By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor | Dec 18, 2012
Enchanting, engaging, exciting - Ireland is a perennial favorite of any well-seasoned traveler, but there are a number of compelling reasons why meeting planners would do well to choose Ireland for their upcoming conferences, meetings, and events. Inspiration
Whether it’s splitting the atom or the development of fiber optics, for centuries Ireland has set the pace for a number of industries. The country is also a growing home base for more than 1,000 companies in the medical, science, technology, educational, and legal fields. Combine this natural ingenuity with a growing collection of world-class venues, and the result is a meeting destination that not only inspires, it sets the stage for innovation.
Affordability and accessibility
Times are changing, but some things always stay the same - meeting planners want a great destination for a great value. Ireland rises to the challenge with some of the most affordable accommodations found anywhere in Europe, not to mention readily available, free Wi-Fi. Ireland’s Value Added Tax (VAT) has recently been lowered - dropping from 13.5 percent to 9 percent. Getting to Ireland is easy too, with direct-flight access from cities in the United States, the U.K., and Europe.
With a highly developed infrastructure, experienced regional convention bureaus, and professional conference organizers, Ireland ensures that even the highest expectations for meetings and conferences are exceeded. Out-of-the- box, off-site venues are plentiful, too - from museums to breweries, universities to stately country homes, cookery schools to distilleries, and castles to traditional farms, there’s a space with special Irish charm to suit every type of event. Heritage
Ireland’s centuries of history have built a layered, multidimensional culture deeply rooted in its customs. Groups that convene in Ireland will find many ways to immerse themselves in Irish traditions, whether it’s learning to play the Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling, or the art of Irish step dancing. Gastronomy
Groups will find a new generation of talented chefs at the helm of Ireland’s pubs, cafés, and Michelin-starred restaurants, whipping up everything from traditional delicacies to innovative cuisine. Visits to historic markets, such as the English Market in Cork or St. George’s Market in Belfast, give visitors the opportunity to meet local artisan food producers. Hospitality
There’s a reason why Ireland is known as “the land of a thousand welcomes.” The warm, welcoming nature of the Irish people is legendary, and meeting planners and their attendees will experience it from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.
Think of Dublin as Ireland’s heartbeat - a colorful, cosmopolitan metropolis steeped in centuries of history as well as museums, art galleries, rousing live music, and even some unexpected cultural discoveries. The city also has a variety of purpose-built and unique venues for meetings and events, like the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD), which opened in 2010 as the world’s first carbon-neutral– constructed convention center. The landmark building has been designed to take advantage of its scenic location overlooking the River Liffey with a soaring glass atrium that stretches from floor to ceiling. In total, the CCD offers 22 meeting rooms, a 2,000-seat auditorium, 48,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 3,000-seat theater, and banquet facilities for up to 2,000 guests.
Another versatile venue for larger groups, the 51,700-seat Aviva Stadium has welcomed more than 1.8 million spectators for rugby, soccer, and concert events. This past September, Aviva Stadium hosted the Notre Dame vs. U.S. Navy football game, attracting fans from all over, including 35,000 visitors from the United States.
Meeting planners can utilize the stadium for anything from galas to outdoor events for groups of up to 2,000. Croke Park - home to an 82,300-seat stadium - also offers a dedicated conference center with 87 meeting rooms and eight conference suites. The adjacent, four-star Croke Park Hotel has additional meeting facilities and 232 guest rooms.
For events that spark the imagination, historic venues like the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) have provided storied, flexible settings since the 1800s. The 42-acre RDS has 10 multipurpose conference and exhibition halls, an outdoor stadium, and multiple concert venues for up to 35,000 people, along with a range of meeting rooms, restaurants, and outdoor spaces for events, banquets, exhibitions, and meetings of all kinds. The site has played host to the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit, and concerts by everyone from Andrea Bocelli to Jay-Z.
