Let’s be honest: attending a conference is not just about doing business, learning about the latest industry developments or clinching that winning deal. It is also a great opportunity to visit a new place, network in an informal environment and even extend your business trip into a personal vacation. This is why locations as varied as The Hague, Barcelona, London and Guadalajara all feature strongly as top conference spots.

London is arguably the king of the conference scene. But there are many of other popular locations – some of which are featured alphabetically below – that have pulled out all the stops to entice delegates from the worlds of business, technology, the arts, politics and academia.  

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London, UK

ExCel Centre, London

With a royal wedding in 2011 and the Olympic Games in 2012, London’s international image is flying high. It is a global capital that has everything for the business visitor – from great corporate facilities and hotels to world-class entertainment and iconic sites. Its 1250 conference centres and meeting/events spaces combined with a raft of major airports linking the city to the rest of the world makes it a truly international venue.

Its number one conference venue is the International Convention Centre London ExCel, which has hosted events such as the EAACI Congress 2011, the Festival of Life, and also hit television show The X Factor. In central London there are two major venues that have everything international business delegates require. The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in the heart of Westminster offers 29 meeting and event spaces, catering for between 2 and 1300 people. Equally impressive is Central Hall Westminster, which hosted 2200 events between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011. Talk to any Londoner and you will hear some gripes about the public transport system, but the halo-effect of next year’s Olympic Games is already being felt city-wide, with welcome improvements to the travel infrastructure.

Barcelona, Spain

CONFERENCE HOTSPOTS

The Catalan capital of Barcelona has become a favourite for many conference organisers. They point to its superb infrastructure, great conference facilities, warm hospitality, magnificent coastline, outstanding architecture and world-class restaurants as key reasons that delegates – and their spouses – are so keen to attend business functions in the city.

Barcelona is still capitalising on the city-wide improvements and facilities generated by the 1992 Olympic Games, and has played host to major events including the GSM Association's Mobile World Congress (a four-day event in 2011 which attracted more than 60,000 attendees from 200 countries), the Barcelona Boat Show, and the Organization for Human Brain Mapping Congress. The city is looking to the future, and earlier this year the GSMA announced it had selected Barcelona as its Mobile World Capital from 2012 to 2018.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast city centre

Billions of pounds of investment over the past decade have helped cement Belfast‘s image as an international conference location. The vibrant, compact city now attracts a steady stream of significant national and international conferences and meetings from a broad spectrum of industries and sectors.

Between April 2010 and March 2011, Belfast's seven conference centres hosted 502,636 delegates at 2655 events. The city is building its global presence with about 60 international conferences and events being held in the 12 months from April 2010.

Looking ahead, Belfast will be in the global spotlight in November 2011 when it hosts the MTV European Music Awards. Next year will see the opening of its Metropolitan Arts Centre and the £97m ($152m) Titanic Belfast building, while the 2013 World Police and Fire Games are set to attract about 20,000 visitors to the city over the 10 days of the event.

Edinburgh, UK

The Scottish capital has long been seen as a top location for culture, history, tradition and tourism, which has helped it attract its fair share of big business events. Its five-star conference centre’s location at the heart of the city in close proximity to its hotels, restaurants and major attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, all contribute to its desirability as a business destination.

Edinburgh's conference centre is making its mark on the international scene, hosting 83 events between April 2010 and March 2011, 11 of which were global. Major construction and refurbishment work is set to expand the centre’s exhibition area from 2835 to 4835 square metres (sq m) and to add new function room space. 

Fredericton, Canada

The Canadian city of Fredericton is packing a punch as a conference location. Its conference centre, which attracted 3429 delegates to 44 events between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, was home to the State of the Province address during that period which was attended by 810 people. It is a forward-thinking location, and has since hosted the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. This conference, which took place over 10 days in May and June this year and was attended by 6000 delegates, and is the largest that Fredericton has seen. According to a spokesperson for the city, the professional way it handled the congress and its delegates, along with the opening of its brand new convention centre, will set the tone for Fredericton’s success as a major meetings destination.

