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French fancy: how millennials are making their mark on the meetings scene in Paris

Arriving in Paris by Eurostar, I am met outside the Gare du Nord by Julien Gast, founder of Retro Tour Paris, who is standing by a vintage-style motorcycle. He puts a helmet on my head, invites me to jump in his sidecar and whisks me away into the hustle and bustle of the city’s traffic. And so, within 10 minutes of arriving in the French capital, I am hurtling along the cobbled streets of Montmartre, taking in the grandeur of Sacre Coeur – and being stared at by curious tourists. It’s an exhilarating start to the trip and representative of the current Paris scene; fun, hip and full of ideas.

Corine Bernadou, of the Paris Convention Bureau, says that Paris is proving irresistible to the millennial crowd for a number of reasons.

“They need to get something different and Paris is providing that,” she says. “They are more connected, they know what they want and they need to mix fun and work – and Paris can match with these requirements.”

As if to prove her point, Bernadou takes me to see the newly-opened Beaupassage, a new foodie hotspot that brings to life the tradition of the Parisian ‘passageways’, covered or open-air galleries lined with businesses that linked districts together. We pick up some artisan macaroons from Pierre Herme’s café, which sits alongside gleaming new wine bars, food shops and creative hubs populated by the city’s bright young things.

Everywhere you look, Paris is embracing the new, but never forgetting its history. And the art nouveau Hotel Lutetia has seen more history than most since opening in 1910. Early guests included Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, who wrote part of Ulysses in the hotel, while after the Second World War it became a repatriation centre, where people flocked to be reunited with prisoners of war and concentration camp survivors.

The 184-room hotel has just undergone a £177m refurb – and unsurprisingly the place is dripping in luxury. It boasts 700 sqm of event space across six meeting rooms, including the 350-capacity Cristal Ballroom.

Just to the south of the city centre is Paris Saclay, a burgeoning business cluster and technology hub that is home to 2,500 businesses and corporation, bolstered by a recent influx of thousands of start-ups.

It’s also the location of the recently-opened Palais des Congrès Paris Saclay, which features a 593-seat auditorium, the 980 sqm exhibition space Oxygene and nine meeting rooms from 50 to 150 sqm. The project has been driven by high-tech innovation and is part of the Chateauform group, a portfolio of historic and unusual venues with an accent on the personal.

The group’s other properties in the city include the quintessentially Parisian Chateauform City George V, a chic and sophisticated 3,000 sqm space with nine meeting rooms for up to 400 people, as well as the group’s most business-style offering Le Metropolitan, a newly renovated Far East-inspired 21,000 sqm space in the 17th arrondissement.

“Undeniably impressive – and super-cool”

The combination of history and high tech is well in evidence at the newly-opened L’Atelier des Lumieres, Paris’s first digital museum of fine art. Located in a former foundry in the 11th arrondissement, the museum is operated by immersive art specialists Culturespaces, with paintings laser-projected onto 10-metre high walls to a soundtrack of classical music. It’s undeniably impressive as well as being super-cool – and available for private hire.

I stayed at the elegant and vibrant Renaissance Paris Republique, its chic urban vibe writ large across its 108 arty, modern rooms featuring local craft beer and chilli-flavoured crickets (yes, crickets) in the minibar.

Not content with having seen the city from a motorcycle sidecar, I was also whisked around the sights in a classic Citroen 2CV courtesy of 4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie. With room for three passengers, the firm’s fleet of 20 cars makes quirky, personalised transfers with the knowledgeable guides a breeze.

Katrina Rannard, event design director at BI WORLDWIDE, agrees that there is so much more to Paris than the obvious.

“Paris is not just a trip up the Eiffel Tower and an evening at the Moulin Rouge – there is so much to discover even for guests who have visited on many previous occasions,” she says. “Whether you tap into the gastronomy and romance of the city for a partnered incentive, create bespoke activities and experiences that cannot be achieved by an individual traveller, or have anything from a small meeting to a large scale conference, Paris always delivers. However, you do need a good budget to deliver a five star experience, especially in regards to accommodation commanding high rates.”

Pascal Roulland, MD of NACARA Destination Management, concurs.

“We like to be creative and put many things on the table, because the UK market knows Paris – we want to surprise the clients,” he says, pointing to the Ducasse sur Seine experience, where guests can enjoy fine dining on the river on the first 100 per cent electric cruise boat.

