What do you picture when you think of London? If you’re not from there, probably the London Eye or the Houses of Parliament. What about Paris? Doubtless, it would be the Eiffel Tower.
But how about Madrid? Now that one’s a little trickier.
The Spanish capital’s lack of an iconic symbol in comparison with its European rivals – even Barcelona has Gaudi’s extraordinary architecture – is something of a bugbear for Alessandro Sansa, director of the Madrid Convention Bureau (MCB). When you are trying to persuade organisations across the globe to choose your city for their meeting, it helps to have a landmark recognised the world over as being unmistakably Madrid.
But what the city does have, Sansa says, is a unique spirit and atmosphere that makes it ideal for holding events. “You have the Spanish way of life and the energy of the people, the tapas and nightlife. It’s a good place to mix business and pleasure,” he says. “It also has a welcoming and open-minded feel. A century ago it had less than one million people – now it has six million [in the Greater Madrid area] and has welcomed people from all over Spain.
“It’s hard to find someone here with grandparents from Madrid. And if you’re in a city where you or your parents have been welcomed, then you are going to be welcoming yourself.”
And what the city also offers, according to Sansa, is value for money. “That is what we’re trying to sell, especially now, when expense management is a key issue,” he says. “At the top end, you can generally get two nights in a luxury hotel for the price you would pay for one night in London or Paris.”
He also points to the city’s warm climate, and its air and transport links. More than 170 destinations worldwide are served direct from Madrid Barajas airport, which is itself well placed – it takes about 15 minutes to get into the city centre using the well-developed metro system, which costs €2 (US$2.75). In addition, the high-speed AVE rail system, which operates from the centrally located Atocha station, offers fast, punctual connections to other Spanish cities.
For Juan Carlos Beneyto Benavides, head of the MCB’s corporate and incentives department, being situated in the heart of Spain is a big advantage. “We are strategically located in the centre of the country, so if you want to [build another city into your itinerary], it’s convenient. We do not have the sea, but in two hours and 35 minutes, you can reach Barcelona.” And when the AVE system is extended to Valencia at the end of the year, you will be able to reach the coastal city in one hour 45 minutes.
MCB acts as an umbrella organisation for its almost 200 members, which include all of the four- and five-star hotels in the city, as well as destination management companies and conference organisers. “We mainly work with our members because, to become one, you have to meet certain requirements,” Beneyto Benavides says. “Being part of the MCB is like a quality standard.”
Event organisers have about 60,000 hotel beds in the city centre to choose from, and three conference centres. A fourth, the International Centre of Congresses and Conventions, is to be one of Europe’s largest when finished. Its first phase of development is complete, Sansa reports, but construction has stopped for now as a result of the financial crisis. He is hopeful that it will be finished by 2014 to 2015.
When the work is done, there is much to attract culture fans, Sansa says. “We have the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums all next to each other, and if you are in a conference until 5.30pm you can get into the Prado for free at 6pm.” The three institutions are referred to as the Golden Triangle of art, with the Prado focusing on classical works, the Reina Sofia looking at contemporary art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza acting as a bridge between the two.
Cesar Garcia, group coordinator, incentives, Iberoservice, which has had much experience handling Asian clients, agrees, saying: “Our guests, especially those interested in art and architecture, appreciate the convenience of being able to walk from one attraction to another, all within one very historical area.”
There are more than 90 museums in the city centre, more than 5,000 restaurants, and 27 golf courses not far from the city, while within an hour’s drive are six Unesco World Heritage sites, such as the medieval city of Toledo.
While bullfights continue to figure on group itineraries – no matter where the participants are from – catching a football match, especially starring the renowned Real Madrid is a hot ticket for avid Asian fans. Michael Dressler, deputy director of the Madrid office of Cititravel DMC, reveals that there is a lot to do in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium (Real’s base) even if no match is being held. He cites dining in any of the four restaurants on the site offering superb views of the stadium; touring the facility that includes visiting the trophy collection, the changing rooms, press conference room and shop; holding cocktails in the VIP area; and penalty shooting on the pitch among others.
Those who visit Madrid just to view the club in action, he warns, should note that matches are usually held between Saturday afternoon and Monday evening, with the exact timing and day published only five days before. “This means that groups will have to stay from at least Friday evening or Saturday morning till Tuesday morning, not to miss out on a game,” Dressler said.
Indeed, there is not a dull moment in Spain’s capital. Sansa sums it up: “It’s a great city, it’s fun, and it makes business a pleasure. Add in the good hotel rates, infrastructure and the fast link from the airport and Madrid is the perfect place to hold your conference.”
