DENMARK: Danish short-haul solutions - Denmark has benefited from the trend away from long-haul destinations but, as Catherine Chetwynd reports, its commitment to developing facilities and incentives makes a strong case for its future

The birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, Odense, also provides opportunities for activities such as treasure hunts based on his stories, vintage car rallies and even ocean kayaking.

"Delegates are often surprised by Denmark's attractive countryside and also enjoy the Danish sense of humour,

says Hayes. DMC's Riefer concurs: "There is a good rapport between the Danish and the British, they have the same sense of humour,

she says.

Good facilities, creative and clued-up DMCs and a focused convention bureau, combined with the feel-good factor generated by a shared sense of humour, Denmark has a lot going for it - and all at a destination handily located for UK groups, just over an hour away.

Ernst & Young held a five-day international conference in Copenhagen last October. Each day started with addresses from senior staff, followed by training sessions in the afternoon. Illico Events handled the UK logistics.

Good accessibility from airports across the UK were essential, as were quality hotels, dinner venues and activities. Hilton Copenhagen Airport fitted the bill, with its large meeting room and the 15 syndicate rooms that were needed.

Says E&Y's learning and development manager Peter O'Riley: "The Hilton has fantastic, state-of the art facilities and an abundance of natural light, giving a feeling of space and comfort - essential if you are spending a week inside. And the hotel is only five minutes' walk under cover from the airport arrivals hall."

In addition to the travel, Illico Events dealt with delegate registration and organised off-site activities. The company also ran a hospitality desk to facilitate transfers, answer questions from participants and act as a liaison with the hotel.

Evening events included a three-course dinner the first night at the Nimb restaurant, near Tivoli Gardens, followed by The Soul Company playing a Blues Brothers set. The final dinner was held at Base Camp, a converted army camp that features human-size action men suspended from the ceiling.

This was a 1970s themed evening with Abba tribute band, 1970s disco music and fashions to match. Delegates departed after a final address and lunch on the Friday.

Says Peter O'Riley: "The whole week ran remarkably smoothly, helped in no small way by the involvement of IBR. In post-event evaluations, delegates highlighted the friendliness and professionalism of the hotel staff, the ease of getting into the centre of Copenhagen, and general feeling of security and comfort the location instilled."

UNUSUAL VENUES

Alongside gourmet food and a good atmosphere, an unusual venue makes a vital contribution to an event and Denmark has plenty, from massage houses to masonic rights bars Bojesen at Axlborg was built in 1920 and was originally home to the Cooperative Bank. The main room, Axelborg Hall, seats 450 and all meeting rooms are equipped with ISDN and ADSL. In the former vaults, Mediterranean colours, soft tiles to dampen sound, and special lighting used to ward off the effects of SAD, make a space without windows surprisingly appealing.

Suitable for smaller gatherings, Ni'mark is ideal for massage and meetings.

Up to ten delegates can be massaged at one time - and this is first class massage; while 14 can sit down to lunch or dinner. And on the terrace, enjoy the jacuzzi tub and a roll in the snow in winter, or a barbecue in summer.

At the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory, delegates can learn how to lay the perfect table, paint its well-known designs, and dine there.

A more energetic alternative is to learn to sail - and row - a Danish Schooner all day before enjoying a well-earned dinner on board.

The current trend in cuisine is to use Danish ingredients prepared with a Mediterranean touch. Thorvaldsens Hus serves Danish/French food and has a terrace for outdoor eating; PS is ideal for small groups of up to 18 - and offers several courses with a different wine for each.

In Aalborg, Rosdahls is in a converted warehouse on the waterfront that also houses a food market. The kitchen is part of the eating area and turns out excellent food. Groups can take over the entire venue and the market to seat 295.

Fishy tales can be told after visiting the North Sea Aquarium. Guests sit in front of the huge tank, where a diver talks to diners and sharks alike. More eccentric is the bar Duus, where German soldiers used to drink during World War II, until it was made into a members' club. Open to all comers again, the club traditions remain, based on masonic rites.

After Gammel Dansk, Aquavit and Hamlet, Denmark is probably best known for elegant design: Arne Jacobsen and Georg Jensen spring to mind.

But mention first-class restaurants, unusual and state-of-the-art conference venues - with creative incentive programmes to match - along with countryside that ranges from peaceful lakes and rolling hills to wild seas lashing an exposed westerly coast, then Denmark may not be people's automatic response.

