleven years and was completed in 1959. Overall, the city reminds me of Istanbul—sitting on two continents divided by the Bosporus—but with much more grandeur. It’s simply magnificent.

M.I.C.E. infrastructure

Budapest is a favorite cruise stop and a must-see for tourists. In the past, Budapest used to position itself as an incentive destination, and incentive groups typically went on multi-city tours that included Vienna, Budapest and Prague. However, the Hungarian Tourism Board realized that just focusing on the incentive market was not enough in today’s volatile global economy, so they launched a huge initiative to make Budapest a M.I.C.E. (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) destination like its neighboring cities of Vienna and Prague. Budapest in my opinion has so much more to offer than Prague, but the Prague CVB has done a better job promoting the city. Therefore, I feel that Budapest is still one of the best-kept secrets in the world, especially to the North America market.

Hotels

The city has many fantastic hotels. Some are purpose-built, and others are converted from historic venues.

Convention hotels

InterContinental, Le Meridian and Marriott are located very close to each other and have often been used jointly for large conventions. If you’re looking for a venue with a significant amount of space, InterContinental has the biggest ballroom in Budapest. If your attendees need easy access to travel around the city, there is a #2 train located right outside the Marriott that takes you down to the Parliament.

High-end hotels

Most of the high-end hotels are located on the Pest side by the Danube. The Four Seasons in Budapest was converted from an old palace and is magnificent. Boscolo Budapest is an Italian deluxe brand and the hotel is ultra modern, state of the art, and luxurious in an Italian way. Perhaps the most lavish hotel of its kind is the Buddha-Bar Hotel. I went there to attend the opening, and the luxury is beyond expression. Of the three top luxury hotels, Boscolo is the biggest, followed by the Four Seasons and the Buddha-Bar.

Incentive hotels

For groups that want to stay near the tourist attractions, the Hilton Budapest is the ideal location. Known for its spectacular view, it has castles that are part of the Fisherman’s Bastion and overlook the city. For high-end incentives, Boscolo, Four Seasons and Buddha-Bar are all excellent choices.

Ping He walks down the beautiful city streets to Basilica for a meeting

Citywide convention venues

Per my request, the Hungary Tourism Board arranged a special tour of the HungExpo facility for me. This trade fairground is known for hosting a variety of international tradeshows, exhibitions, private functions and events in Hungary. It features over 60,000 square meters (645,834 square feet) of covered exhibition area and has several breakout rooms. The facility is a little far away from the convention hotels, so attendees will need to be provided with shuttle service to the train station.

SYMA is a sports and events center that consists of three halls and a total of five breakout rooms. This unique venue can host a wide range of events including sports competitions, exhibitions and fairs, conferences and corporate dinners.

With both HungExpo and SYMA, Budapest can easily accommodate citywide events for groups that require a large amount of box space for general sessions, but it may require some creativity for those who need a multitude of breakout rooms.

Rates and value

Because the city is still a well-kept secret, the rates are incredibly low. For less than €250 (about $313 U.S. dollars), you can book any of the deluxe hotels. The daily delegate rate (DDR) ranges between €55 ($69 U.S.) to €70 ($88 U.S.). DDR usually includes the use of the main meeting room, two coffee breaks, a lunch and some basic audio/visual equipment.

Competition

Budapest has risen to #11 on ICCA’s 2011 Top 20 list, but it competes with the following cities:

  • Vienna – #1 on ICCA’s top 20 list
  • Prague – #15 on ICCA’s top 20 list
  • Istanbul – #9 on ICCA’s top 20 list

Ping He poses on the steps of Fisherman’s Bastion

What Budapest is known for

  • Art: Hungarians are music lovers, especially opera
  • Scenery: bridges, squares, sculptures, and well-kept streets
  • Sparkling wine: there are many wine cellars on the Buda side
  • Food: Budapest is known for goulash and goose liver, and they cook everything with lard and lots of spice, especially paprika
  • People: Hungarians are genuinely warm and friendly people and are very proud of their country and all it has to offer
  • Safety: Budapest is generally considered a safe city to visit.

Group activities in Budapest

I really enjoyed my time in Budapest, and if you are considering an international venue for your next event, I would urge you to take a look at this great city. If you’d like to learn more about this wonderful destination and what it has to offer, please contact me at 630-953-2123 or ping.he@experient-inc.com.

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