The recently released ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) rankings place the Hungarian capital Budapest 12th in the world out of more than 1200 destinations, coming out ahead of popular European cities like Copenhagen, Rome, and London. Similarly, Budapest’s rating has climbed 13 places with the Brussels-based UIA (Union of International Associations), advancing to its current position in the top 20 international meeting cities.
Both of these prestigious accolades underline the city’s continued importance and reputation as prime conference destination, a reputation that has been solidly built and cemented over the years.
Much of Budapest’s prestige is based on its knowledge sector. The city’s universities have world-class faculties offering courses in the fields of brain research, network research, mathematics, physics, medicine, psychology and archelogy. These in turn attract a large number of international students, with more than 30,000 foreign students estimated to be currently studying in Hungary in these fields, as well as veterinary medicine and engineering.
“Student life is an important factor for Budapest’s attractiveness as a professional/scientific travel destination,” says Dr Habil György Fábri, associate professor at the ELTE Faculty of Education and Psychology, adding that students visit Budapest “for shorter breaks, such as its world-famous entertainment venues, or Europe’s largest festival event, the Sziget Festival, where professional programmes are a regular feature.”
Dr Fábri also recognizes that some of Budapest’s meeting infrastructure is another draw for planners. “The stately building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences offers an elegant setting on the banks of the Danube, while Semmelweis University’s modern buildings or the lively and professional buildings of ELTE and Budapest University of Technology are attractive conference venues.”
In parallel to this flourishing scientific academic activity, the Corvinus University of Budapest is just one of the institutions that offers tourism training, in its case including specializations in event management in the BA programme, creating a local workforce pool of well-trained and qualified employees. Many of the university’s courses function on an internship basis, with an increasing number of students actively working to gain valuable frontline experience as part of their education, while further bolstering Hungary’s position in the international tourism market.
Dr. Habil Melinda Jászberényi, Head of department Associate professor at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Institute of Sustainable Development, explains that “within the framework of the tourism specialization in the PhD program, it is possible to research the challenges of the meetings industry, in which the international scientific community is also engaged and involved.”
Meanwhile Dr Zsófia Csilla Szalók, professor at the Budapest Business School Faculty of Commerce, Hospitality and Tourism says, “Budapest’s 12th place in the ICCA rankings shows that Budapest is one of the key players in the meetings industry. In the environment shaped by the pandemic, we achieved exceptional performance through innovation, connection with our resources, and excellent professionals. The Budapest Business School contributed to the success by creating the human infrastructure. Event and conference management also plays a prominent role in the two specializations of the Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism.” She also adds that “the number of domestic and international events in Hungary is constantly increasing.”
Wealth of options
Planners, indeed, have a wealth of options to choose from should they select Budapest as their conference destination. The city has been committed to providing areas in which its inhabitants and visitors can conduct business. In that regard, the HUNGEXPO Budapest Congress and Exhibition Center, the largest multi-functional event complex of the country, spans 65,000sqm of event space, and with its state-of-the-art 15,000sqm conference centre, it is capable to host congresses from 1,000 up to 15,000 delegates, competing with Europe’s leading convention venues.
Hungary’s other convention destination, the Budapest Congress Center accommodates events for up to 2000 people in 20 meeting rooms, and is situated in the same building as the four-star Novotel Budapest City with its 319 rooms. Budapest also boasts a well-connected transport system with links to international service, as well as the major Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport.
Kölcsey Center is another option: the largest and most modern conference venue in Eastern Hungary, it’s an excellent location for conferences, symposiums, large-scale exhibitions and gala nights, for up to 1500 guests.
However, Hungary’s conference sector is facing challenges, as alluded to by Melinda Jászberényi. Because the number of domestic and international events is constantly increasing, there is a risk that further growth may be hindered by the size of the current infrastructure. Arguably this is an enviable problem for any conference destination to have, and one that Hungary certainly has the skills, experience, and expertise to solve.
Anna Békefi is Managing Director of the Hungarian & Budapest Convention Bureau, the official organization in charge of marketing and promoting Budapest and its surrounding region as convention destination, is confident that the city – and the country – have what it takes to get to the next level. She says: “The improving performance and progress on the ICCA and UIA rankings reflect Budapest’s capacity to welcome associations, and their international conferences and business events, with state-of-the-art facilities, including excellent hotels, PCO and DMC services, all in the beautiful setting of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The committed team of the Hungarian & Budapest Convention Bureau is happy to assist with any questions.”