Conference Venues Offer Something for Everyone
Published: October 31, 2012 (Issue # 1733)
MUSEUM OF THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF RUSSIA
The White Hall at the Kshesinskaya mansion once hosted glittering receptions.
Now that business conferences on all conceivable subjects — from medical research and tourism development to heavy machinery — are regularly held in St. Petersburg, the city offers a wide range of conference facilities to help people maximize the potential of their professional events.
The city’s individuality means that it has a plethora of venues available for conferences, ranging from luxury hotels to historical palaces and from congress halls to boats available to rent in the summer.
The key task is to find an appropriate venue that meets both the format and purposes of the event as well as its budget and expectations, say market experts.
At the same time, experts note rising competition for conference clients, with leading international hotels dominating the market due to their convenient location and, no less important, the wide range of services they offer.
Tatiana Anashkina, business development director at the SPN Ogilvy public relations agency, said some of the best locations for conferences in St. Petersburg are the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg, the Grand Hotel Europe and the Astoria hotel.
“The advantage of hotels is the combination of different services that conference visitors can make use of simultaneously, and their flexibility and business orientation,” said Anashkina. “For instance, at hotels, conference organizers can take advantage of the on-site catering.
“In the case of palaces and historical sites, catering may require additional efforts, as not all those have facilities convenient for catering, or they may have their own agreement with some catering company that may not necessarily be to the liking of a client,” she added.
At the same time, historical venues have certain advantages, such as the atmosphere they help to create at an event, Anashkina said.
“Such places are especially good for conferences with foreign participants or people from cities other than St. Petersburg. For such purposes we’d, for instance, recommend the Yelagin Island Palace,” she said.
MORE THAN A PLACE TO STAY
The five-star Grand Hotel Europe is one of the leaders on this market. Situated in the heart of the city’s main shopping and commercial district, the hotel is a venue for meetings, conferences, banquets and receptions and offers at least 12 conference facilities. The Krysha Terrace, located on the top floor of the hotel, is one of the most popular, as besides having 250 square meters of space, it also offers views of the central part of the city. Among other events, it has successfully hosted the city’s Christmas Art Fair Auctions.
The Corinthia Nevsky Palace Hotel, located right on the city’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt, offers a total of 17 different rooms and halls. Some can be used as classrooms, boardrooms, cocktail and dinner facilities, and offer capacities ranging from about 20 to about 700 people.
The Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge, in turn, presents itself not only as a spa and business hotel, but also as a conference hotel. It offers seven event halls, varying in size from 30 to 410 square meters.
Another centrally-located hotel, the Novotel St. Petersburg Center, offers nine modern fully-equipped meeting and conference rooms with daylight and individual air conditioning.
The Park Inn Pribaltiiskaya Hotel, another popular conference venue, is home to a business center, congress hall and more than 30 meeting rooms.
A DATE WITH HISTORY
Of the conference facilities that offer a historic atmosphere, experts single out the Matilda Kshesinskaya mansion, which is now home to the city’s Museum of the Political History of Russia.
The private residence of the celebrated Russian ballet dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya was built in 1904-1906. At the beginning of the 20th century, state receptions held in the White Hall by Kshesinskaya, who was the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater, were wildly popular, and attracted luminaries such as ballet dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, bass singer Fyodor Chaliapin, entrepreneur and impresario Sergei Diaghilev and jeweler Charles Faberge, as well as the Romanov grand dukes.
In 1917 the house was at the center of revolutionary events when it served as the headquarters for the Bolsheviks and their leader Vladimir Lenin. Nowadays the mansion is not only home to the museum but also hosts conferences, seminars, concerts, festivals and other events. Its three halls can accommodate from 70 to 100 people.
The Peter and Paul Fortress, the historical heart of the city, also offers its Atrium and Flag Tower facilities for conferences and other events. The Flag Tower, an octagonal room with panoramic windows, is suited to small conferences, as it can only host up to 45 people.
Another historic location in the city that can lend events a truly aristocratic and mysterious flavor is the Yusupov Palace, notorious for being the site of the dramatic murder of the controversial Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin by a group of aristocrats.
The Yusupov Palace boasts 10 halls capable of hosting both meetings and banquets.
PAVLOVSK STATE MUSEUM
The Rose Pavilion at the Pavlovsk State Museum is available for business events.
Other unusual opportunities for holding large conferences and forums are provided by the dazzling palaces in the suburbs of Pushkin, Pavlovsk and Strelna, the former summer residences of the tsars.
The Catherine Palace, part of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, holds conferences, congress opening and closing ceremonies, symposia, training seminars, business forums and other formal events. Although located outside the city, the Catherine Palace has the advantages of its ornate ceremonial rooms, among them the world-famous Amber Room, and has the regal air of a tsarist-era residence.
The Pavlovsk State Museum in the suburb of Pavlovsk offers the use of its Rose Pavilion, which can be used as a venue for both formal events and business forums.
The National Congress Palace state complex, historically known as the Konstantinovsky Palace, located on the Gulf of Finland in the suburb of Strelna, 15 kilometers from St. Petersburg, combines the functions of a national residence, a historic palace and a business center.
In addition to serving as the city residence of the Russian president and partly as a museum, the Congress Palace hosts high-profile state events (it was the venue for the G8 Summit in 2006) as well as conferences, negotiations, scientific and political forums, exhibitions and presentations. The complex of the recently renovated Konstantinovsky Palace also includes the Baltic Star Hotel, 20 cottages and a modern conference center.
“Of course, we shouldn’t forget about the biggest conference and exhibition center in the city — LenExpo,” said Anashkina.
Among the city’s new facilities that local experts recommend for conferences is the multi-functional center Crown Plaza Airport City St. Petersburg, an ultra-modern center that opened in March this year. It boasts state-of-the-art technology, 11 conference halls — the largest of which can hold 600 people — a convenient location and competitive prices.
Anastasia Pekutko, marketing director of Airport City St. Petersburg, said the center had experienced “unexpectedly wild success and demand for its conference facilities.”
“It looks like the city was longing for such a super-modern facility, while the location next to the airport turned out to be particularly attractive for traveling businessmen and participants who often just need to come to a conference and immediately leave the city after that, or who prefer to stay in our new Crown Plaza hotel, which is also next to the airport,” Pekutko said, adding that the location next to the Ring Road also contributes to the center’s transport advantages.
Sports complexes including Yubileiny, Ice Palace and Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex can also be turned into large venues for conferences.
Svetlana Melnikova, head of Uniquepr, which is largely involved in the organization of press conferences, said her PR agency often tries to choose interesting or unusual facilities for press conferences, including venues where such events have never been held.
“It could just be a lawn or abandoned factory,” Melnikova said.
“We really liked holding a conference at Erarta Museum of Modern Art. Museums are always good venues for events, because people can combine them with visiting the museum at the same time and seeing at least some of the exhibits,” she added.
Another alternative option for less formal, more creative conferences is Tkachi, a multifunctional creative center dedicated to culture, education, work and leisure located in the abandoned building of a former spinning and weaving factory that is being renovated.
Finally, for a summer conference with a truly St. Petersburg flavor, renting a boat is a popular option. After a trip along the city’s rivers and canals, participants can moor at the Peter and Paul Fortress to continue the event with a business meeting at the fortress’s Atrium hall.
“Meanwhile, VIPs may have the unique opportunity of arriving at the site by helicopter; they [helicopters] are officially allowed to land and take off in the grounds of the fortress,” said Anashkina.
Tatyana Natarova contributed to this report.