Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

10 global gems sure to excite and inspire attendees

Global economies require international meetings and events to problem-solve and plan for a future world that seemingly gets smaller by the day.

Boundaries are now corporate challenges, not restrictive borders that keep attendees inside or outside a country’s reign. And collective reasoning isn’t something that is locked away for posterity by one selfish nationality. Ideas are shared via conventions, small meetings and executive retreats for the betterment of anything and everything, from health care to transportation to technology.

The Internet has certainly helped open eyes and possibilities for international meetings and events, with connectivity that makes it easy to identify and review convention centers and meeting hotels. It also hasn’t hurt that world-renowned leisure destinations have dispatched sales teams to the United States and throughout the world to educate associations and multinational organizations about the benefits and experiences awaiting in marquee cities from Paris to Seoul.

One of the key influencers on cracking perceived international barriers comes compliments of IMEX, the very popular meetings and events trade show held annually in Frankfurt and Las Vegas. In particular, IMEX America has served as a conduit for U.S. meeting professionals and media to gain vital international meeting insights, and build bridges and camaraderie within the world marketplace.

So forget about stigmas and boundaries once associated with international meetings. With Smart Meetings as your travel agent, it’s never been easier to discover new event destinations abroad and secure boarding passes for your next world-class meetings beyond U.S. borders.

paris-france-international-meeting-citiesInterContinental Paris Le Grand


Ready for Takeoff: A legendary city that has inspired artists through the ages, charming Paris has a je nais se quois that makes everyone want to meet there. International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranked it No. 1 worldwide in 2014 for attracting international meeting delegates. From quaint museums to magnificent outdoor gardens, there are hundreds of stylish venues to stage your event.

Customs: Whether it’s a sunset stroll by the Seine or savoring a cafe au lait and croissant, romantic Paris is unabashedly seductive. Everything sparkles in this cosmopolitan city, especially at night when the iconic Eiffel Tower comes alive with 20,000 light bulbs and an estimated 2,300 bottles of champagne are uncorked in Parisian cabarets. A gastronomic epicenter, Paris boasts 82 Michelin-starred restaurants.

Enjoy Your Stay: The 153-year-old InterContinental Paris Le Grand is the Grande Dame of luxury hotels. Centrally located on Opera Square near the Louvre and Avenue des Champs Elysees, it has 470 guest rooms and a newly renovated ballroom decorated with gold leaf. The landmark Hotel Ritz, closed for years, is finishing a $150 million refurbishment and is projected to reopen in June. ALHI has expanded its portfolio in Paris, adding Hotel du Collectionneur Arc de Triomphe, Paris, a five-star property with 478 guest rooms and 18,300 sq. ft. of meeting space, and Les Jardins du Marais, Paris, an elegant boutique hotel with Mediterranean-style gardens and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Flight Plan: Located 14 miles northeast of the city, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is a major international hub handling more than 62 million passengers annually. Paris Orly Airport (ORY) in the south also services the city. Together, they connect the French capital to 557 cities in 132 countries. An elaborate public transit network serves visitors and locals alike.

madrid-spainDowntown Madrid


Ready for Takeoff: Consistently ranked among the top five international meeting cities according to ICCA, this centrally located world capital has emerged as Europe’s transportation hub to and from Latin America. Madrid is home to many multinational corporations, which makes it a natural to host international meetings.

Customs: Soccer aficionados will relish the chance to visit and meet at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of the Real Madrid futbol team. There are on-field reception options along with 20 meeting rooms, and group tours are offered. Popularized by the writings of Ernest Hemingway, Las Ventas bullring radiates Spanish culture. No trip to Madrid would be complete without sampling tapas and stopping by a flamenco nightclub. Tapas restaurants abound in the old quarter of the La Latina district and in the Palacio and Huertas neighborhoods. Restaurants specializing in small-plate dishes are great for groups since sharing often enhances networking.