With additional reporting by Margie T Logarta
Spain’s national carrier, Iberia Airlines (www.iberia.com), operates regular flights between its homeport of Madrid and many major Asian cities, including Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo as well as five Indian cities. In addition, Korean Air flies to Madrid from Seoul-Incheon airport, Thai Airways from Bangkok, Air China from Beijing, Qatar Airways from Doha and Emirates from Dubai.
Madrid is on a high central plain, and experiences sharp differences between summer and winter temperatures. Daytime in the summer months is baking hot (up to 40?C) and it can be very dry, although the nights are still bearable. Winter temperatures can drop as low as 9?C during the day and below zero at night, so heating is a necessity in your hotel room.
Spanish is the mother tongue, but English is fairly widely spoken within areas related to international business and tourism, and you should be able to get around without. Try though to learn a few Spanish words such as “Gracias” (thank you) or “Adios” (goodbye), people will be delighted with your efforts.
Visa-free entry for up to 90 days is permitted for all citizens of the EU, the US and Canada, as well as citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. However, for citizens of China, Thailand and India, among other nationalities, a visa is required, so a trip to the nearest Spanish consulate or embassy is in order. For more details please visit http://spain.visahq.com
0900 Departure from the hotel by private motor coach with English-speaking guide for the medieval city of Toledo and the former royal residence of El Escorial.
1000 Arrival in Toledo and tour of various attractions including the 13th-century Cathedral Primade of Spain, the ancient Jewish Synagogue and the church of Santo Tomé housing the El Greco´s peerless masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.
1300 Lunch at Venta de Aires restaurant.
1415 Depart for El Escorial
1545 Arrive at El Escorial and visit of the granite complex built by King Philip II and consisting of a monastery, palace, royal pantheon and library.
1715 Depart for Madrid
1815 Arrive in Madrid
1940 Transfer by private motor coach to the 300-year-old Botin of Cuchilleros restaurant for dinner. Specialties of the house include Avila suckling pig and roasted Aranda lamb joint among others.
2200 Return to hotel on foot
0930 Depart for guided tour of the Santiago Bernabeu Football Stadium, owned by the popular Real Madrid football club.
1000 The stadium tour offers groups access to areas usually frequented by the players such as the tunnel to the locker rooms, the bench, the playing field and even the royal box. They will also visit Real’s Best Trophies in History Exhibition, a testimony to the club dazzling career. (Real Madrid reserves the right to cancel visits to the stadium in exceptional circumstances or modify them according to FIFA and UEFA rules.)
1245 Lunch at the art noveau El Espejo restaurant
1430 Return to hotel
Afternoon at leisure
2015 Transfer by private motor coach to Corral de la Moreria restaurant for dinner, including flamenco show
2330 Return to hotel
Morning at leisure until lunchtime
1400 Depart by private motor coach for lunch at Los Galayos restaurant, located in the Plaza Mayor. This is famous with Madrilenos for suckling pig and suckling lamb and a variety of delicious home-made desserts
1530 Depart for the bullring
1700 Witness Spain’s most iconic spectator sport
1900 Return to hotel
2010 Walk to the Café de Oriente, a 19th century café housed in a former convent. A favourite meeting place of artists, writers and the city’s culturati
2230 Return to hotel
1200 Transfer to Madrid Barajas Airport by private motor coach and depart Madrid for home
Casino de Madrid
Not a gambling den but one of the city’s most prestigious private clubs. Just off Puerto del Sol, Casino de Madrid has been here since 1910 and has a range of ornate spaces for hire. They include Salon Real, which holds 300 theatre-style under its frescoed ceiling, the classically inspired Salon Alcala, with space for 230 for drinks, and a 400-capacity outdoor terrace.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Further down Calle de Alcala in a beautiful 1920s building, this private cultural centre stages a range of artistic activities. It has several spaces that can be used for events, many of which boast original period details. The largest venue, Salon de Baile, has a wonderful cupola ceiling and holds 1,200 for cocktails. The rooftop terrace offers great views and can take 250 people for dinner.
Galeria de Cristal
Located in the Palace of Communications, formerly the Post Office HQ and now the seat of Madrid City Council, the Galeria de Cristal is a soaring glass-ceilinged space that can be used for everything from musical performances to gala dinners. The L-shaped area can hold 1,800 people for cocktails or 1,000 banquet-style.
Forming one corner of the Golden Triangle, this art museum offers a chronological walk-through of all the major artistic movements from the 13th century to the present. Events and private tours can be arranged when it is closed to the public (every evening and all day Monday), while the 187-seat auditorium and gleaming white upper balcony can also be used during the day. Dinners for 300 delegates or drinks for 800 can be held in the central hall.
