Paris: New faces for business

by John Keenan
   
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Picture credit: Steven Vanwel

Paris MICE hotels and services

Browse MICE and corporate hotels in Paris on the Great Hotels of the World website - including detailed meeting information, photos, reviews and more.

For great MICE offers and to request a proposal for your next event please visit the Great Hotels of the World MICE page.

For more information on MICE events in Paris contact Corine Bernadou: Tel: +33 (0) 1 49 52 53 96 / cbernadou@parisinfo.com

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You must start with the Seine. The river is the reason the city exists and to this day provides a vital artery to commercial life in the French capital. The touristic Bateaux-Mouches are a familiar sight on the waterway, as inevitable as umbrellas in April, but ship-owner Didier Spade has taken a hackneyed concept and given it a postmodern twist. His Clipper Paris is decked out with sofas, banquettes and armchairs and looks more like a determinedly trendy club than a boring boat. The main and sun decks are 200 sqm each and can comfortably accommodate 100 people for a cocktail reception and 150 people for a seated dinner.

It is an example of how suppliers in Paris are bending traditional formats into decidedly up-to-date forms. Over two freezing days earlier this year, in the tutelary company of Helene Hubert from the Paris Convention Bureau, I was introduced to an array of refurbished, remodeled and restored venues which demonstrated that the French capital is capable of surprising the most proficient Paris planner.

At Cite de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, opposite the Trocadero, Zoe Macedo, head of events, threaded us expertly through examples of French architecture from the 12th century to the modern age, explaining how the 12 reception rooms and auditorium can be put to use by events and conference organisers. The largest area, the Galerie des Moulages at 3,420 sqm, is more appropriate for a reception rather than anything formal. The Cathédrale area is more manageable at 380 sq m, while the 250 sq m auditorium is a thoroughly contemporary meeting space with all the bells and whistles one would demand.

Across the road on Avenue George Mandel, 6 Mandel is a gorgeous 19th century Parisian townhouse adapted to the needs of the 21st century events planner. The rooms comprise 95 sqm of events space plus a 130 sq m garden within sight and shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I used my imagination and pictured a perfect soiree on a warm’s summer’s eve. The house at 6 Mandel once belonged to Jacques Homberg, Christian Dior’s close companion, and one can imagine the pair shopping for presents at Café Fauchon near the Madeleine. The shop pays homage to all things tasty, tempting and ever-so-slightly transgressive from coffee, condiments and spices to biscuits, patisseries and macaroons… you can practically feel your blood sugar levels heading upwards as you navigate the immaculate aisles. Upstairs a separate terrace is available for meetings of up to 250 people.

Following our visit, Hubert and I worked off the calories with a spirited stroll from the Place de la Madeleine across the Boulevard Haussmann to Rue La Fayette, to see a 120 sqm blank canvass in the heart of the city. Whether L’Appart Lafayette looks elegant, funky or formal is completely down the taste and imagination of the client. Well-suited for product launches and press conferences, this is not the place to bring your dancing shoes – the floor won’t take it. But dancing, playing air-guitar and just about any other form of adolescent exhibitionism is positively encouraged at the ‘rock ‘n’ luxe’ Murano in the Marais area. This is not a hotel, please note: it is an ‘urban resort.’ Meeting rooms are not the top item on the agenda at this property, and if you are the kind of client who balks at the idea of presenting your pitch in a bar-lounge to the accompaniment of a track last heard in Ibiza in the late 90s, then the Murano is not for you. You don’t have to be groovy to stay here, but it probably helps.

Another hip and happening meeting space can be found in the distinctly edgy north-east tip of the city. The Centquatre, a former funeral parlour, is a huge light-filled event space and home to the largest collection of in-house artists in Europe. My visit coincided with a residency by British trip-hop big-wig Tricky and equally as impressive is the 39,000 square metre function space. The publicity material includes much worthy comment about the ‘production of living thought’, but of more practical use are the studios, showrooms and workshops which provide modern meeting and events facilities.

If the artistic innovation at Centquatre is your thing, chances are you will also feel at home in the eccentric environment of the Mama Shelter hotel, close to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. This property has literally got quirky designer Philippe Starck written all over it – from the ‘provocative’ graffiti in the lift to the comic-book masks and i-Macs in the rooms. Owner Serge Trigano promised me that traditional service values at the 172-room hotel have not been chucked away with the more conventional trappings of comfortable furniture and discreet decorations.

Back on more conventional ground, both literally and figuratively, the Académie Diplomatique Internationale (ADI) on Avenue Hoche, near the Arc de Triomphe and Parc Monceau, is a prestigious location, comprising five separate meeting rooms which can be privatised for up to a total 350 guests. But be warned: you must give plenty of notice as the building normally hosts diplomatic events but can be hired for a few days every month for meetings and special events.