Guadalajara, Mexico

World-class infrastructure, high-quality services, friendly people and a beautiful city have helped make Guadalajara the number one city in Mexico for trade fairs and conventions, and number two for tourism. Its convention centre, Expo Guadalajara, is 15 minutes from the city's central area and at the heart of the city’s commercial and financial activities. With 95,730 sq m of events space available, it has the largest capacity of any such venue in Latin America.

Between April 2010 and March 2011, Expo Guadalajara played host to 700 global events and 4 million delegates, including the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Delegates conference and the International Book Fair. Further major events are scheduled for the rest of 2011, including the XVI PanAmerican Games in October and World Information Technology and Services Alliance's Global Public Policy Summit in November.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne city centre

As host of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne has already demonstrated its international pedigree. It is also consistently ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities, a centre of innovation and Australia’s pre-eminent city for medical and scientific research. Its Convention and Exhibition Centre is Australia’s first and only six-star Green Star-accredited convention venue, which gained this award due to the centre's environmentally sustainable design and construction.

Melbourne's top three conference centres hosted 2556 events (45 of which were global) and more than 470,000 delegates between April 2010 and March 2011. The city has seen a 74% increase in international meetings over the past five years and has been identified as one of the world’s most rapidly improving destinations. With world-class accommodation, technology and infrastructure, and a thriving arts, sports and cultural scene, it is now aiming to become recognised as a leader in sustainability.

St John’s, Canada

While the Newfoundland city of St John’s may lack the international clout of some of the leading global capitals, it is strong on ambition. With big plans for expansion, it says those involved in its convention centre, hotels and marketing are working hand in hand to ensure the destination can support the growing demand.

In the economic downturn of 2009, St John's bucked the global trend and recorded a 2.2% growth in its population. The city is also capitalising on the award-winning tourism campaign by the provincial Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Its conference centre, which hosted the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Juno Music Awards in April 2010, contains three units connected by a walkway, and hosted 17,500 delegates at 60 events in the year to March 2011.

Stuttgart, Germany

With 12 conference centres hosting 4100 events (210 of which were international) and 720,000 delegates between April 2010 and March 2011, the southern German city of Stuttgart is becoming an important player on the global conference circuit. Its largest centre, the ICS International Congress Center Stuttgart, can hold up to 10,000 guests in its 33 rooms, and boasts 5000 sq m of exhibition space. This is complemented by a further 100,000-plus sq m in the adjacent Messe Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre, 200 metres from Stuttgart International Airport.

The ICS held 106 events in the 12 months from April 1, 2010, including the Jugendmissionskonferenz, which attracted 7000 delegates.

The Hague, Netherlands

The Hague, city centre

Perhaps best known as the location for global war crimes tribunals, The Hague is the international city of peace and justice. It is the second UN city in the world, home to seven UN headquarters, the Peace Palace, Eurojust, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal) and the International Court of Justice. It is also the seat of the Dutch government and home to the Dutch royal family.

Recognised as a cosmopolitan location with good bars, restaurants and nightclubs that are ideal for networking, The Hague has a track record in attracting industry and government. Between April 2010 and March 2011, it hosed 214,794 delegates at 150 international events, including the Meet the Future, Science & Technology Summit, the 11th Congress of the European Society of Contraception, and Microsoft DevDays 2010 Change the Rules.

Valencia, Spain

Valencia

Between April 2010 and May 2011, Valencia’s two conference centres hosted 106 events, 20 of which were international. Its biggest venue, the Feria Valencia Convention and Exhibition Centre, ran 78 events during that period, including the European Solar Photovoltaic conference, which attracted 1053 exhibitors. It also played host to the EU Summit of European Ministers for Equality and the international meeting of Women for a Better World.