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Always the Real Thing

MICE location check: Atlanta

The big friendly giant: The biggest airport in the world, a superlative hotel and conference centre set-up and the legendary hospitality of the American south count among the trump cards of the Atlantan metropolis.

Atlanta has brought forth two world-famous daughters: Scarlett O’Hara... and Coca-Cola. And like the city itself, both the strong-willed farmer’s daughter and tough businesswoman Scarlett from “Gone With The Wind” and the most famous soft drink in the world embody an absolute will to succeed.

In addition to ambition and a desire to innovate, when Atlanta was selected as the Olympic city of 1996, a strong wind of change blew through the old south of the city. The city has continued to draw on the energy that pushed it to develop into the leading metropolis of the south following the civil war. A phoenix has adorned the city coat of arms since those days, a symbol for the resurrection of the Atlanta from the ashes and rubble of war.

Dance instead of film: touring ballet ensembles and Broadway productions in the Fox Theatre
Dance instead of film: touring ballet ensembles and Broadway productions in the Fox Theatre
David Barnes

Today, capital city Georgia is not just the financial powerhouse of the south, the base for companies such as Coca Cola, CNN, Suntrust Banks and Delta Airlines, it is also one of the most important MICE destinations in the USA, with around 800 events held throughout the year. In 2015, a record year for the city, there were 51 million visitors. 14 million of these were business travellers.

Southern hospitality is no myth
“On the one hand, we have the infrastructure,” explains Brandon Barnes of the congress office, responsible for the international market. A softer factor is just as important. “Southern hospitality is no myth. Giving people a warm welcome is part of our culture. Visitors from abroad are often amazed at how warmly they are welcomed here.” A real location advantage, since “this mood creates a productive atmosphere for events.”

External factors are also a given. As the birth place of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's home within the conservative South, Atlanta has gained a cosmopolitan, positive image. With almost 95,000 hotel beds in 790 hotels, the city also has high capacity. And the infrastructure is right, too. The Hartsfield Jackson International Airport is the airport with the highest passenger numbers in the world. In 2016, 104 million passengers were handled here.

Break in style: the façades of the Candler Building (left) and the Westin Peachtree could hardly be more different
Break in style: the façades of the Candler Building (left) and the Westin Peachtree could hardly be more different
David Barnes

On top of this, the mega-airport also offers more non-stop flights and destinations than any other in the world: 83 international destinations as well as around 200 in the USA.

Quick, cost effective – 4.50 US dollars – and no traffic jams! Travellers can zip into the heart of the city with 420,000 inhabitants, with the number rocketing to almost six million in surrounding areas. The four lines of the MARTA rail (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) connect the city from west to east as well as north to south.

Cocktails in the aquarium, meetings with Coca Cola
There are three central areas, Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead. The latter is known as the Beverly hills of the south for its five-star hotels, chic restaurants and shopping centres. The Mandarin Oriental and Ritz-Carlton are also represented here, as are the Grand Hyatt and St. Regis.

Midtown, with the Museum of Design and the Woodruff Arts Center – headquarters of the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s venue – is the the home of art and culture. Here the glamorous Fox Theatre can also be found, where civil war epic “Gone With The Wind” once celebrated its première. This year sees it being expanded by 900 square metres.

Downtown is Atlanta’s original centre and home to the major attractions and event venues. The Centennial Olympic Park is located here, where the games were held, the Georgia World Convention Center, the CNN headquarters and the Georgia Aquarium.

In the aquarium – the largest in the western hemisphere – conference guests can enjoy a drink in a basin surrounded by whale sharks and manta rays. The “World of Coca Cola,” where the soft drink recipe rests securely in a vault, hires out its lobby and theatre for receptions and presentations.  

Of the times: some 11,000 exhibits of modern art are on display at the High Museum of Art
Of the times: some 11,000 exhibits of modern art are on display at the High Museum of Art
David Barnes

A congress centre with Olympic dimensions
In the nearby Center of Civil and Human Rights, which documents the development of civil rights, theatres and galleries make an impressive backdrop to meetings, cocktail parties and dinners. The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), opened in 1976 with a modest hall, is now the fourth largest in the USA, offering an area of over 360,000 square metres. The 8.5 hectare Centennial Olympic Park, College Football Hall of Fame and numerous car parks are part of the complex.

But since doing nothing means no progress, the complex has just been modernised and extended for the fourth time. On 30 July, the 1.5 billion dollar Mercedes Benz Stadium is to be inaugurated, seating up to 75,000 spectators and is set to replace the recently demolished Georgia Dome. At the same time, the congress centre is being bestowed with a new, glass façade.

All this effort is paying off: in this neighbourhood alone, around 13,000 hotel rooms have been created – here, half a dozen hotels with more than a thousand rooms each vie for visitors to big fairs such as the Atlanta Boat Show or the Pittcon for scientific and technical innovation.

2.5 billion dollars for new hotels and projects
With four other congress centres – the Georgia International Convention Center, located at the airport, the Cobb Galleria Centre at the intersection between interstate 285 and 75, the Atlanta Convention Center at Americas Mart downtown and the Atlanta Exposition Center, five kilometres from the airport  – the city is well prepared.

The Olympic motto truly still applies here. Faster, higher, stronger. The downtown development process that started with the games is far from over. Today’s flagship centre is to be further enhanced, but other areas are also set to be made more attractive.

As a result, by the end of the decade, 2.5 billion dollars will be invested in developing new hotels and entertainment complexes. The Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel has only just opened in May. The Holiday Inn Centennial Park is beginning a new phase of life after a twenty million-dollar renovation as the AC Hotel Atlanta Downtown; in the Candler building, there is a Curio by Hilton. Close to the Porsche Experience Center, a Solís Hotel will be built by the Capella Group, in Midtown a Hampton Inn & Suites. On top of this, by 2018, a Hard Rock Hotel, a Springhill Suites by Marriott and a Canopy by Hilton will be added to the mix. 

Not scared of heights? A trip on the giant ferris wheel gives a bird’s eye view of downtown Atlanta
Not scared of heights? A trip on the giant ferris wheel gives a bird’s eye view of downtown Atlanta
David Barnes

The transformation of the Peachtree Center has already begun; a downtown office, shopping and hotel complex. Six office buildings connected by skywalks, fifty restaurants and shops and over 4000 rooms in the Hyatt Regency, Hilton and Marriott Marquis Hotel are creating a city within the city. They will be equipped with technology and design fit for the 21st century. North of downtown, there is also the Suntrust Park baseball stadium and The Battery entertainment district flanked by an Omni Hotel. The most famous daughters of the city would be impressed.