If the accent at the ADI is on the formal, the ambiance at the Païva Restaurant at the foot of the Champs-Élysées is decidedly unceremonious. The former townhouse of a 20th-century courtesan, renovated by renowned interior decorator Jacques Garcia, is a riot of purple and red furnishings – check out the stars on the ceiling. It’s one more instance of how established venues in the French capital are discovering a contemporary twist.

Rooms for improvement

Nestled on the rue de Berri, just off the Champs-Elysees, the Hotel California has no connection with the famous Eagles tune. In fact, the atmosphere is far more Parisian chic than West Coast cool. The 18-room (plus 16 suites) property has nine meeting rooms ranging from the Pasedena 1, which at 25 sqm can hold up to 20 people to the San Francisco II, which has 120 sqm and can accommodate up to 200 people. As sales manager Sylvia Pietsch points out, the property was refurbished in 2004 preserving the comfortable ambience of the old property while installing the thoroughly modern gadgetry that today’s planners insist upon.

Contemporary equipment and spanking new rooms are the dominant themes at the Meridien Etoile. An established player in the Paris meetings market, and now part of the Starwood organisation, the hotel has added two new rooms to its meetings roster: offering 661 and 484 sqm the combined spaces can accommodate up to 1,200 people. The overall meetings offer comprises 25 conference rooms with more than 2,500 sqm of space. Bang opposite the Palais des Congrès, the hotel has 1,025 rooms – chic, it may be; boutique it definitely is not. At the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, all is luxe, calme et volupté. It’s easy to be overawed by the magnificent public areas, festooned with fine art and gorgeous furnishings, but the gracious staff (epitomised during my visit by marketing communications manager Coralie Malazdra) mix a pleasing lack of formality with a practiced professionalism which puts you entirely at ease. The meeting rooms are similarly appealing – 12 all told, from 31 sqm to the beautiful 162 sqm ballroom.

And if you can tear yourself away from the hotel, the best shops in Paris are temptingly on the doorstep - as is the charming Hotel Lotti, tucked discreetly along Rue Castiglione. The property was the brainchild of the Duke of Westminster and the eponymous M. Lotti, one time maitre d’ at the Continental Hotel. Opened in 1910, it retains its old-school atmosphere. Five years ago, the hotel opened a new wing which added 44 bedrooms along with brand new conference facilities. Today the Lotti has eight meeting rooms which can hold up to 100 people. The restaurant – a tasty slice of Italy in the heart of Paris – is also available for group hire.

For my money, the most beautiful hotel ballroom in Paris is located within the InterContinental Paris Le Grand on Rue Scribe. It is one of 21 (count them) meeting rooms ranging from the smallest which can host 10 people for a banquet to the ballroom itself which can hold 600. The hotel is a Parisian landmark - it opened amid much excitement in 1862 and remains a byword for sumptuous events. The Café de la Paix is renowned in its own right.

The Crown Plaza on the Champs-Elysees can’t boast such an illustrious history but what it lacks in heritage it makes up for quirky ambience. This is not your standard Crown Plaza – designed by Bruno Borrione (who, almost inevitably, was a student of Philippe Starck) the property is an eclectic mix of natural timbers and modern furnishings. The 300 sqm meeting room can hold up to 260 people.

Last and far from least, the Westin Paris, overlooking the Tuileries gardens, is a gorgeous grand dame of a property. Rivaling the InterContinental for jaw-dropping opulence, this is an unashamedly upmarket place. The meeting rooms – festooned with frescos in the style of the second empire (that’s 1850-1870 for those whose French history is a little rusty) – the total of 1,982 sqm can hold up to 1,000 people. The Salons Castiglione, Feuillants, Mont-Thabor, Rivoli, and Saint-Honoré provide a variety of configurations for events while the Salons Tuileries and Vendome are best suited for lunch or dinners. The flamboyant is 19th-century Salon Impérial is ablaze with gilt chandeliers, red drapes and carpets while the Salon Concorde is a splendid grand ballroom. Style never goes out of fashion.

Feeding creativity

Any self respecting event planner has a couple of Paris-based caterers in the address book. If Butard Enescot is not one of them you really ought to do something about it. During a deeply impressive lunch, featuring (among other things) crispy scallops, crayfish mille feuille, lobster marinated in rum and a bitter chocolate truffle, Laetitia Gey outlined the company’s commitment to make each reception ‘a singular moment’. Fine words, but the genuine passion for superlative cuisine was evident in each memorable mouthful. Not exactly a new kid on the block - Butard Enescot was formed in 1997- the company is nevertheless challenging established caterers in the city with dynamism, know-how and supreme skill.

