Like many industries, the exhibition market in France was hit hard by an economic downturn last year. Nevertheless, its trade association Foires Salons et Congres de France reports that the market has remained stable and describes overall results as "satisfactory".
Visitor figures at consumer shows improved by 2.4% on average and at trade fairs by 0.2%. According to French venues, the second half of 2003 was better than expected and, as a result, the association is predicting that 2004 will be a "good year" for the exhibition market.
Experts also predict a growth in events outside Paris. John Cole, NEC corporate development director and a member of the European Major Exhibition Centres Association (EMECA) says: "There's a great energy and determination for cities such as Lyon and Lille to make their mark and be distinctive and there's significant structural change taking place. Part of this development is being driven by the French government putting more power into regional authorities."
Event organisers are spoilt for choice in Paris, whether organising an intimate cocktail party in an usual setting or staging a mammoth show at the eight-hall Porte de Versailles, which at 220,000 sq m is the biggest exhibtion centre in France and the fourth largest in Europe.
Anne Marie Narboni, head of the congress division at Paris Expo, the venue consortium and Unibail subsidiary that manages the site, says the recent EUR70m (£46.9m) modernisation of Hall 5 is an example of its commitment to the global market. "We will keep ensuring we meet the requirements of customers who come from France and beyond," she says.
The remaining venues in the seven-strong Paris Expo portfolio are CNIT La Defense, Carrousel du Louvre, Palais des Sports, Espace Champarret, Coeur Defense, and Espace Grande Arche.
Parisian venues are sophisticated operators and many have forged joint marketing alliances, such as the Leading Venues of Paris, which incorporates the Palais des Congres de Paris, the Parc d'Exposition et Centre de Conventions de Paris-Nord Villepinte, the Parc d'Exposition de Paris-Le Bourget and the Palais des Congres de Versailles.
The North-East Paris Alliance features Paris-Nord Villepinte, Stade de France, Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Cite de la musique, the exhibition centre at Le Bourget and the Park & Exhibition Hall at la Villette. These facilities, too, are marketing themselves more aggressively to drive growth.
"We've taken heed of the needs of organisers to make their work easier and so we have developed practical tools," says North-East Paris Alliance director Akim Chekhab. The group produces a guide to corporate meetings and events and also runs advisory teams that give free advice to organisers.
Venues in the French capital say they are always looking to innovate.
Paris-Nord Villepinte, which features seven halls and can hold up to 30,000 guests at a go, has teamed up with Parc Asterix to launch an incentive product. The package consists of a combination of a seminar, convention, congress or training session at Paris-Nord Villepinte followed by a half-day, day or private evening of entertainment at the theme park based on the Gallic cartoon hero.
Lille's main venue is its purpose-built exhibition centre Lille Grand Palais. The 22,000 sq m facility plans to add another 7,000 sq m, but the proposals have been put on hold until 2007. The space is broken up into three halls, the largest of which covers 18,000 sq m. Its refurbished seminar rooms can house groups of up to 125 people and a deal with Eurostar has seen the venue launch a seminar package for day-trippers from England, which includes catering.
"Last year was difficult because of political instabilities and the war in Iraq but we maintained turnover. This year we're already seeing a 5% growth so we feel quite confident now," says Lille Grand Palais sales director Rik Ballaert.
The town, which is about an hour's drive from Paris, is the 2004 European City of Culture and Ballaert anticipates the honour will boost business in the area. "It has already brought a lot more interest and requests," he boasts.
One area at which Lille excels is transport and a series of highly developed transport links have made the town a thriving business centre. The area frequently plays host to exhibitions in the mail order and textiles sector.
Railway equipment fair SIFER, which is organised by UK outfit Mack Brooks Exhibitions, used Lille Grand Palais for the first time in 2003, and the biennial show has already rebooked for 2005.
The NEC's Cole says Lyon is in pole position to boost the event industry outside Paris, on the back of a strong economy and convenient location in the central Rhone/Alps corridor.
Lyon has two prime exhibition spots, Palais des Congres and Eurexpo, the latter of which is 20 minutes from the city centre. A EUR38m (£25.5m) project to extend floor space to 100,000 sq m is due for completion in September.
Eurexpo houses six restaurants and eight bars, which can be used for business lunches, gala evenings and cocktail functions.
The Palais de Congres is in the process of doubling its exhibition capacity.
By June 2006, it will have added a 3,000-seat amphitheatre, 5,400 sq m of exhibition space, 1,500 sq m of meeting room space as well as extra car parking and a direct tram link to Lyon airport. Communications manager Lucie Kaderabek says demand for exhibitions has shot up since Lyon hosted a G8 summit in 1996.