For off-site events with a big wow factor, attractions like the Guinness Storehouse and Old Jameson Distillery can create memorable functions with local flair. Guests can learn how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse, which offers six floors of varied spaces and full-service catering for events of up to 2,000. The Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street can arrange whiskey tastings, guided tours, and dinners with traditional Irish music and dancing for groups of up to 500. And just north of the city center, Malahide Castle dates back to the 12th century and provides a majestic setting for gala events.
Getting around Dublin is simple - many of the city’s popular attractions, hotels, and venues are within easy walking distance of each other, and public transportation, like the Luas light-rail transit system, is plentiful. Visitors in town for a meeting or conference can purchase a Dublin Pass, the city’s official visitor card, at a discounted price and gain access to 34 of the city’s top attractions.
In Northern Ireland, Belfast has experienced a surge of growth and development during the past decade. Groups who convene in this harbor city - known for its Victorian architecture, live music, and ever-expanding selection of restaurants - will find plenty of new attractions, accommodations, and venues to experience, as well as many a friendly face who all help to keep this rich-in-history city moving forward.
One of the most talked about new attractions is Titanic Belfast, which opened in March 2012 in the city’s Titanic Quarter, where the ship was built and launched in 1912. To date, the world’s largest interactive Titanic experience has welcomed 500,000 visitors. The top two floors, designed to resemble the ship’s interior, include a replica of the ship’s grand staircase and can accommodate conferences, banquets, galas, receptions, and other special events. Groups of up to 750 guests can be accommodated in the venue, which includes a pillar-free, 16,600-squarefoot banquet hall and a 4,800-square-foot gallery.
Belfast Waterfront Hall offers meeting planners a multipurpose venue within walking distance of the 198-room Hilton Belfast, as well as many other downtown hotels and attractions. In addition to a 2,223-seat auditorium, the purpose-built facility has 14 meeting rooms, a studio with capacity for 380 guests, and three bars and restaurants. Since opening in 1997, the venue has hosted more than 2,000 conferences and 3,400 arts and entertainment events. Also in the heart of Belfast, the Odyssey Arena makes an exceptional conference venue with its integrated exhibition and breakout facilities. The arena’s auditorium has a flexible seating configuration that can accommodate groups up to 8,500.
The King’s Hall Complex, just outside of Belfast’s city center, has hosted everything from international conferences to performances by The Beatles since 1934. The venue is one of the city’s largest and most versatile, with capacity to host conferences, exhibitions, concerts, sporting events, and more. The Hastings Europa Hotel, Belfast’s largest hotel with 272 guest rooms, also has extensive conference facilities.
Belfast’s unique collection of off-site venues is sure to impress, especially if a group has a penchant for history and architecture. At the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, guests can step back in time and view steam locomotives, horse-drawn carriages, vintage cars, and electric trams up close, and the venue’s Irish Railway Gallery offers a superb setting for award ceremonies and gala dinners of up to 350. For larger groups, Belfast’s Grand Opera House sets the stage for successful meetings and events. Built in 1895, the building’s dramatic spaces - including the 1,020-seat main theater - have hosted such guests as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Luciano Pavarotti.
When it comes to team-building and recreational activities, the possibilities are endless. Both sea and mountains are within 30 minutes of Belfast, giving meeting planners a wide range of activity options. Just a short drive away from Belfast, groups will find centuries-old castles and country estates to explore, and Northern Ireland has earned much praise for its challenging golf courses. Golf-loving groups will be familiar with the names of Northern Ireland’s world-famous golf champions Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, and Darren Clarke, who all honed their skills on the iconic courses of Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.
Cork, on the southern coast of Ireland, is a gem of a destination with its rugged coastline and idyllic scenery. Cork is also a popular choice for gourmands who want to wine, dine, and indulge in world-class restaurants, food festivals, and historic farmers markets. Other popular activities include sailing, surfing, and soaking up the serene surroundings at one of the area’s many renowned spas
Conference and event facilities are plentiful, too. Creative gala venues range from castles and opera houses to distilleries and cookery schools. Popular meeting and conference venues include Cork City Hall, Cork Opera House, and University College Cork. The city has more than 3,000 hotel rooms, and Cork International Airport directly connects visitors with more than 60 destinations in the U.K. and Europe.