In fact, the Danish tourist board, both locally and in the UK, is well positioned to handle conferences and incentives, and operates dedicated convention departments in London, Copenhagen and Aalborg. And the UK is Denmark's largest non-Scandinavian market (third after its own business and Sweden).

While 11 September steered business away from long-haul destinations, Denmark has seen growth, as Danish Tourist Board marketing manager conferences and incentives, London, Jonathan Cohen observes. "There is no doubt that Scandinavia generally and Denmark in particular has enjoyed more business.

"The C&I market has got smaller but our share of it has increased. Ever since 11 September, we have seen up to a 30 per cent increase in enquiries over the same period last year, although we cannot measure the conversion into business,

he says. "At the time, people were beginning to discover Denmark anyway, but we had the added advantage that Denmark is known to be safe,

he says.

Cohen has also noted an increase in interest in two-centre programmes.

Sweden and Denmark are an obvious choice since the opening of the interconnecting Great Velt Bridge, and so too is Norway and Denmark.

"That makes for a good cruise incentive,

he explains. "Delegates fly into Oslo and set sail at 5pm on a DFDS cruise to Copenhagen. The boat has a lively party atmosphere, which can last until the ship arrives at 9am."

Denmark does not feel a need to differentiate itself from other Scandinavian countries - and the definition seems to be fairly fluid anyway. "We are always debating whether we are Scandinavian or not," says Cohen. "Copenhagen is a cosmopolitan city - it's Scandinavian with a European flavour. But if you go out into the countryside, then we are Scandinavian."

But Cohen insists one key point of difference from Denmark and Scandinavia is in respect of the region's reputation for being pricey. "While the region is thought to be expensive, Denmark is not,

he says. "It's not the cheapest part of the world, but it is quality driven. You get what you pay for."

So is the apocryphal £5 for a pint of beer fiction? "Drinking in Sweden and Norway is more expensive because it is state controlled,

he says.

"But we fight against the preconceived idea that Denmark is expensive and cold."

To this end, the country is trying to add style to its image. "The Danes have always been design focused and have made a feature of that, but Copenhagen is a chic city and we are now known for being stylish as well,

says Cohen.

It is perhaps inevitable that the capital gets the lion's share of the business. It is only one hour away from the UK by air, and SAS, British Airways, BMI British Midland and Maersk Air provide regular services.

In addition, Copenhagen's congress venue, the Bella Centre, is just five minutes from the airport, and from October it will have a metro stop as well - which will also run to Orestad, from where there are rail links to the airport and into Sweden.

The centre started expansion work two years ago, which has already seen the addition of an auditorium that seats 930, and divides into three equal sections. This complements the existing hall that holds 580. The venue's Hall C has also been extended. The venue is set up for network conferencing, one of the factors that has attracted Oracle World, and the anticipated 12,000 delegates, for June this year, as well as Cisco in September.

PCI:Live organised an event at the Bella Centre for Microsoft last year.

PCI product manager Jessica Mitchell describes the event as a huge success.

"The infrastructure in Denmark is very good and the Bella Centre is incredibly well organised. Microsoft is planning to do two more events there in the autumn,

she says.

In addition to the existing hotel accommodation at Copenhagen airport, the forthcoming four-star Rica Bella Hotel will add a further 300 rooms and is due to open adjacent to the Bella Centre at the end of the year.

Other new venues in and around the capital include the Copenhagen Marriott on the waterfront, Hilton Copenhagen Airport and the Glaskart conference centre in Malmo, with a capacity of 70. Arp-Hansen group is opening a 200-room property on an artificial island in the harbour next year.

In addition, 71 Nyhavn Hotel recently increased its number of rooms from 84 to 150; Hotel d'Angleterre re-opened in September after a renovation and the installation of a glass ceiling in the Palm Court; and Scandic Hotel Copenhagen, formerly a Sheraton, has refurbished its 18th floor executive rooms.

Venues in the centre of Copenhagen include the Danish Design Centre, opposite Tivoli Gardens. Its conference room seats 200 and can be split into two, and uses sophisticated technology, including computer-controlled lighting. The Atrium and cafe can also be hired by arrangement.

For organisers who are thinking big, Denmark's national stadium, Parken, now has a removable roof and seats 38,000 people. The venue was an influential factor in Rotary International's decision to hold its 2006 congress in Copenhagen and Malmo.

