For lovers, Hamburg has always been – and without a shadow of a doubt – Germany’s most beautiful city. When they think about the city on the River Elbe, they wax lyrical about the Alster lake, the piers, the Fish Market, the cathedral and the Speicherstadt warehouse district. However, anyone who has not yet been enchanted by Germany’s second-largest city believes the cliché of the distant and reserved northern Germans and its constantly rainy skies.
However, sceptics are hereby informed that Hamburg has reinvented itself at an unprecedented speed in the past decade: The Jungfernstieg is a magnificent boulevard again, the trade fair grounds and the CCH convention centre have been modernised and extended, the airport has been expanded, the Atlantic and Vier Jahreszeiten grand hotels are state-of-the-art again. The preliminary climax of this development: the long-awaited opening of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, the largest inner city construction project in Europe, in the new Hafencity district.
On the bottom line, this may have cost the City of Hamburg and its Senate a lot of nervous energy and even more money. However, this seems to have been worthwhile. The striking concert hall already counts among the best in the world. In fact, the editors of "Geo Special" magazine actually rank the new landmark as a "visible symbol worldwide of Hamburg’s new self-confidence".
For meeting planners, the Pearl of the North thus presents itself as an ideal destination for events of every type and size. Because there is hardly anywhere else that combines world-famous tradition with futuristic modernism more elegantly and self-evidently than Hamburg. Whether on the Reeperbahn entertainment street or in the trendy Speicherstadt district, which has actually been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2015.
As is often the case, the hotel industry is an indicator of this development. According to German meeting and convention consultants GHH Consult, the number of accommodation establishments in Hamburg has expanded by 35 percent between 1999 and 2015 alone. In contrast, it is almost impossible to quantify how much this has improved the city’s image. Because in order to be able to score alongside world-famous grand hotels like the Atlantic, the Vier Jahreszeiten and the Louis C. Jacob, countless newer hotels are banking on the charm of historic buildings and industrial monuments: The Sofitel am Alten Wall transformed the former Postbank building into a modern design hotel, the elegant Park Hyatt now resides in the former Kontor Levantehaus mercantile office building, and guests in the Gastwerk are immersed in the spectacular architecture of a former gasworks.
Even the Sternschanzenviertel district has shed its anarchical image or the most part. Today, in the Sternschanzenpark, Mövenpick Hamburg welcomes guests to what was once Europe’s largest water tower, with a fascinating interplay of modern design, traditional brick architecture and a fabulous view across the city. The entrance hall itself is spectacular in this 60-metre high building: From the Sternschanze (formerly a fortified building), a 25-metre-long travelator leads through a tunnel into the lobby – directly into the historic groin vault of the listed tower that dates from 1910. Meetings take place next door: in a two-storey glass building on the south side.
However, this is by no means enough to satiate the accommodation market. Because as the 1.8-million-resident metropolis became reinvigorated, not only has the number of visitors risen overall – between 2011 and 2015 alone by more than 20 percent to 6.2 million, as a study conducted by Fairmas showed. The share of those visitors who are coming to attend a training course, convention or conference has also risen sharply. The Hamburg Convention Bureau’s (HCB) most recent figures are only from 2013. However, the MICE segment already accounted for one-fifth of all overnight stays (2.3 million) back then. One interesting detail: According to HCB, more than two-thirds of all events (80 percent) took place in hotels, and only 20 percent in specific conference locations.
Superlative – the next generation
In short: Although Hamburg’s leading trade fairs, like the Hanseboot, have declined strongly in activity in recent years, the demand is there and investors’ enthusiasm continues unabated. For 2017 alone, an LB Immowert survey has recorded 13 hotel projects with a total of around 2,400 rooms, particularly in the four-and five-star segment. Leading the field by a wide margin is the Marriott Group, which is at the starting gates with one hotel under each of the Moxy, Courtyard and Residence Inn brands. As early as 2015, the chain had already made the former Maritim Reichshof a talking point. And yes, the Westin Hamburg in the Elbphilharmonie complex, which officially opened on 1 December 2016, is also part of the Marriott family. And what a hotel! The hotel’s 244 rooms are spread across 21 stories from the former clinker-brick Kaispeicher warehouse right into the new glass building; full-length windows guarantee breathtaking views over the city on the Elbe. An in this location too, the trip there alone is a spectacle in itself: From Platz der Deutschen Einheit square, Europe’s longest travelator, the "Tube", travels through a tunnel of light and colours to emerge directly onto the plaza which connects the historic building with the glass edifice. From here, the way leads either to the hotel lobby, the concert halls or – for all those who cannot get enough of the view – to the viewing platform and the panorama walkway. Conference-goers also get a view: in a modern conference and banqueting area with eight multifunctional rooms.
But as the saying goes: It’s not over till the fat lady sings. And Hamburg’s fat lady – the SGD152-million hotel The Fontenay built by entrepreneur Klaus-Michael Kühne – will not set foot on the stage until the footlights are shining at their brightest: in the months after the opening of the Elbphilharmonie in January and before the G20 summit starts in June.
The opening of the Lakeside Luxury Hotel, with its sculptural architecture comprising three interlocking circles in the middle of the extensive Alsterpark, is already being considered to be the most spectacular of the year. And General Manager Thies Sponholz does not just want to set new standards in architecture and location. He also plans to set rate levels in line with international standards. "Of all the cities in Germany, Hamburg has the highest occupancy at more than 80 percent, but the rates are at rock-bottom," the luxury hotelier says. Thus he has this objective: "Rates before occupancy. A rack rate of SGD530 will be our starting point."
You don’t want to pay that? You don’t have to, because connections to the northern German metropolis are excellent: Currently, a total of 75 scheduled, charter and low-cost carriers connect around 120 destinations worldwide to Helmut Schmidt Airport, which is 20 minutes by car from the city centre. And with 5.8 percent passenger growth to around 15.6 million in 2015, the airport, known locally as "Fuhlsbüttel" after the district where it is located, has one of the strongest growth levels in Europe.
Conference travellers on deadlines do not even have to leave the airport: With 14 convention and 7 conference rooms, as well as the Airport Conference Center Lilienthalhaus, the ACC Airport Conference Center is prepared for meetings for between 2 and 80 people at any time. Furthermore, since 2009, the Radisson Blu Hamburg Airport has also offered generous conference facilities.
Conference planners certainly don’t have to worry about providing an accompanying entertainment programme. From a round trip on the Alster through attending a musical in the Operettenhaus theatre on the Reeperbahn, from a night-time walking tour through the Speicherstadt district right up to a smugglers’ boat trip through Hamburg Port, the Hanseatic City has the right entertainment for every event.