“We also tend to go to places that Parisians go to, so that you have an experience eating like a local. Going in places like this makes it more exclusive,” he adds.

Smyle organised the opening ceremony of this year’s Ryder Cup and took the opportunity to host some of its most valued clients on a trip to Paris to coincide with the tournament.

MD Rick Stainton says: “Le Fouquet’s is absolutely stunning, a beautiful boutique hotel with amazing cuisine and customised Ryder Cup desserts. We stayed at the Vienna House at Disneyland Paris and we were looked after brilliantly there – they couldn’t do enough for us.

“We also ate at the Shangri La, home to the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in France and a stunning hotel in itself. Atout France as a DMC were fantastic, there were lots of nice little touches all the way through.”

View from the convention bureau

Corine Bernadou, head of business development, Paris Convention Bureau (pictured)

“Paris is still very attractive for UK event designers ; as an example, we’ve just hosted 17,000 delegates from Herbalife (an EMEA event organised by the UK branch) last September, a five-day programme in Paris, including several parties and a large meeting at the AccorHotels Arena in Bercy and Premium services.

“The UK market is a priority for Paris business development strategy, a hub of EMEA decision makers. Proximity and ease of access are of course key selling points, but not the only reasons why Paris is still the number one destination. Paris offers a fantastic playground and showcase for innovative and creative international brands while maintaining its superb heritage, making for a unique customer and customised experience.”

Buyer’s eye

Katie Caldwell, events director, TTA

Paris has a key advantage as a very globally accessible European hub with a wide spectrum of hotels, restaurants and meeting venues suitable for groups. However, we have found it to be less popular with our clients as a destination for international healthcare events recently due to cost in comparison with other European cities and the availability of compliant venues.

“The good public transport system is a definite plus for groups attending congresses and conventions in the city, but long airport transfers due to heavy traffic can impact on the delegate experience for shorter programmes.”

Carol Porter, sales support manager, Ashfield Meetings & Events 

“Though its capital city status often leads to a notoriously high price tag, its accessibility, culture, great range of hotels and general lifestyle ensures Paris remains a popular choice.

“Walking is the best way to take in the culture but, as walking isn’t for everyone, boat rides along the Seine allow you to hop on and hop off at various must-see attractions.

“The Intercontinental Paris Le Grand is spectacular. If you are looking for a hotel with meeting space that has the extra ‘wow’ factor, look no further. The Opera ballroom is a listed building and would be perfect for any event. Le Meridien Etoile, which faces Paris Congress Centre is also a great choice.”

 

Case study

Atout France partnered with Eurostar to host a group of 10 senior leaders from UK agencies – including BCD M&E, BI Worldwide, Grass Roots and The fresh Group – on a fam trip to Paris during the Ryder Cup

The experience began on board official supplier of the Ryder Cup, Eurostar, taking advantage of its new exclusive experiences, available to those that book an exclusive coach. Guests took part in a quiz and wine tasting, showcasing the new Eurostar offering designed for delegates to make their journey even more memorable with entertainment while travelling across the Channel.

The guests then visited and dined at the newly re-opened and refurbished five-star Hotel Lutetia welcomed by the MD.

The following day they spent at Le Golf National in VIP corporate hospitality and saw the American and European teams practising and attended the opening ceremony.

Vanessa Renaud-Elliott, head of business tourism at Atout France, said: “We were delighted that the Ryder Cup was held in France. We are keen to be selected as a destination for international sports events. The Ryder Cup was a great opportunity to work together with Eurostar and host 10 VIP guests from top agencies.

“Through the involvement of the DMC Lafayette Travel, this trip ran very smoothly. The experience was the opportunity to increase awareness of Atout France, to showcase France’s expertise in hosting international events and also to welcome special guests in an unforgettable environment.

“And were lucky to meet and greet the European team on their way back.“

Updates

  • Five star Hôtel du Collectionneur has reopened its restaurant, Le Collectionneur, after a year and a half of renovations, spanning across three terraces, a bar area and three private dining spaces.
  • The 131-room Maison Astor Paris has joined Hilton’s exclusive Curio Collection portfolio.
  • The 54-room boutique Fauchon L’Hotel is a first foray into hospitality for the high-end food emporium Fauchon, featuring contemporary design and personalised ‘gourmet bars’ in place of minibars.