Enjoy Your Stay: Feria de Madrid (IFEMA) Exhibition Complex has a variety of spaces, including two auditoriums that can hold 1,100 and 600 attendees, and a building with 107,639 sq. ft. for meetings. Hilton Madrid Airport is five minutes from IFEMA, with 284 guest rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. of event space. Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid is also near IFEMA, offering 322,000 sq. ft. of events and meetings space. Casa de Campo Convention & Trade Fair Centre has 430,556 sq. ft. of exhibition space and a gorgeous 215,000-square-foot glass pavilion, which offers amazing city views. The 915-room Melia Castilla Madrid is near Bernabeu Stadium and offers 75,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Flight Plan: Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) is the busiest airport in Spain and sixth busiest in Europe. It handled nearly 47 million passengers in 2015. The airport is located within the city limits, less than 10 miles from the city’s financial center and the Puerta del Sol historic area. Madrid Metro Line is a train system that connects the airport t

london-england-ukExCeL London and International Convention Centre


Ready for Takeoff: Whether it’s leisure or business travel, the United Kingdom capital reigns supreme, with an estimated 18.8 million visitors in 2015. According to the most recent ICCA rankings, London was sixth for number of events and fourth for delegate attendance in 2014. MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index is also high on London, naming it the world’s most popular tourist destination for the second consecutive year last June.

Customs: Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events for London & Partners, says the city’s core strengths, including technology, life sciences, finance and creative industries, have helped the city become a force for meetings and events. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have such iconic attractions as Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. London will celebrate the arts throughout 2016, from the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to the 40th birthday of punk rock.

Enjoy Your Stay: InterContinental London-The O2 opened in December near O2 Arena, a key entertainment venue. InterContinental features a 32,100-square-foot pillar-free ballroom, with room for 3,000. ExCeL London and International Convention Centre, which opened five years ago, are located in the Royal Docks area. The meeting complex offers more than 1 million sq. ft. of event space, an auditorium that can hold up to 7,000 and seven hotels, with a combined 1,400 guest rooms.

Flight Plan: London’s connectivity and ease of access is a major draw, with six international airports including Heathrow Airport (LHR), the busiest airport in Europe based on passenger traffic. The new Crossrail transit system is scheduled to open in 2018, linking LHR to key meeting centers, including ExCeL London.

berlin-germanyEstrel Berlin


Ready for Takeoff: More than 25 years after the fall of the Wall, Germany’s capital city has positioned itself as a dynamic metropolis in the heart of Europe. Ranked No. 7 in the most recent ICCA report on international meeting cities, Berlin provides event organizers with a large choice of unusual locations, including former railway depots, transformer stations and modern congress halls. Berlin also has an excellent and well-developed network of hotels, venues and service providers.

Customs: The newly opened Spy Museum Berlin gives visitors an insight into the gloom of espionage right where the Wall once divided the city. Visit Berlin makes it easy for attendees to see the city sights with its Going Local Berlin app. This unconventional travel guide, available for iPhone and Android, features more than 700 personal Berlin tips, events and restaurant recommendations. Tourism officials also have launched an English-version convention website, which features 80 leading service providers, including event venues, technology and equipment providers, caterers and meeting agencies in one user-friendly location. Visit to begin planning.

Enjoy Your Stay: Estrel Berlin, Germany’s largest hotel, has opened a new convention hall, with more than 107,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Combined with existing meeting space, Estrel Berlin offers more than 267,500 sq. ft. and can accommodate up to 12,000 attendees. Westhafen Event & Convention Center (WECC) is a new venue that features a private pier on Spree River, allowing attendees to reach the venue by water. New hotels that have opened in the past 12 months include the 208-room Titanic Gendarmenmarkt Berlin, 250-room Amano Grand Central and 357-room Hotel Riu Plaza Berlin.

Flight Plan: Berlin is serviced by Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) and Berlin Schonefeld Airport (SXF), which can easily and quickly be reached from the city center. Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

seoul-south-koreaLotte City Hotel Myeongdong


Ready for Takeoff: The Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA), a partnership between government agencies and private-sector organizations, was formed in 2008 to enhance the city’s global business events competitiveness. Judging from the staggering increases in meetings, the SMA has been doing quite a job: Seoul now consistently ranks among the top meeting destinations in the world.

Customs: “Seoul was first established as a royal capital more than 600 years ago and has evolved into a thoroughly modern city renowned as much for technology as its culture and hospitality,” says Stewart Ho of the Seoul Convention Bureau and Seoul Tourism Organization. One of the prime new attractions is Lotte World Tower, which currently houses a huge shopping mall, local and international restaurants, an aquarium and one of Asia’s largest movie theaters. The tower, slated to be completed this year, will be 1,821-feet tall and feature the world’s highest observation deck.