The riviera resort is home to France's second busiest airport, behind Paris, which lies 15 minutes from the town's main exhibition centre, the Acropolis. The convention and exhibition centre offers 30,000 sq m of divisible space, five auditoriums that seat from 250 to 2,500 people, reception halls for gala dinners and a 75-cover restaurant. Expansion plans to add another 13,000 sq m of floor space by 2007 are under way. When completed, the development will enable the venue to host two large-scale events at the same time, using separate entrances.
The Acropolis has a strong reputation in the international scientific, medical and information technology sectors, partly because of its high-tech facilities.
"Most of the hotels are situated in the city centre and 900 rooms are available in the immediate vicinity of Acropolis. This volume of beds allows the city to welcome important international events in optimal conditions," says Acropolis marketing manager Fabienne Giroud.
Cannes' convention centre - Palais des Festivals et des Congres - is in the centre of town and on the seafront. As such, it's no surprise it boasts one of the most glamorous events in the calendar, the annual International Film Festival that takes place this month. In addition to the advertising and broadcast industries, Cannes is also associated with computing and luxury product events and the centre hosted last month's southern spin-off of event services show Heavent Expo.
A spokeswoman for the venue says: "While Cannes still remains a small city with a village atmosphere, you can compare it in terms of capacity to Barcelona, Copenhagen, Lisbon or Vienna."
The Palais des Festivals features 18 auditoriums and 30,000 sq m of exhibition space but this is set to rise, with a proposal in the pipeline to add a 3,000 sq m floor. The new development would boast panoramic views over the Riviera and be designed with gala dinners in mind. In keeping with the luxurious ambience of Cannes, the convention centre also houses a casino, restaurant and disco.
Exhibitions in Marseille take place in Le Parc Chanot. Like sister destinations such as Cannes, the venue is only minutes from the beach but is also at the heart of the town and half an hour from Marseille International airport.
Chanot consists of three main venues: Le Palais de Congres boasts an auditorium holding up to 1,200, an amphitheatre, 5,000 sq m of exhibition space and 12 meeting rooms. Le Parc des Expositions has six halls that offer 40,000 sq m and Le Palais des Arts comprises three large meeting rooms. In 2003, Chanot hosted 340 shows, which attracted 5,000 exhibitors and more than one million visitors.
Chanot completed a widescale refurbishment of Hall 1 in September 2003, which formed part of the organisation's EUR15m (£10m) investment in facilities set out in its 2001-2006 action plan. The hall, which covers 6,530 sq m, and two meeting rooms holding about 90 people, have been completely modernised.
As an event destination, Montpelier has a strong reputation in the medical research and technology sectors, largely because it is home to France's oldest faculty of medicine and 80,000 university students. The town in the south of the country boasts two main event venues: Le Corum and Le Parc des Expositions.
Le Corum, which is divided into four levels, provides 6,000 sq m of exhibition space, as well as reception areas and committee rooms. The larger Parc des Expositions is made up of 13 multi-purpose halls comprising 120,000 sq m, 55,000 sq m of which are under cover.
It was a record year for Montpelier's exhibition centre in 2002 when it hosted 120 events including The Christmas Show, The Erotic Arts Show and The Beauty Show for Professionals. "Montpelier has acquired important experience of hosting international events, holding 35 each year since 1990," says Enjoy Montpelier director of marketing and development Alain Formentin.
According to Toulouse Centre de Congres marketing director Edith Degrendel, business jumped 40% in 2003. She puts this growth down to a strong desire to drive development of the events industry and more dynamic marketing.
"We've started marketing the Centre de Congres with the Parc des Expositions," she says. "We are stronger together."
The Centre de Congres features an amphitheatre and exhibition hall and holds up to 1,200 people, while the Parc des Expositions can house up to 5,000 in its seven halls. The Parc is ten minutes from the city centre, on an island in the middle of the River Garonne. It measures 90,000 sq m and hosts about 40 exhibitions a year in nine exhibition halls.
Elsewhere in Toulouse, the Diagora offers 7,000 sq m, of which 2,500 sq m is exhibition space. Also available are 16 meeting rooms, an amphitheatre seating 508 people and a separate room with capacity for up to 2,000 guests.
Diagora's reception room, Le Salon d'Honneur, features a glass rotunda and is popular for cocktail parties, product launches and corporate hospitality.
FIVE OF THE BIGGEST FRENCH TRADE SHOWS
Trade show Organiser Frequency Latest
World Car Show AMC Promotion Biennial 1,447,753
Int'l Agricultural Show Comexpo Paris Annual 673,273
Int'l Construction Show Reed Exhibitions France Biennial 475,327
World 2 Wheel Motor Show AMC Promotion Biennial 415,168
Int'l Paris Boat Show Reed Exhibitions France Annual 286,069
All five exhibitions are held at Porte de Versailles, Paris
Source: Foires Salons et Congres de France