Three Great International Destinations

Why these diverse destinations attracted the most international conferences in 2011

Read up on Berlin and Singapore here.

What makes a city draw droves of international association meetings year after year? Here's a closer look at why Vienna, Paris and Barcelona consistently hold the top spots in annual rankings by the International Congress and Convention Association. (For more details and methodology, go to

1. Vienna, Austria Austria's capital and largest city, Vienna topped the ICCA destination list with 181 qualifying association meetings in 2011. (ICCA's ranking counts regularly scheduled meetings with at least 50 attendees that rotate between at least three countries.) And as of this past June, arriving and departing became even easier for attendees. A new, bright and spacious terminal at Vienna-Schwechat Airport, dubbed Check-In 3, promises shorter check-in times and faster security screenings. Free Wi-Fi, special family zones and a large terrace with runway views are some of the amenities offered by the new terminal.

Early this year, the Vienna Convention Bureau was awarded the Austrian EcoLogo by the country's minister for the environment — meaning the VCB is now licensed not only to assist in reducing the environmental impact of a meeting, but can officially certify events as Green Meetings, as defined by the Austrian government. The new designation is an additional draw for planners seeking to demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability.

New lodging options in the city include the 233-room Austria Trend Hotel Park Royal Palace, with more than 9,500 square feet of meeting space. The property, which sits next to the Technical Museum Vienna, opened in October 2011. The 25hours Hotel Wien debuted last August, a 34-suite boutique property that will unveil an additional 187 rooms next spring. The hotel is home to the Dachboden night spot and next spring will also feature a lounge, a restaurant and a "well-being" area for guests.

Just last month, the 213-room Leonardo Hotel Vienna opened for business, offering four meeting rooms, a business center and an on-site restaurant. Another recent debut, the 182-room Hotel Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, offers contemporary luxury and impressive city views. The property has a spa and a fitness center, as well as nine meeting rooms for up to 130 attendees.

This month is scheduled to bring the opening of the 202-room Ritz-Carlton, Vienna, in a landmarked 19th-century building on Schubertring. Among the new luxury property's amenities will be a spa, a fitness center and an indoor pool that plays music underwater. Among the nearly 9,700 square feet of meeting space will be a ballroom, three meeting rooms and two boardrooms. Early next year, Kempinski intends to open the 152-room Palais Hansen Kempinski, a transformation of a historic downtown building. Currently, the palais is being restored and renovated; it will offer meeting and banquet facilities, including a grand ballroom that can accommodate 280 attendees. Also slated to debut in 2013 are the 143-room Park Hyatt Vienna, with 6,889 square feet of meeting space, and the 255-room Me by Mélia Vienna, to be housed in the tallest building in the city.

Points of interest in this historic city are accessible by way of a strong public transportation infrastructure. So attendees needn't miss out on sites like the Schönbrunn Palace or Burggarten (a former palace garden) — or even Tichy, for that matter, a venerable ice cream parlor in the 10th District open only from March to September.

River Seine2. Paris The City of Light overtook Barcelona for second place on the 2011 ICCA ranking, with 174 events. But attendance was up across the board for Paris meetings, not only those that meet the ICCA's criteria. The Paris Convention Bureau tallied 996 congresses for 2011, drawing a grand total of 792,000 attendees. That exceeds the number of 2010 Paris attendees by a solid 18 percent.

Nearly half (48 percent) of congresses in the city last year were related to the medical sector, adds the bureau, and a number of high-profile medical meetings are on the books for 2012 as well — including mammoth international gatherings for urology, cardiovascular operations, anesthesia and hemophilia.

On the hotel front, the 153-room Hilton Paris La Défense recently completed renovations, debuting an expanded number of guest rooms as well as a new contemporary décor in the modern, distinctive CNIT building, below the Grande Arche. An entire floor of the building has been converted for meetings and seminars, offering eight modular meeting rooms with panoramic views. As many as 240 attendees can be accommodated in the meetings area.