Mercado de San Miguel
Housed in a beautiful circa-1916 iron structure in the historic centre, this food market attracts 75,000 visitors each week. Reopened following a restoration in 2009, it buzzes with locals and tourists, especially in the evenings, when grabbing a seat to tuck into your gourmet goodies can be a challenge. Happily, part of the market can be hired for private events, holding 120 people for cocktails. Tapas tours and fashion shows are also possible. Open 10am-10pm (until 2am Thurs-Sat).
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
The home of Real Madrid football team boasts that it can host groups of two to 80,000 people, with more than 20 meeting rooms, but it’s on the pitch that things get really exciting. In June and July, it can be hired for dinners or corporate matches – referees are supplied and you can use the changing rooms, scoreboards, lighting and loudspeaker system – while penalty shoot-outs can be arranged year-round. Tours are also available.
Traditional tapas tours – taste local specialities in the city’s historic centre
Photo safaris – hit the metro system in teams to find Madrid monuments
Flamenco lessons – learn to dance Spanish style
Historical re-enactments – step back in time as actors bring the old streets to life
Unesco visits – see one of the six World Heritage sites within an hour of the city: Avila, Aranjuez, Toledo, Segovia, Alcala de Henares and El Escorial
Hotel Silken Puerta America
Each floor of this inventive 315-room, five-star property has been designed by a different architect, from Jean Nouvel to Norman Foster, with themes ranging from dreamlike to futuristic. Five ground-floor meeting rooms hold 210 people each and can be combined – there is an outdoor terrace too – while on the fifth level are 11 smaller spaces. Open since 2005, it’s ideally located between the centre and the Madrid Barajas Airport.
Avenida de America;
tel +34 917 445 400
Husa Paseo del Arte
Well placed for Atocha station, this four-star hotel has been open since 2006. The 260 rooms are modern and there is a meeting room on the ground floor that holds 130 people theatre-style. Next to it, the light-filled restaurant seats 120 diners. The gym on the top level was set to become a meeting venue at the beginning of this year.
123 Atocha; tel +34 912 984 800
Radisson Blu Madrid Prado
Open since 2009, the Radisson Blu has 54 rooms and is housed in an attractive neoclassical building off Paseo del Prado. Guestrooms are stylish, with huge pictures of Madrid’s skyline acting as a backdrop. A 43sqm meeting room divides into three and holds 48 delegates theatre-style. When combined with the adjoining bar, it can host 120 for cocktails. Meanwhile, informal events for 25 can be held in the Cask Whisky Bar.
52 Calle Moratin; tel +34 915 242 626
A short walk from Puerto de Sol, the central point of Madrid (and Spain itself), this hip five-star property has been open since 2004. It’s a member of Design Hotels, and pieces from the owner’s collection of ancient and Egyptian art are on display. The 101 rooms are plush with rich fabrics. Five basement meeting rooms can be connected to hold 150 theatre-style, while the rooftop terrace holds about 150.
34 Carrera de San Jeronimo;
tel +34 917 877 770
Ayre Gran Hotel Colon
Open since 1966 but recently renovated, this 361-room, four-star hotel comprises two buildings linked by a 1,200sqm garden, which can be used for gatherings. There are 22 meeting rooms holding up to 250 people, and many feature stained-glass windows by Manuel Ortega. It’s in the Estrella district, east of Retiro Park.
1 Calle del Pez Volador;
tel +34 914 009 900
Mirasierra Suites Hotel
The official bolthole for the Real Madrid team, the five-star Mirasierra opened seven years ago. There are 182 spacious suites and 14 function rooms holding up to 800 theatre-style. The leisure club is superb, with a huge gym and indoor and outdoor pools – the pool terrace can be used for gala dinners. Bear in mind, though, that it’s a good 25-minute drive north of the centre in traffic.
43 Calle Alfredo Marquerie;
tel +34 917 277 900
Mercure Madrid Santo Domingo
Two hotels became one entity in January when the Best Western on Plaza de Santo Domingo merged with the new-build Mercure property next door. The 80-room Mercure opened in June and features some spectacular rooms with everything from aquatic to nature themes. The 120-room Best Western is more traditional. There are 16 meeting rooms in total, holding up to 300 people, and an unusual option for events is the underground car park, decorated with murals.
1 Calle de San Bernardo;
tel +34 915 479 800
AC Carlton Hotel
Close to the Reina Sofia gallery, the four-star Carlton was refurbished at the beginning of last year after becoming an AC Hotels property. Its 122 rooms are modern and its three meeting spaces have a maximum capacity of 100 people.
26 Paseo de las Delicias;
tel +34 915 397 100
MADRID CONVENTION BUREAU
tel: +34 917 585 528
Spanish Tourist Office (ASIA)
tel: +65 737 3008