Enjoy Your Stay: The city has been consistently opening new hotels. One of the most recent, the luxurious Four Seasons Seoul, is centrally located and provides 317 guest rooms and 23,638 sq. ft. of meeting space. Lotte City Hotel Myeongdong, which was unveiled in January, is a premium business property downtown with 430 guest rooms.

Flight Plan: A reader survey conducted by the travel site The Guide to Sleeping in Airports found that Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) ranked second for performance among the world’s airlines. (Contrary to the name of the site, the airports weren’t ranked by how well they accommodate sleepers.) More than 90 airlines—including American, Delta and United—serve Incheon.

copenhagen-denmarkNyhavn, Copenhagen


Ready for Takeoff: Copenhagen, with a population of 1.25 million, is the second-largest city in Scandinavia. For decades, it’s been listed as one of the world’s top 20 convention cities by both ICCA and Union of International Associations. Copenhagen’s hotels and meeting venues continue to rapidly increase. The city now boasts more than 21,000 guest rooms.

Customs: The city’s rich history can be explored in many places, including fascinating museums, palaces and shops. VisitDenmark’s Kathrine Simonsen suggests one excellent way to experience a taste of the new Copenhagen: Rent a canal boat to sail your group across the harbor to have dinner at Copenhagen Street Food, featuring 35 stalls, food trucks and containers offering a wide selection of fresh international street food.

Enjoy Your Stay: Bella Center Copenhagen, a five-minute drive from Copenhagen Airport, covers 1.31 million sq. ft. It can hold 20,000, making it the largest convention center in Scandinavia. Tivoli Hotel and Congress Center, which opened downtown in 2010, provides 679 guest rooms and 61 meeting rooms that together accommodate 4,000 attendees.

Flight Plan: Copenhagen Airport (CPH), with an 89 percent on-time performance, is the most punctual medium-size airport in the world, according to statistics released by OAG in January. It was used by 26.6 million passengers in 2015 and expansion plans call for it to eventually handle up to 40 million annually. Scandinavian Airline Services and Norwegian Air offer nonstop flights between Copenhagen and New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

kuala-lumpur-convention-centreKuala Lumpur Convention Centre

Kuala Lumpur

Ready for Takeoff: Experience a taste of Asia in the melting pot that is Kuala Lumpur. Known by locals as KL, the capital city of Malaysia is a confluence of modern skyscrapers, Islamic architecture and Colonial landmarks. More than 1.5 million people call Kuala Lumpur home, including ethnic groups from India, China and the Persian Gulf. Kuala Lumpur is also one of the most visited cities in the world—11.12 million visitors arrived in 2015, according to MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index.

Customs: Kuala Lumpur has one of the most recognized skylines in the world, with the iconic Petronas Towers. The two twin buildings were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004. Within walking distance is mega shopping and entertainment district Bukit Bintang. But KL is most well known for being a gastronomical paradise. Try masala dosa in Brickfields, which is also called Little India. In historic Kampung Baru, local night markets serve authentic Malaysian fare. Hot-from-the-wok Chinese food can be found in the hawker stalls of Jalan Alor.

Enjoy Your Stay: The capital city boasts state-of-the-art convention centers and modern exhibit halls for small conferences and citywide events. Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre has more than 260,000 sq. ft. of venue space, plus an auditorium that seats 3,500. Nearby, Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur is an award-winning five-star hotel with 662 guest rooms and nearly 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Flight Plan: Located 28 miles outside of the city, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is the busiest airport in Malaysia and serves around 40 million travelers annually. Even since the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, passenger traffic at the airport has rebounded and continues to grow.

glasgow-scotland-ukGlasgow University tower


Ready for Takeoff: “Glasgow’s ease of access and proximity to Scotland’s popular destinations and attractions makes it an ideal meeting place,” says Richard Knight, marketing manager of the Americas for Visit Scotland. “Scotland boasts plentiful opportunities to experience the country’s natural (bounty) and quality produce, including several Michelin-rated restaurants. Glasgow’s buses and subway system make it effortless for visitors to explore the surrounding areas and immerse themselves in Scotland’s culture and tradition.”