We dined at the beautiful Pavillon Royal in the Bois de Boulogne, and then took a post-prandial stroll to another magnificent events venue, the Pre Catalan. Long a favourite of aristocracy, politicians and high society, the venue is a fabulous choice even if fine dining is not on the menu – it offers 13 elegant rooms ranging from 32 sqm to 800 sqm, and can host from 20 to 1,400 guests for a reception.

In contrast to the formalism of the Pavillon Royal, the Boeuf sur le Toit is an unceremonious Art Deco gem in the heart of the city. Le Boeuf wears it brasserie heart on its sleeve and the tables crowded with local families are testament to its enduring appeal. The diners at the Chiberta are also local but likely to be more recognizable to anyone who keeps an eye on the French press. The restaurant’s Michelin-starred cuisine and seemingly bottomless wine list make it a favourite with the powerbrokers, media savvy, famous – and would-be famous.

A more traditional mainstay of typically French high cuisine, the Lassere is as French as foie gras – and how you react to that idea will tell you whether this establishment will strike you as inspired or insufferable – I plump for the former, won over by the polite and informative staff and the unexpected eccentricity of the sliding roof.

On my final evening in the capital Helene Hubert and I dined at La Grande Cascade on the Allee de Longchamp, once more in the Bois de Bologne. A Belle Epoque beauty, the restaurant has a number of private rooms which can be taken over exclusively for groups. We toured the rooms after a lengthy and very Gallic dinner involving game, truffles, and, bien sur, foie ras de canard poivre et sel. Paris has many different faces, but some things never change.

Case study

Toward the end of last year, Paris-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) was asked to produce an exceptional event for 80 of the best clients of a well-known financial institution. It was to be an all-inclusive tailormade event; assistance would be provided to each attendee; and the on-site co-ordination would take place in a sophisticated venue renowned for its cuisine.

CWT was charged with end-to-end event management, comprising venue sourcing, delegate welcome, on-site assistance, and around-the-clock service.

The chosen venue was Pavillon Ledoyen. The Pavillon was built in 1791 by Pierre-Michel Doyen, scion child of a famous catering family. It was redesigned in 1842 and is located amid chestnut trees, beside a manicured lawn and peaceful fountains, within a graceful neo-classical facade.

CWT account director at CWT Meetings & Events in France, Christophe Colvin says: “Our objectives were to create a wonderful experience for these important clients and to introduce new products. The event had to be original and high-end. The delegates were French employees of a large US-headquartered company. For the French people, food is very important – and our presentation reflected this. The delegates were treated like stars; good food, good wine, good conversation.

“The budget was dedicated totally to the event – it was not spent on travel or accommodation. By focusing on the clients exact needs we were able to create a memorable event. For me the twin pillars of a successful event are re-invention and creativity.”

A brief word

We asked a leading Paris-based destination management company to respond to a hypothetical brief: a pan-European company needs to retain staff and strengthen its upscale brand image internally. The programme comprises a two-day conference including break-out sessions, a keynote address by the CEO and a gala dinner on the final evening.

Michele Hensley, Allied France

The arrival and departure transfers can be arranged via different types of vehicles, from de luxe motor coach, van or private car to motorbike transfer. A two-day conference can be enhanced with activities during the morning and afternoon coffee breaks such as distribution of baby trees, massages, caricaturists, cooking activities or a Paris quiz. The activities will be selected according to the demographic of attendees. For the farewell evening dinner, depending on attendees demographic and budget we suggest one of the following: themed dinner in one of the Paris’ pavilions, or a dinner cruise with entertainment to allow the participants to discover the City while dining, or a fun and interactive dinner in the Funfair Museum or lastly the best in terms of classical dinner an evening in the Palace of Versailles, starting with the visit of the state apartments on a private basis for the participants, followed by a dinner in the gallery of battles along with music and period entertainment and costumes.

Vital indicators: Paris

Value for money – 3
Paris ranks with London and New York as a world-class capital – with world-class prices. You don’t have to have a behemoth budget to get the best out of the city – but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Infrastructure - 4
The French capital has been drawing crowds ever since Napoleon Bonaparte launched his first European tour. It knows how to cope with groups of all scale and size.

The X-factor - 4
Some clients might claim to have seen it, done it and bought the Eiffel Tower t-shirt – but Paris has ways of reinventing itself which should not tax the imagination of the enthusiastic organiser.

Access - 4
Charles de Gaulle is the busiest airport in Europe bar Heathrow – with all that implies. Not the most centrally located hub, which means transfers demand plenty of aforethought. Brits-based in southern England have the option of the Eurostar – a convenient and speedy, if not cheap, alternative.

Luxury Investment - 3
It’s been two year since the Marriott Rive Gauche shook things up with its 60s-style revival. The five-star hotel sector has been pretty quiet since then.

Conclusion
Paris regularly tops the short-haul league tables for most European event planners. It remains well-placed to capitalise on its strengths when its neighbours, and its own, economic fortunes are revived.

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