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Rome: La Nuvola Convention Centre increases city’s appeal

The creation of La Nuvola Convention Centre, aka The Cloud, has lifted Rome’s appeal as a business travel destination. Fiona Keating reports.

Despite its much-criticised spiralling costs, Rome’s latest and largest centre may still prove lucrative, and it’s estimated that within five years the centre could generate between €300 and €400 million annually.

Rome is currently languishing at 20th place as a meetings venue in the International Congress & Convention Association’s (ICCA) list of the most popular cities for meetings. In 2017, the Italian city held 96 meetings – a wide margin behind European competitors such as Barcelona, which hosted 195 meetings.

The futuristic building of La Nuvola should help to shore up Rome’s offering. It has capacity for up to 8,000 delegates and extends over a total area of ​​around 55,000 sqm as well as having a 1,900sqm auditorium.

The building, whose construction took eight years to complete at a cost of €239 million, is not without controversy. Massimiliano Fukas, the architect of centre which comprises 20,000 tons of steel and 58,000 sqm of glass, said it took “far too long” to build.

La Nuvola has attracted international attention and secured major bookings, fending off Glasgow and Barcelona to host the International Lawyers Congress in 2018 with 6,000 participants. In 2022, the Rome venue will host the International Congress of Surgery of the Shoulder and Elbow with 3,000 participants.

Italy’s capital city has a reputation as a leisure destination, but increasingly event organisers are viewing it as a burgeoning business and incentive venue.

Despite Milan’s position as the Mediterranean country’s commercial and financial capital, there is anecdotal evidence from organisers that holding conferences and meetings in Rome can lift delegate attendance by around 20 per cent, compared with other cities.

The art gallery at the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

The art gallery at the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

Rome is also the seat of the Italian government and also hosts the head offices of many Italian corporates, including the headquarters of three of the world’s 100 largest companies – energy giant Enel, oil and gas company Eni – as well as Telecom Italia.

The key to Rome’s continuing popularity lies in the city’s unparalleled links to culture and history, with 15 UNESCO sites. Where else can you find the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Forum – not to mention the Vatican?

The Roma and Lazio Convention Bureau was launched in July 2018 with the aim of attracting more meeting, incentive, convention and event groups as well as assisting planners in organising events. The convention has around 120 members, including six convention centres and venues, 13 professional conference organisers, destination management companies as well as 43 hotels. “We know the destination and have the experience to be a one-stop shop,” Onorio Rebecchini, Rome’s convention president said.

Accessibility is key
All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, and that’s not too much of an exaggeration. Nearly 50 million passengers travelled through the Italian capital’s airports in 2018, according to Aeroporti di Roma (AdR).

Fiumicino, also known as Leonardo da Vinci airport, clocked up 43 million passengers, an increase of 4.9 per cent compared to 2017. The airport also reported a 14.4 per cent increase in long-haul traffic. In 2018, in the category for airports with over 25 million passengers, Rome Fiumicino Airport won ACI Europe’s Best Airport Award. The airport won praise for its smart terminal re-design and focus on the development of new markets and new routes. This has contributed to strengthening the competitiveness of Rome as a tourist destination.

Despite these accolades, Ugo de Carolis, CEO of Aeroporti di Roma admitted: “There is still a lot of work to do because an airport as big and important as Fiumicino is improved only thanks to a daily commitment.”

The increase in passenger numbers is partly due to an increase in flights from Rome Fiumicino. In June 2019, Kenya Airways plans to launch four weekly 787 direct flights to the airport from Nairobi. This summer, Fiumicino will now offer direct flights to 15 destinations on the continent, including to Algeria, Ethiopia, Cape Verde and South Africa.

Rome’s railways are being upgraded thanks to an investment of investment of €180 million by the Lazio Region. There will be five new trains on the Roma-Lido route, between Piramide and the coastal area of Ostia, ranked the “worst rail track in Italy” by Italian environmentalist association Legambiente. There will also be an express service between Civitavecchia and the capital.

Hotels with history
There is evidence that the Italian market is slowly but surely catching up with other European countries in terms of hotel chain penetration, according to Hotels & Chains in Italy 2018 – The Report by Horwath HTL, calling it “a stable and reliable industry.”

Palazzo Montemartini, built in 1881, is a new addition to the Radisson Collection. The five-star property is located close to the Diocletian Baths and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli designed by Michelangelo. The Infinity meeting room covers 162sqm of space and can accommodate meetings of up to 180 people. There are also breakout rooms and the Penthouse Suite on the fifth floor has a 120 sqm terrace. It’s a good base to see the sights and just a five-minute walk from the Roma Termini.

One of the most important hotels in Rome for the meetings industry is Hotel Parco dei Principi , a five-star propriety located in the Parioli quarter, just in front of the Villa Borghese park. Its Congress Centre has 18 meeting rooms and can accommodate around 900-people theatre style.

Compact city
Although a fairly small city, with a population of just under three million people, Rome has an ample number of venues, including the Palalottomatica, a sport and entertainment complex, as well as the theatre-style Auditorium del Massimo. There is also the Fiera Di Roma exhibition centre, as well as hotel options such as the Rome Cavalieri, part of Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria group, and a ten-minute drive from the city centre.

Chris Parnham managing director at Absolute Corporate Events, recently held an event at the Astoria Cavalieri for a leading UK management consultancy firm. “It’s beautiful hotel on one of the hills of Rome with amazing views. Around 200 delegates were there for their annual conference. Technically, it’s a big job, so we took our own crew and equipment over to ensure good level of quality and consistency.”

Destination comes first in the decision making, says Parnham. “This year Rome was chosen as a desirable destination as it is also a working city. Access around Europe is a key decision to get the right flight access as well as the range of hotels.”

Cost is always a major factor, and Rome is a pricey city, ranked by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) as the fifth most expensive major European city to stay in, with only London, Paris, Geneva and Zurich ranking higher.

“Everything that is supplied locally is also expensive, which is one of the reasons why we took our AV and our crew over in a truck because it proved more cost effective – surprisingly – than it did to hire locally,” Parnham says. “Cost is definitely a challenge, adding around 20 per cent compared with other destinations. I would put it on a par with Paris.”

View from the bureau
“As an international bureau, we see how much Rome is requested. It is by far the most requested destination in Italy. It is such a renowned place and every time I go to Rome, I discover something new. And if that happens for Italian people, just imagine how it is for foreign visitors. Rome is not just requested for big events or conventions but also for incentive trips,” says Tobia Salvadori, Convention Bureau Italia’s manager.

“For the UK market, accessibility is vital and Rome has great connections. I must say that two to three years ago, it was quite frightening to go through Rome Airport. But it is no longer like that. Now with the new terminal and reorganisation of all the luggage systems, it is really an efficient airport. There is an increase in overall professionalism. The UK market is one of the most important ones for us, and the most important sectors are financial, automotive and pharma.”

Roma, city of conferences

  • 1,014 hotels
  • 49,984 rooms
  • 102,417 beds
  • 170 hotels with conference facilities
  • 147 four-star hotels

(SOURCE: 2019 Roma & Lazio Convention Bureau)