Derry-Londonderry, chosen as the first U.K. City of Culture for 2012, is Ireland’s only completely walled city. On the banks of the River Foyle about 70 miles northwest of Belfast, the city dates back to the 6th century, yet has all of the modern facilities and amenities meeting planners require. The city has long been a favorite with visitors for its rich history, but now a recent surge of development has the city gaining in popularity as a conference destination. The Millennium Forum, the largest venue in the Northwest, can accommodate 1,020 attendees and offers a conference center, flexible auditorium, and breakout rooms for events of all kinds.
The neo-gothic Guildhall, an imposing red sandstone building punctuated with magnificent stained-glass windows, houses the official offices of the mayor and council chamber. The building has recently completed an extensive refurbishment, and offers a uniquely historic venue for welcome receptions.
A popular conference destination, Killarney has many of the exquisite landscapes Ireland is famous for, as well as 125 holes of championship golf. Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, which has hosted the Irish Open, offers three 18-hole courses close to picturesque Killarney National Park, and those looking for some post-con pampering will find a multitude of world-class spa facilities to choose from in the area.
Beyond its postcard-perfect views, Killarney is also home to Ireland’s largest dedicated conference and events venue - The Killarney Conference Center. The facility offers a 35,450-square-foot auditorium with retractable, tiered seating for 2,500 attendees, which can also be converted into banquet space for the same number of guests. The venue is located beside the 25,000-acre Killarney National Park - the perfect place to take advantage of the destination’s stunning scenery or to build a custom team-building program that includes biking, hiking, or kayaking. On site, meeting planners will find two hotels with a combined total of 500 rooms, plus an additional 2,000 hotel rooms within a one-mile radius.
Cathedrals, castles, and even monasteries: Killarney has it all when it comes to inspiring historic sites and settings. Innisfallen Island is home to the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, a monastery dating back to the 7th century. Visitors can take a boat ride to the island from the 15th-century Ross Castle, another must-see attraction. And just three miles from the Killarney town center is Muckross House, a 19th-century Victorian mansion with gardens, traditional farms, and the Mucros Weavers and Pottery workshops. The 170-seat restaurant, house, and Walled Garden Centre are all available for private events, and weaving, pottery, and bookbinding demonstrations by Mucros craft workers can be arranged in the adjacent craft workshops.
The Shannon Region and Limerick
Besides the easy accessibility of the Shannon Region, which has 200-plus flights arriving per week at Shannon Airport from cities across the United States, the U.K., and Europe, the destination is in the heart of Western Ireland, giving visitors access to some of the country’s most famous scenery. The region is home to the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren - one of the largest karst landscapes (layers of bedrock) in Europe, dramatic Atlantic seascapes, as well as some of Ireland’s most iconic golf courses, including Lahinch and Doonbeg Golf Clubs.
The Shannon Region also offers some of Ireland’s best sports facilities. The University of Limerick Conference and Sports Campus has three flexible venues for conferences, meetings, and events of up to 2,000 attendees, including the Kemmy Business School, University Concert Hall, and Jean Monnet Theatre. Meeting planners can also take advantage of on-site event managers, catering, audiovisual support, and accommodations for 2,400 attendees. Thomond Park Stadium and conference center, home to Munster Rugby, is another great example. The 25,600-seat stadium is supplemented by a multipurpose conference center, whose Main Hospitality Suite can accommodate up to 900 guests for receptions, 700 for theater-style events, and 600 for banquets.
The magnificent Dromoland Castle Hotel has consistently earned accolades and awards from the world’s top travel magazines. From lavish guest rooms to an 18-hole golf course, golf academy, and spa, the estate, just 18 miles outside Limerick, is the epitome of gracious Irish hospitality and luxury. Groups can take advantage of the on-site, 7,700-square-foot Brian Boru International Conference Centre, as well as numerous outdoor activities, including horseback riding, falconry, clay shooting, and archery.
