International (Destination)

September 2016

Spain's group offerings put a spotlight on history

by Jessica Benavides Canepa

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    The Principal Madrid Hotel

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    Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

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    Satrustegui Tower, San Sebastian

Exciting and diverse, Spain’s bustling capitals have always offered a wealth of sights and sounds for international visitors. Today, cities throughout the country are introducing inspired options for visitors and groups that highlight authentic local experiences in terms of venues, activities and gastronomy—all helping to boost social interaction, economic growth as well as reduce collective carbon footprints.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

In the Spanish capital of Madrid, the focus has been on sprucing up vintage venues to showcase their storied heritage.

“Over the past few years, we have met a growing demand for authentic cultural offerings by inaugurating new hotels in distinctive settings and renovating old classics,” said Madrid Convention Bureau Director David Noack Perez.

Madrid’s newest wave of quality hotels are often former townhouses or one-time mansions that look and feel more like noblemen’s homes than a temporary place to lay down your head for the night. Boutique stays along this vein include The Principal Madrid Hotel, opposite the Circulo de Bellas Artes; the Urso Hotel & Spa Madrid; the Hotel Unico; and the newly opened Totem, located in the upscale Salamanca district.

The MICE market also offers interesting prospects with the reopening of top-notch classic hotels such as the NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding and NH Collection Madrid Colon, Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via, Novotel Madrid Center, Courtyard by Marriot Madrid Princesa and the Madrid Marriott Auditorium Hotel & Conference Center.

Newcomers of note are properties from Palladium Hotel Group: Only You Boutique Hotel Madrid and Gran Melia Palacio de Los Duques, which features the best of both worlds: a regal 19th century palace suitable for larger groups, located next to the Royal Palace, Royal Theatre and Almudena Cathedral.

Meanwhile, Barcelona has the great distinction of being the world’s first city to obtain a Biosphere certification—recognized by UNESCO and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)—and given to the Catalan capital for its commitment to sustainable practices. For groups, arrival by air remains a challenge in terms of sustainability, but Barcelona encourages visitors to get around using eco-friendly means.

“More than 80 percent of our city’s mobility is done on foot, by bike, eco taxi or public transport,” said Joana Homs, manager of Barcelona Sustainable Tourism, an organization that works with companies ready to make a difference. “Participating partners [venues and hotels] do their part by promoting local products and implementing energy efficiency programs and recycling programs,” she said.

Some of Barcelona’s MICE-friendly hotels also take pride in focusing on sustainability, including the Crowne Plaza Barcelona-Fira Center, Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I, Hotel Alimara Barcelona, Hotel Barcelona Princess and Melia Barcelona Sarria.

Newer boutique stays, some located in historic buildings, include Casa Bonay; The Serras; Cotton House Hotel, Autograph Collection; and the city’s newest addition, Monument, situated on the ritzy fashion avenue Passeig de Gracia.

Vintage Venues

It’s no secret that many of Spain’s most iconic buildings can be hired for meetings or events. A memorable experience to be certain, but not without a number of limitations. For one, guests are only allowed in designated areas arranged to suit the event, which means the venue becomes background filler rather than an experience in itself.  

Spanish event planning company Greatness solves this dilemma by offering full access to a collection of privately owned castles, wineries, villas and stately homes for the ultimate in-your-shoes experience. During a stint working at the World Bank, founder Isabel Benjumea noticed jet-setting colleagues rarely traveled to Spain.

“They felt we didn’t have comparable products, so right then and there I decided to do something about changing their minds,” she said.

Greatness connects property owners with guests who want to see beyond the surface and come away with a new appreciation for a history they would otherwise never have known existed.   

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