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Conference tourism gets new impetus

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Unless you’re an expert on biochemistry, the title “high performance liquid phase separations” might not sound like a mind-blowing topic for a conference. But this international event attracted nearly 1,000 participants to the Budapest Congress and World Trade Center in June – only a fraction of the more than 17,000 who visited conferences in Hungary in the first three months of the year.

Conference tourism is an important segment of Hungary’s inbound tourism. About 10% of foreigners visiting Hungary arrive for conferences and congresses and they spend twice as much on average compared with a leisure tourist. Conference tourism can serve to extend the summer season and generates notable tax revenues, while business visitors often return to the country as leisure tourists.

The latest statistics show that conference tourism has been doing quite well after years of decline. Four and five-star hotels with conference facilities registered a 15% increase in the number of guests participating in conferences between January and May of 2011 from a year earlier, the Central Statistical Office (KSH) said. Also, organizers and conference venues reported an increase in the number of conferences and seminars in the first half of the year.

One obvious reason for conference tourism getting back on an upward path is Hungary’s half-year turn at the EU presidency in January–June this year, but the market already showed some improvement already last year, after touching bottom in 2009.

According to data from Hungarian Tourism, 2010 saw a nearly 50% increase from the previous year in the number of international conferences, and the number of participants showed 53% growth on a year-on-year basis.

The international conference market grew further over pre-crisis levels in the first quarter of 2011: there were 90 international conferences organized in Hungary in Q1, with a total of more than 17,000 participants. Both figures are higher compared to Q1 2010 as well as to Q1 2008 (66 and 80 events, respectively, with 17,000 and 16,000 participants).

The number of events grew gradually in January-March, and the total length of conferences was 294 days during the period.

Shorter events are getting more popular. While the number of events is on the rise, their duration has decreased a little. In the first three months of last year, the average duration of a conference was 4.8 days, falling back to an average of 3.3 days in the same period of this year.

As for venues, two-thirds of international conferences were held in Budapest in Q1. In the countryside, mainly due to Hungary’s EU presidency in the first half of the year, Gödöllő was the most popular location (nearly 18% of the events took place there), followed by Szeged and Pécs.

Hotels are still the most popular locations for conferences, but their share fell back some 20% from last year, in line with the increasing role of other locations such as scientific institutions and universities.

More than half of the conferences saw visitor numbers between 100 and 300, and 10% of the events were attended by 1,000 people. Only two conferences hosted more than 1,000 participants in the first months of the year.

Statistics show that international conferences mainly attract foreigners: 84% of the visitors arrived from abroad. Of the 90 events organized in Q1, 13 were visited by foreigners only.

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