The 18m climbing wall outside multi-purpose venue DGI-byen gives a clear indication of its ability to combine work with pleasure. The assembly can be used as a banquet hall, or it can be transformed into an auditorium with the option of raked seating. For team building, there are two sports halls with markings for ball games. Alternatively, these can be carpeted over, and seating put in for meetings, or the pistol and rifle range makes for a more unusual activity option.

The spa and swim centre is equally versatile. A swimming lane loops around a more conventional square pool, and a platform can be raised above water level, so that guests can dine surrounded by water. Massage, mud baths and other treatments allow delegates to wind down after exacting meetings.

But Copenhagen also offers more robust activities. "The first night for any group usually revolves around cocktails and a dinner,

says director of sales for Destination Management Copenhagen (DMC) Lone Riefer. "However, companies also ask us to arrange even more demanding programmes."

Demanding could be an understatement. Delegates can start out at Holmen Island, a former military base, where they are divided into groups of around ten and are briefed on the area. The programme involves looking for clues on a battleship, taking an inflatable to Trekroner fortress using GPS navigation; climbing a crane and abseiling down again.

Yet it is the quality meetings infrastructure that attracts the conference market. Certainly Gartner Group felt Denmark fitted the bill for its IT training conference and exhibition, according to director of operations for conference contacts Rosalyn Giles. "Gartner wanted to capture the Scandinavian market and Copenhagen has better infrastructure than either Stockholm or Oslo,

she says. "Not only does the city have good conference centres, but there are hotels with large conference capacities as well.

We chose to use the Falconer, which has its own conference centre. And because the airport is close to the city centre, it is easy for delegates to get around,

says Giles. Denmark also has a lot to offer outside Copenhagen.

Aalborg in the north has good conference facilities. The former industrial area is being regenerated and there is talk of preserving one of the town's massive chimneys for conversion into a restaurant and conference centre.

First Hotel already has a vantage point overlooking the fjord.

Aalborg Congress & Culture Centre is spending DKr30m (£2.5m) on a comprehensive upgrade. It will extend the foyer so that it links the old and new conference buildings, and the first floor meeting rooms will be renovated. At ground level, the Europa Hall holds 550 and the Aalborhalle, the main auditorium, seats 2,500, but currently this is shared with the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra and its programme. From 2004, the orchestra will be housed in a dedicated concert hall in the renovated industrial area, allowing the conference centre to fulfil its full potential.

The upgrade is to be completed by September in line with the opening of the adjacent Quality Hotel (168 rooms), which will be connected to the centre by a covered walkway. The exterior of the centre will be renovated to match the hotel.

Denmark has 7,000km of coastline and Europe's only desert - which is within one hour's drive of Aalborg. These provide the natural backdrop for a range of daunting activities organised by Xdream's proprietor Soren Digethas. 'Zorbing', for example, provides adrenaline-fuelled fun with team building properties. A Zorb is an air-filled ball with a cavity in which the victim is strapped, and rolled downhill. The ball gathers momentum very quickly and the challenge is to direct the ball's trajectory across the rolling desert dunes of Ribjerg Mile.

A rope ladder suspended between trees is another Digethas speciality.

The looser the ladder, the more difficult it is to cross. Delegates are secured by a harness, so they do not fall to the ground, but they may end up dangling above it if they lose their footing.

There are plenty of castles and elegant venues with extensive grounds near Aalborg for gala dinners, cocktails and meetings, and many even come complete with ghosts. Store Restiup Manor House has capacity for 250 delegates for meetings or dinner; Cokkedal or Dronninglund castle, up to 100.

Aarhus, cultural hub of Jutland, is also home to Legoland, and a popular incentive destination. Director of sales and marketing at Scandinavian Image Mari Hayes explains: "The city was a Viking stronghold, has a friendly atmosphere with fine restaurants, and good opportunities for excursions.

Guests can dress up as Vikings and play historic games such as log throwing; spend an afternoon fishing from boats; visit Legoland, and use Lego bricks as part of a team-building exercise; or they can participate in a scavenger hunt combined with photographic record and pub crawl.

"British groups don't usually make it to the end,

says Hayes. "One group, was asked to bring back something live and green - a plant perhaps - and produced a girl with green hair."

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