By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor
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