The death of Prince Rainier III last month not only focused attention on the colourful life of the Grimaldi family, but also put the spotlight on the modern principality that he created almost single-handedly.
When he took to the throne in 1949, Monaco's economy was driven mainly by the roll of dice and the turn of the roulette wheel. Today, albeit with a territory 20 per cent larger, Monaco has fine-tuned its reputation as home to the world's jet set, has a burgeoning industry based on tourism and banking and is one of Europe's headquarters for international conventions.
It was no surprise, then, that Monaco was the choice for this year's annual MPI conference. With the event coinciding with preparations for the Prince's funeral and dignitaries descending on the state from across the globe, hotel accommodation was even tighter than normal.
The lack of bed space has long been one of the downsides of the principality, which, being smaller than London's Hyde Park, is jammed with high-rise hotels and business properties fighting for space around the harbour.
"We do lose business because of capacity," says Rosemarie Merlo Pompenig, director at the Monaco office of DMC LSO.
But capacity is on the up and, by 2007, the principality will have 3,000 hotel rooms, an increase of 40 per cent in less than five years. "We will be the perfect size then and we won't have to turn down projects that we would have rejected in the past," says Monaco Tourism and Convention Authority president Michel Bouquier.
It's all down to clever planning, with hotels extending either upwards or outwards by reclaiming land from the sea, such as the four-star Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort. Known as 'The Bay', it will open on the reclaimed Larvotto Peninsula in October. The 334-room hotel will offer a casino, spa, fitness centre, pool, a function room that can hold 360 for cocktails, a ballroom for 290, ten meeting rooms and three restaurants.
The Bay is owned by the Societe des Bains de Mer (SBM) and senior vice president of sales and marketing Axel Hoppenot says: "Business travel should account for 60 per cent of the hotel's business and we'll work closely with the Grimaldi Forum, which will complement our banqueting facilities."
The Bay is close to the SBM's Le Sporting, considered to be Monaco's most spectacular gala dinner venue, which has a capacity for 1,400. A retractable roof and windows, fibre optic lighting and indoor fountains are among the features of its Salle des Etoiles.
On the other side of Le Sporting is Le Meridien Beach Plaza, which opened another 66 rooms at the end of March 2005, taking its total to 403. Another expansion saw the addition of two floors to the Hotel Hermitage in May 2004, adding 57 rooms. A Novotel will be opening in 2007 with 232 rooms, which will more than double Monaco's three-star offering. It's expected to be used for event production staff and is unlikely to attract the budget market. "We are not a low-budget destination and we don't want to be," says Monaco Tourism and Convention Authority director Marie Catherine Cruso-Ravera.
The increased capacity has made an impact on UK buyers such as GlaxoSmithKline, which chose Cannes over Monaco a couple of years ago. Speaking at this year's Convention Authority's workshop, GlaxoSmithKline customer operations manager Tom Sheridan says he would consider Monaco now: "Facilities have improved and it offers a bespoke service - just what you want for an incentive."
After a tough 2003, the total number of events in Monaco dipped by a further 31 in 2004 to 389. Director of DMC Conference International, Merville Spiers, thinks Monaco is losing business to emerging destinations. "People go to trendy destinations like Eastern Europe for a year, but they come back for Monaco's food and service," he says.
Initiatives like the annual workshop and fam trips help to bring people back, and Bouquier says confirmed bookings in January and February were up 20 per cent to 45 following the launch of the 'Monaco Meetings' initiative at the end of last year. It targets event organisers by offering discounts on restaurants, transfers, car rental and site inspections. For events exceeding 1,800 room-nights across three nights, the authority throws in a champagne cocktail reception free of charge. A third level of incentives will be added next year for events with 2,700 room nights - a category Bouquier hopes will take off following The Bay's opening.
While the number of events held in Monaco fell in 2004, figures show that the number of participants rose by three per cent to 58,500, taking total room-nights up 15 per cent to 184,000.
"By 2008 we want to be looking at 350,000 room nights per year," says Bouquier. "To achieve this we're going to target associations and big congresses."
He also wants to see the ratio of leisure to business visitors change from 70:30 to 50:50. "With the same number of rooms this would be ambitious, but with our planned expansion we think it is achievable," he says.
Indeed, Monaco's kudos is such that it will always attract blue-chip companies. Dell, the personal computer giant, is considering an internal sales event for around 700 people having previously used Paris and Berlin.
"There's still something special about Monaco because it's glamorous and offers relaxation alongside a platform for intensive work," says Dell Europe events manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, marketing and events, Susanne Mebus.
With clients like Dell lined up and room capacity finally meeting demand, the principality's success as a convention hub will continue to develop into the reign of Prince Rainier's successor, Albert.
CASE STUDY - BAYER
Event: Pan European Laboratory Symposium
Date 25-27 May 2004
Venues: Grimaldi Forum, Monte Carlo Grande Hotel, Prince Rainier Vintage
Group size 365
Agency Genesis Motivation
DMC Conference International
Monaco was a last-minute choice for healthcare company Bayer when its first choice, Madrid, was ruled out following the terrorist attack last March. "We chose Monaco for the annual pan-European Laboratory Symposium because it had availability, and always comes up with the goods," says Richard Heywood, managing director of Genesis Motivation.
Bayer used the Grimaldi Forum's 800-capacity Prince Pierre auditorium for its plenary sessions. The adjoining foyer hosted an exhibition of instruments and striking pieces of art containing Bayer's logo. The client was impressed. Peggy Robinson, senior marketing manager at Bayer's diagnostics division says: "The venue offered real flexibility in designing the layout of the instrument showcase."
Choosing a hotel was easy, according to Heywood. "The Monte Carlo Grande is one of our favourite hotels because it is professional and the staff have been there since the year dot," he says.
Delegates were treated to a French market-themed buffet at the Monte Carlo Grande and a more formal gala dinner accompanied by a jazz band at Prince Rainier's Vintage Car Collection. "It's an unusual venue and worked well," says Heywood.
The last-minute switch didn't break the bank. "It was reasonably cost effective," says Heywood. "However, we did spend more on hotels than we would have done in Madrid, plus there was the added cost of using a conference centre."
Monaco Tourism and Convention Authority 2nd Floor, 206 Harbour Yard,
London SW10 OXD
Contact Benedicte Echard
Tel 020 7352 9962
Flight duration 2 hours
Time difference GMT +1 hour
International dialling code +377