France’s third largest city is becoming a popular choice for meetings and events planners, not least for the support provided by its convention bureau
WHEN EUROSTAR LAUNCHED ITS NEW DIRECT ROUTE to Lyon from St Pancras in May this year, it offered a new option for UK business travellers heading to France’s third most populous city.
Lyon may not be a primary business hub for the UK – indeed, it might not appear on many travellers’ radars. But it is gaining profile as a destination for corporate meetings and events.
Darren Williams is head of sales at Eurostar. He says: “Lyon has a vast array of conference and meeting facilities, from the large convention centre to smaller, more niche locations. In fact, it’s one of the largest convention cities in France, so it made sense to offer this new location for the MICE [meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] market.”
The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) publishes annual rankings of destinations by number of international congress meetings. Its most recent listing, for 2014, ranked Lyon at 77th city in the world, with 31 international congresses. ICCA ranked Lyon at 41 in Europe, and number three in France, after Marseille-Aix and Paris – the capital being ICCA’s world number one.
The city is blessed with a rich architectural and cultural heritage, with two picturesque, converging rivers, the Rhône and Saône. It also boasts an enviable reputation as France’s gastronomic hub – despite, no doubt, indignant protest from Paris on that point. Valerie Ducaud, director of the Lyon Convention Bureau, cites the city’s gastronomic reputation and its UNESCO World Heritage listing, with “more than 2,000 years of history and the second largest renaissance district after Venice”. She also points out more modern assets, and some impressive numbers: France’s third largest airport, with 8.4 million passengers in 2014, and its second-largest hotel and aparthotel offering, with more than 17,500 rooms; and a modern convention centre with total capacity of 19,000 people, high-end technical facilities, and a wide range of events and exhibition spaces.
Ducaud and her team are themselves one of the city’s assets, according to one travel management company (TMC). Chambers Travel Events senior account director Hannah Luffman says: “One of the main benefits in Lyon is the role of the convention bureau. They will support with site visits, feasibility studies and local
RFPs [requests for proposal] free of charge. They demonstrate incredible knowledge and add value to programmes in the city.” Eurostar’s Williams backs this up: “Working closely with Only Lyon [the bureau’s brand name] has enabled us to pass on so much rich detail to our clients, helping them plan new and exciting routes to market.”
Ducaud adds that for large events, the bureau can offer a “welcoming package” which involves signage, communications and marketing in the railway stations, hotels, venues and public transport.
AIR AND RAIL ACCESS
There is a wide choice of hotels and venues for events bookers. At a showcase for agents, hosted by the convention bureau, more than 30 suppliers presented their MICE offerings, including hotels ranging in size and star-rating, and many of the city’s acclaimed restaurants looking to attract smaller corporate events.
Chambers’ Luffman says while smaller European meetings for up to 60 are typical, currently flight access challenges mean she doesn’t see Lyon as feasible for large-scale or global events.
There are two daily direct flights from London, and less regular or seasonal services from Bristol, Manchester and Bir-mingham. Those Lyonaise suppliers I met at the MICE showcase heartily welcome the new Eurostar link from London.
Eurostar’s Williams says: “We have had exceptional feedback from our clients. The Eurostar journey takes just over 4h 40 min directly from central London to the centre of Lyon. We are incredibly pleased with how our first season has gone.”
While a direct flight from London takes around 1h 35min, Williams makes the point about Eurostar being a city-centre-to-centre service. He also points out: “We offer group fares, and can accommodate groups in exclusive carriages, giving the opportunity to start the event or meeting at the beginning of the journey.”
I experienced this with a group of TMC agents, and it was indeed a great way to start an event: early morning coffee and croissants in the Eurostar premium departure lounge at St Pancras International before a 7.20am departure, breakfast, lunch and champagne in our private Premier carriage, and plenty of room to wander and chat, before arriving in Lyon at 1pm. It is,
however, a seasonal service – from one a week in winter, to three weekly in spring/autumn to five in the summer – so events managers may want to consider a rail/flight combo for events.
So who is holding MICE events in Lyon, and why? While Chambers’ Huffman sees a trend for smaller board-style meetings, Ducaud at the convention bureau says 60 per cent of corporate and congress meetings are from the medical industry, while IT and finance are other strong sectors. She sees trends of shorter booking times, and events increasingly being a combination of meeting and incentive.
She adds that buyers are increasingly looking for original, distinctive or historic venues – which is no doubt good news for Lyon. Her last word (for now) on the city’s benefits: “All the strengths of a capital city, on a human scale.” l
Only Lyon, the tourism and convention bureau, offers a comprehensive service to MICE bookers, including advice, RFPs and site visits.onlylyon.com/en/