Paris: Box of delights

The wave of contemporary boutique-style properties is adding greater choice to Paris's venue repertoire and keeping buyers keen. Yasmin Razak reports.

Were Paris a box of chocolates, she would offer an assortment of centres with distinctive and different flavours beneath the gorgeous packaging.

From the wine theme in the new Radisson SAS Boulogne to the understated minimalism of the Hotel de Sers, or the striking auditorium in the IAPCO-award winning Palais de Congres and the opulence of the forthcoming Champs Elysees hotel by Lucien Barriere, the French capital offers a veritable melange of treats for C&I planners.

Companies such as Merrill Lynch, Barclays and Goldman Sachs have already succumbed to temptation. These are among the corporates to venture across the Channel in 2005, in what looks like being a strong year for the French capital. "Paris is in demand from the UK market," says Paris Expo international development director Francois d'Heilly. "We have confirmed 25 events for 2006 and beyond, 90 per cent of which are from the UK." And with Canon World Expo bringing 16,000 delegates to Paris, no wonder the Expo team is smiling.

Feelings are similarly upbeat at Disneyland Resort Paris, which has welcomed HP, IBM and Intel this year, and is to host 1,000 BP delegates next May following a two-year break.

British invasion

Hotels across the city are also bursting with Brits according to Concorde Hotels & Resorts regional sales and marketing director Elaine McCormack.

"It's a stronger year than 2004," she says. "The UK has a 14 per cent share of room-nights, our second biggest market, and corporate groups are on the rise with IBM and BAE coming to Paris for incentives."

If there is a hotel group to personify the capital's range of venues, then Concorde is it. Its properties include the business classic Concorde Lafayette with its 12 new break-out rooms; the impressive turrets and fine fabrics of the Chateau Hotel Mont Royal, which can be hired exclusively for groups of 100; the Rive Gauche Hotel Lutetia and the Hotel du Louvre, immortalised in the forthcoming film version of The Da Vinci Code.

Also in the Concorde portfolio is the timeless Hotel de Crillon, chosen by software firm, Supportsoft for a buyers' event this year. BI Worldwide events operations director Rachel Stevens organised the event and says: "It's a classic and ideal for major high-end decision-makers."

Paris is back in vogue for C&I business according to Stevens, who cites the classy Le Meurice and the Four Seasons Hotel George V as stalwarts on her pitch list, which is to be swelled further with the addition of the Murano Urban Resort. "We organise a lot of incentives for sales teams, and the trend is definitely towards younger employees who want something a bit funkier," she says. "Paris has a well established image of tradition and style, but the new venues opening across the city will help to show it in a new light."

It is precisely this feel that EMI Records events and hospitality organiser Kristina Charalambous is looking for. "We've done our fair share of events in classic properties, so now we are after something more contemporary with a cool bar and restaurant," she says. "In Paris, the Plaza Athenee springs to mind."

However, not every group will be seduced by the charms of the newcomers.

"There is certainly an increase in minimalist boutique hotels, but if you don't fit the programme with the property, then you won't have a successful event," warns Bastien Pucheu, UK key account director at the Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel.

This certainly wasn't an issue for law firm Ashurst, which took 150 partners to Le Grand in October. HR and business services director Peter Griffith says: "Le Grand is both a quality and cost-effective solution and the service was first class."

The Paris Convention Bureau (CVB) has just introduced a new brochure and CD that agencies can personalise with a client's logo at pitch stage.

Both promote the two sides of the capital - historic venues and urban chic.

Naturally, UK market manager Corine Bernadou remains fiercely proud of both aspects of the capital. "We will always retain our classic Parisian image, but we also want to promote the more creative side of our city."

DMCs, such as La Fayette Travel, are also getting in on the act by offering classic options, such as concerts in chateaux - which have proven popular with corporates including Microsoft, Xerox and BT - to something edgier, such as parties in Paolas, a former meat factory, now a decadent baroque apartment.

Indeed, as C&I planners search for something different in this perennially popular city, it is often the DMCs that are helping them to get behind otherwise closed doors to pull off a spectacular event.

Allied Europe can arrange for groups of 50 to dine at the Yves Saint Laurent residence and take a peek in the safe with its gorgeous treasures, and Allied director of sales Maxine MacPherson believes that the hip venues opening across the city mean that Paris now offers something to suit every taste: "Paris has something for everyone, from the exclusive, to the funky, to the classic. You don't have to have the budget to rent Versailles in order to host an impressive event in this city."

VENUES PLANS IN PROGRESS

Groupe Lucien Barriere is the talk of the town in Paris and no more so than along the Champs Elysees, where the group will open a five-star property in mid-2006. "It will be the first five-star property built in Paris for 20 years and marks the group's first major presence in the capital," says an understandably enthused Stephan Roberge, director of sales UK and Ireland. The all-suite property will offer 100 rooms furnished in a classically French style and butler service will add to the opulence. www.lucienbarriere.com

Marriott will increase its Parisian presence next October, when the 150-room Courtyard Colombes opens in the rapidly developing suburb of Colombes. In addition to the proximity of the 20,000-seat Stadium Yves du Manoir, the four-star hotel will also benefit from a business lounge and 130m2 of function space across three linked rooms. www.marriott.com

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has announced the arrival of the first Westin in downtown Paris. Located very close to the Place de la Concorde and the Rue du Faubourg St-Honore, the former Intercontinental Paris reopened under the Westin banner at the start of November and will benefit from an investment of EUR12m (£8m). The modifications, which include the introduction of Westin's signature standards and products including the Heavenly Bed, Heavenly Bath and the newly launched Westin Work Out programme, will be completed in January, although regular visitors needn't be disappointed as the hotel will remain open throughout the refurbishment. www.starwood.com

Grand Palais, one of the architectural gems of the 19th century, reopened this September following a colossal facelift. Renovations of the foundations and the magnificent steel and glass dome are now complete and the events calendar kicked off in October with the Christian Dior exhibition followed by a private party for luxury group Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and catwalk shows for Chanel and YSL. Not willing to rest on its newly renovated laurels, the venue, located on the right bank of the Seine, will undergo further renovations to its exterior and will close again in 2008 in order to introduce new technologies to further augment its C&I standing. www.emoc.fr

Paris Expo will close the popular CNIT La Defense venue in summer 2007 until October for an upgrade by investors Unibail. New additions include a series of Japanese-style green patios linked by footbridges, a public space with restaurants and coffee shops, plus renovated meeting spaces and auditoria. www.parisexpo.fr

PARIS DIRECTORY Paris Convention Bureau, 25 Rue des Pyramides 75001 Paris, France Contact: Corine Bernadou Tel: +33 1 49 52 53 96 Email: cbernadou@parisinfo.com Web: www.parisinfo.com

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