How Swede It Is: Stockholm Entices Groups

Stockholm's hospitality officials liken their city as the northern equivalent of well-known cosmo European cities to the south, and they are ramping up efforts to snatch more U.S. group business.

The Swedish capital's major development is the Waterfront Congress Centre, situated next to the central train station on the Riddarfjarden bay, with a late-2010 opening date. Though detailed plans are not yet available, it will have large-banquet facilities and a capacity of 4,000 attendees for small conventions, plus conferences and meetings. A companion, 420-room Park Inn hotel with reportedly over 100,000 sf of event space will arrive at the same time.

But already in operation next to Central Station since February is the 558-roomClarion Sign, now Stockholm's biggest hotel. "The Clarion will be a great convention hotel, and it already is a great meetings hotel," said Magnus Lindbergh, New York-based meetings and incentives sales manager for Visit Sweden, who accompanied press members on an early-August media tour of Stockholm attended by MeetingNews.

While the Clarion is one of the newest Stockholm hotels, the city's grand dame, the 130-year-old Grand Hotel, is alive and well, able to host 800 attendees. Having become an InterContinental property earlier this year, the 374-room hotel, which overlooks Sweden's
Royal Palace and Parliament, has hosted from heads of state to Nobel Prize laureates to pop icons. In April, it added a seafaring venue to the four modern meeting rooms and 215-seat auditorium it introduced in its 2006 renovations.

Allowing up to 44 attendees to experience the Stockholm Archipelago on both day and night excursions, the 61-foot, double-deck SeaLounge yacht is fully managed by the Grand's staff for board meetings, presentations, cocktail receptions, wine tastings, lunches, and dinners. On a press dinner, it presented city landmarks from the water at 14 knots, while the Grand's culinary staff served a tasting menu of heavy appetizers from the vessel's bar/kitchen. The SeaLounge is also equipped with a sauna and an outside Jacuzzi.

Back at the hotel, the "Berlin" and "St. Petersburg" boardrooms, as well as the 1,076-sf "New York" and 1,334-sf "Uppsala" multifunction rooms, have served American meeting groups well since their debut two years ago, according to the Grand's events manager, Mikael Widell. He said U.S. groups have preferred these more conventional settings for conducting business while using the Grand's classical spaces for social program elements.

Leading those spaces is "Vintertradgarden" (Winter Garden), a lavish, Venetian-like space that has held concert performances, award ceremonies, and royal dinners since 1909. At 8,600 sf, it is also the Grand's largest room, followed by the 2,967-sf "Spegelsalen"(Hall of Mirrors) ballroom inspired by the Palace of Versailles. The Winter Garden is large enough to hold small conventions and trade shows, though it is typically used for large banquets and speaker sessions.

In more modernization efforts, the Grand will construct a 10,000-sf, 10-room spa with an integrated fitness center, which will replace the hotel's current workout facility in spring 2009.

Meanwhile, regarded Swedish chef Mathias Dalhgren juiced up the Grand's F&B last May with his eponymous, dual-concept restaurant. The "matsalen" (dining room) half of the restaurant seats 38 and already has received a Michelin star, while "matbaren" (food bar) accommodates 50. Both serve a daily-changing menu based on local products (dry-aged Swedish beef, and salted salmon from Vano, Sweden) and global ingredients (Jersualem artichokes). (During a kitchen tour, Dahlgren served cold pickled cucumber soup made with cured coalfish and trout roe, featured in his menus.)

The restaurant complements the Grand's "Veranda" buffet restaurant, which serves a traditional Swedish smorgasbord year round, as well as the Cadier Bar.

Widell said the Grand is also working with Bro Hof Slott Golf Club to incorporate golf into its amenities, in drawing U.S. groups. About 20 miles outside Stockholm, Bro Hof Slott's Stadium Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, was named Sweden's best course by Golf Digest for 2007.

Originally published on Sept. 8, 2008