A couple of high-style boutique properties also have debuted recently in the French capital. Hotel Original, the brainchild of fashion designer Stella Cadente, is a 38-room, fairy-tale-inspired property between Place de la Bastille and Place des Vosges. Each unique room has been designed to project the guest "into a fascinating, sublime world" reminiscent of an enchanted forest, a mermaid paradise or Alice in Wonderland, to name a few examples. The Montmartre Mon Amour Hotel, on the other hand, a 24-room boutique hotel created by Lebanese designer Sandrine Alouf, takes its cues from love in the real world. Eight of the guest rooms pay tribute to famous couples of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Baudelaire and Duval or Rimbaud and Verlaine, while the rest promote more general themes of love and romance — including the love for Paris itself, perhaps more appropriate for those traveling alone for business.

The Montparnasse Tower recently wrapped up renovations and offers groups a panoramic, iconic view of the Parisian skyline. From the 56th floor attendees can take in the city's splendor — more than 70 monuments can be spotted — while indoor exhibitions of historic Paris feature photographs, multimedia and touchscreen displays. The venue's panoramic bar, the 360 Café, has been fully renovated as well, as has Espace 56, a private function room that treats up to 300 attendees to a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.

Among historic Parisian properties temporarily closed for revamping is the 159-room Ritz Paris, which will reopen by late 2014 fully refreshed, including the L'Espadon restaurant and the Ritz-Escoffier cooking school. The 168-room Prince de Galles, Paris, will reopen in the first quarter of 2013 with a new fitness and health center.

New developments include a conversion of the former La Samaritaine department store into a luxury hotel, Le Cheval Blanc. Planned for a 2015 debut are 80 guest rooms and suites overlooking the Seine, a cultural center and assorted retail shops.

PHOTOGRAPH: © Paris Tourist Office/Daniel Thierry

W Barcelona3. Barcelona, Spain Barcelona remains a vibrant bright spot amidst Spain's otherwise faltering economy. Not only did it remain among ICCA's top three cities for 2011, with 150 applicable events, but its meetings market continues to expand overall. The number of professional meetings held in 2011, according to the Barcelona Convention Bureau, grew by 6.8 percent over 2010, to 2,283. The nearly 647,693 attendees of those events represented a 5 percent hike over the previous year.

The city appears to hold special allure for international delegates, which made up 80 percent of those tallied. And international hotel companies are certainly taking notice: Global giants Starwood and Marriott are among those touting recently opened properties, with the 2010 opening of the 473-room W Barcelona and this April's debut of the 211-room Renaissance Barcelona, respectively. The latter, just off the Passeig de Grácia shopping thoroughfare, offers seven meeting rooms. The W, for its part, has become a local landmark with its distinctive sail design towering over the Port of Barcelona. The striking property also offers more than 22,600 square feet of meeting and event space.

Other international newcomers include the 92-room K+K Hotel Picasso, Barcelona, which debuted in July in the trendy El Born neighborhood. The stylish property has two conference rooms, which together can hold up to 50 people.

The 264-room Novotel Barcelona City recently opened on Avenida Diagonal, a main thoroughfare, near the Agbar Tower; More than 6,200 square feet of meeting space is offered. And the 241-room Pullman Barcelona Skipper, another relative newcomer, is close to the beach in Port Olimpic. It offers nine meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 800 people in total.

A local company, Hoteles Catalonia, will debut the Hotel Catalonia Fira this month, across from the trade fair area in Plaça Europa. The unique design consists of two 360-foot towers, connected about halfway up by a restaurant with panoramic views. A unique outdoor garden covers the building's exterior. The property has 357 rooms and a convention center that can accommodate as many as 1,000 attendees.

Another unique venue, the Sunborn floating luxury hotel, is set to open in early 2013. The 460-foot super yacht will have 180 guest rooms, a pool and terrace, bars, restaurants, a spa and a gym. It will offer more than 7,200 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom spanning 4,600 square feet. The yacht is moored in the Port Forum Marina, which is within walking distance of the Barcelona International Convention Centre.

La Cúpula de Las Arenas is yet an­other unique event space — in the form of a spectacular dome, with nearly 28,000 square feet of space and ceilings 82 feet high. Formerly the Plaza de Las Arenas bull-fighting ring, the 1900 landmark was completely refurbished and turned into a retail and restaurant commercial area, with the domed Cúpula as the centerpiece on top. A wraparound balcony provides spectacular views of the city, while the interior already has been used for concerts, fashion shows, conferences and other private events.