Customs: Scotland’s biggest city is a bastion of Victorian architecture, major art galleries, historic museums and prominent rugby, football and cricket leagues. The Theatre District boasts world-renowned cultural venues, including Kings Theatre, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and Glasgow Film Theatre. Gallery of Modern Art is one of many museums in the city that are free to enter. Glasgow’s cultural heartbeat comes to life in The West End Festival, the city’s largest annual celebration of music, visual art and performance, with more than 400 events.

Enjoy Your Stay: Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) is the largest meeting venue in Scotland. It has nearly 240,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space across five ground-level halls, and is connected to Clyde Auditorium, which seats up to 3,000 and has 16 breakout rooms. Events are boosted with multipurpose indoor venue SECC Hydro. It has a capacity of 13,000 and is the third-busiest music arena in the world.

Flight Plan: Glasgow is served by two major airports. Located 8 miles from the city, Glasgow Airport (GLA) is connected to more than 100 international destinations and offers direct flights to North America. Air service from Glasgow Prestwick Airport (PIK) is limited to cities within Europe. Bus service from both airports reaches the city center. Prestwick Airport is also connected via subway.

adelaide-australiaKangaroo Island, South Australia


Ready for Takeoff: Unprecedented new infrastructure in the capital of South Australia is a key reason Adelaide has emerged as a leading destination for conferences and exhibitions, especially with regard to health and medicine, energy and defense. The Riverbank Precinct is happening, featuring a 53,500-seat stadium, convention center and casino.

Customs: Nestled between world-famous wine regions, magnificent beaches and outback mountain ranges, Adelaide’s popularity extends well beyond its city limits. Barossa Valley is the region’s wine-making powerhouse. Penfolds Magill Estate makes a great adventure before or after conventions, offering premium wines from a property that dates back to 1844. Adelaide Central Market, one of the largest covered markets in the Southern Hemisphere, opened in 1869 and offers culinary delights from more than 80 traders year-round, including fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood, cheeses and health foods. It also offers cafes and eateries.

Enjoy Your Stay: Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC) is located in the heart of the city. It underwent a recent $282 million expansion and now boasts more than 107,000 sq. ft. of pillarless floor space. By 2017, when the new East Building is completed, ACC will feature 32 meeting rooms, nine halls and a plenary for up to 3,500 delegates. The Mayfair, a 170-room five-star boutique hotel, has a new rooftop bar that makes a great reception spot for up to 200.

Flight Plan: Adelaide is less than a two-hour flight from the major international gateways of Sydney and Melbourne. There are daily direct flights from the U.S. West Coast to Australia’s major hubs. Opened in 2005, Adelaide Airport (ADL) is the fifth-busiest airport in Australia.

international meetingsChristchurch Convention Center


Ready for Takeoff: Safe, stylish and legendary for scenery, Christchurch is New Zealand’s oldest and newest city, where a post-earthquake renaissance is well underway. “With the $40 billion rebuild on fast track, 90 percent of the tourism activities and the entire downtown are back in operation,” says Caroline Blanchfield, Christchurch & Canterbury Convention Bureau manager. New and revitalized venues are attracting health, science, business and educational organizations, as well as prominent international conferences and events. In 2017, Social Enterprise World Forum will draw more than 1,000 delegates to Christchurch.

Customs: Anchored by the Gothic Revival-style Arts Centre, the gallery and museum district around leafy Cathedral Square is the heart of the city, complete with a lively outdoor market, public art installations, street performers and trendy cafes. A classic day trip is KiwiRail’s TranzAlpine train ride across the Canterbury Plains and roaring ice-fed rivers to the old mining town of Greymouth, below the snowy Southern Alps.

Enjoy Your Stay: Hosting major sports events, trade shows and concerts, the 9,100-seat Horncastle Arena offers 42,800 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Near the iconic Re:Start Mall, BreakFree on Cashel offers 263 ultra-modern rooms and tech-focused meeting spaces. In Victorian Square, the new Christchurch Convention Center is due to open in 2018, and will include a sports stadium and event space for 2,000.

Flight Plan: More than 6 million passengers arrived in 2015 at Christchurch International Airport (CHC) on direct flights from Asia and the Pacific Rim, connecting with Europe and the United States. Plans for a second airport hotel are underway to complement the Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport, now sporting a newly upgraded executive wing and conference space for more than 400.