Sidebar: Noteworthy Lineup
Ireland has a strong track record for hosting international conferences and meetings in the medical, science, technology, analytics, and educational fields. During the next few years, an impressive list of meetings and conferences will convene in Ireland, including:
- Dublin City of Science 2012, Dublin - 8,000 attendees
- 24th Annual EAIE Conference 2012, Dublin - 4,200 attendees
- International Bar Association 2012 Annual Conference, Dublin - 4,000 attendees
- World Molecular Imaging Congress 2012, Dublin - 2,500 attendees
- International Committee for Animal Recording 2012 Conference, Cork - 500 attendees
- American Society for Engineering Education’s 67th Midyear Conference for the Engineering Design Graphics Division, 2012, Limerick - 150 attendees
- World Police & Fire Games 2013, Belfast - 25,000 visitors
- 38th Annual International Urogynecology Association Meeting 2013, Dublin - 4,000 attendees
- World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 2013, Dublin - 2,000 attendees
- The 11th International Mammalogical Congress 2013, Belfast - 1,200 attendees
- Rotary Club of Londonderry International Peace Conference 2013, Derry-Londonderry - 1,000 attendees
Sidebar Out and about
What’s even more crowd-pleasing than Ireland’s stunning scenery and immersive culture? Its warm, welcoming hospitality. Meetings and conferences are all about engagement with locals and interaction with fellow delegates, and so are many of Ireland’s most popular group activities. Cook up a storm with a teambuilding session at the Ballyknocken Cookery School in Wicklow, Belle Isle Castle Cookery School in Fermanagh, or at one of the many other cookery schools found throughout Ireland.
Be part of it
Meeting planners are invited to host a conference or meeting in Ireland in 2013 and be part of something special - The Gathering Ireland 2013, a yearlong homage to the Irish culture, heritage, sports, and traditions, with a diverse range of events. This is the year to visit Ireland and experience firsthand the Céad Míle Fáilte – “100,000 welcomes.”
Room to breathe
Ireland’s array of accommodation options varies from traditional to contemporary, including international luxury brands, small boutique hotels, and country estates. And from campuses to castles, there are a number of categories to suit every price range.
Sixty-three airlines offer more than 190 routes into Ireland, including many direct flights from several U.S. gateway cities to Dublin, Belfast, and Shannon airports. Passengers departing from Dublin or Shannon airports to the U.S. pre-clear customs and immigration prior to boarding flights, and luggage for passengers with connecting flights is checked through to their final destination. City of quarters
Belfast’s lively arts scene centers around Cathedral Quarter, where visitors can catch one of the city’s many festivals, performances, and cultural events. In Queen’s Quarter, meeting planners can host conferences within the magnificent Lanyon Building of Queen’s University. And the recently revitalized dockyards, where the Titanic was built a century ago, are now known as the Titanic Quarter.
Walk through history
Titanic Belfast - an interactive experience comprised of nine galleries - lets visitors explore the history behind the world’s most famous ship. Groups can also wine and dine in one of a number of event spaces on the top two floors, the Titanic Suites. Culinary capital
Cork is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland, with world-renowned food festivals, farmers markets, and restaurants serving locally produced and grown fare. Cork’s English Market, which dates back to 1788, is known for its fresh produce, fish, meat, and local artisan specialties.
Whether it’s the Lakes of Killarney, Ring of Kerry, or Dingle Peninsula, visitors can’t get enough of Kerry’s captivating vistas and views. The best part: The destination is the perfect jumping-off point to explore the surrounding countryside. Killarney is just a 40-minute flight from Dublin and is close to Shannon and Cork airports. Historic gem
Groups who visit Derry-Londonderry, Ireland’s only completely walled city, can explore more than 1,450 years of history, yet at the same time take in some of Ireland’s most versatile purpose-built meeting venues, like the Millennium Forum.
Bridge the gap
One of Ireland’s oldest and most popular tours, the Gap of Dunloe tour in Killarney, includes sailing on the three lakes of Killarney, horseback riding (or a horse-drawn carriage ride) through the seven-mile Gap of Dunloe, and a relaxing ending with a cup of Irish coffee at the 150-year-old Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
For more information: Tourism Ireland - 847.516.0038; meetinireland.com/us