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Paulista Avenue, the financial centre of downtown Sao Paolo. (Christian Knepper / Embratur/Christian Knepper)
Paulista Avenue, the financial centre of downtown Sao Paolo. (Christian Knepper / Embratur/Christian Knepper)

The 10 best cities for business meetings - and blowing off steam Add to ...

THE PANEL:

AIRLINE CHIEFS

Robert Deluce is president and chief executive of Porter Airlines; Rafael Sánchez-Lozano is CEO of the Spanish airline Iberia.

FREQUENT FLIERS

Bay Street veteran Chyanne Fickes is vice-president of investments at Stone Asset Management; franchising expert Larry Carnell, of Marietta, Ga., delivers keynote addresses on the convention circuit with friends Suze Orman and Donald Trump; Brian Kelly leads campus recruiting for a large Wall Street investment bank and writes the popular blog, ThePointsGuy.com.

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MEETINGS EXPERTS

Don Jones, president of Exper!ence it, in Toronto, produces events for Fortune 500 companies; Allen J. Sheinman is managing editor of Meetings & Conventions magazine.

BUSINESS TRAVEL PROS

Alice Marshall founded New York- and Los Angeles-based travel PR firm Alice Marshall Public Relations; Zane Kerby, senior vice-president of the National Business Travel Association, organizes several conventions and meetings a year; Francis Liu is president of one of Canada's largest specialist China agencies, Wonder International Travel in Montreal.



1. BEST OVER ALL: NEW YORK

Sure, it’s expensive, and tricky to get in and out of through delay-prone JFK, La Guardia or Newark airports; but despite its foibles, and because of its fabulousness, New York gets the nod as best for business in 2011. Airline chiefs Robert Deluce and Rafael Sánchez-Lozano praise its international flair, investment expert Chyanne Fickes and Mr. Deluce extol the shopping, while event organizer Don Jones endorses the Manhattan-area IBM Palisades Executive Conference Center.

TRIP TIP: If there’s no time for a show and sightseeing, combine them: “Experience: The Ride” is ferrying audiences around Manhattan to see actors perform on street corners, on a bus primped with stage lights and stadium seats ( experiencetheride.com).

2. BEST FOR CONVENTIONS: DENVER

The mile-high city is no longer a pit-stop en route to the slopes of Vail, says Zane Kerby, who has booked the NBTA’s 40th annual convention there for 2011. Denver won him over for its central U.S. location and cheap flights into Denver International Airport, a hub for United Airlines and discounter Southwest Airlines. Most hotels, including a new Four Seasons, are within walking distance of the Colorado Convention Center. The Pepsi Center – nicknamed The Can – was the site of the 2008 National Democratic Convention.

TRIP TIP: Denver’s travel taxes – a measure of accommodation, rental car and airport taxes – are some of the lowest in the U.S., according to an NBTA 2010 study Travel Taxes in the U.S: The Best and Worst Cities to Visit.

3. PRO-BUSINESS: SAO PAULO

Sao Paolo is the trendy host of soccer’s 2014 World Cup. And says business travel expert Zane Kerby, it’s a “business-friendly” city with a booming economy and dense concentration of multinational firms’ Latin American headquarters. Plenty of world-class events entertain visitors in this city of 11 million, from annual winter and summer fashion weeks showcasing skimpy bikinis to a carnival as sassy as Rio de Janeiro’s ( www.embratur.gov.br/site/en/home/index.php).

TRIP TIP: A vast private helicopter fleet airlifts executives from the financial district’s famed Paulista Avenue, past daily 200-plus-kilometre traffic jams. When the work is done, fly for a mini-trip to Unique Garden Spa and Resort, in Cantareira State Park, just outside the city ( uniquegarden.com.br).

4. BEST SIGHTSEEING: ISTANBUL

Views of the Bosphorus from the infinity pool of Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul – a hotel built in 1719 originally as an imperial palace – clinched Ms. Fickes’s view of Istanbul as a “stupendous” place for meetings. Her group visited the Blue Mosque; the Basilica Cistern, a subterranean waterworks; and shopped the famous Grand Bazaar ( grandbazaaristanbul.org).

TRIP TIP: Build ample free time into events abroad. Too often, participants flown to an exotic destination can’t enjoy it because “organizers feel pushed to use every second for an event,” says Mr. Jones.

5. MOST EXOTIC: MUMBAI

After checking out a client’s Himalayan village walking experiences, Alice Marshall spent an “extremely moving” two nights at the Taj Mahal Palace, one of two hotels targeted in Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks. “They just had reopened the palace wing with a memorial to the victims,” Ms. Marshall recalls. “Everything was so fresh but the memories lingered.” The city, she recalls, was “glitzy and modern in the sweeping grand skyscrapers and Vashi Bridge, with a definite nod to the old” in well-preserved colonial buildings, such as the Victorian Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station ( www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/).

TRIP TIP: Hire a “good guide” to get the most out of a visit to Mumbai, says Ms. Marshall, who found hers through the concierge desk of the Taj Mahal Palace ( www.tajhotels.com/Palace/The%20Taj%20Mahal%20Palace,MUMBAI/default.htm).

6. BEST BUZZ: LONDON

After the announcement of a certain royal wedding, British flight-comparison website Skyscanner promptly reported triple-digit percentage surges in fare searches from U.S., Dutch and German cities to London. All that buzz is the reason, along with great shopping, that Ms. Fickes and Mr. Jones put London in their Top 10 – and it will only grow in popularity as the countdown begins for the 2012 summer Olympic Games.

TRIP TIP: Book now at The Savoy, which reopened after a $356-million

facelift.

7. FRESHEST DOWNTOWN: LOS ANGELES

Brian Kelly, a.k.a. the Points Guy, picks Los Angeles for the revitalizing effect of a nearly complete, $2.5-billion (U.S.), public-private urban renewal project called L.A. Live, which has added hotels, movie theatres, restaurants (including a Phillippe Starck-designed Katsuya), museums and shopping next to the Staples Center, the L.A. Kings home ice. Also, two new hotels – the JW Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton – have opened within L.A. Live’s 54-storey condo/hotel tower near the Conference Center. By sprucing up its downtown, Kelly believes L.A., which already lays claim to enviable weather and the world’s sixth busiest airport, “stands to gain significant conference business” in 2011 ( www.lalive.com).

TRIP TIP: The four-floor GRAMMY Museum, including a new Songwriters Hall of Fame Gallery, is the gem of L.A. Live. Its Clive Davis Theatre and rooftop terrace may be booked for corporate events ( www.grammymuseum.org).

8. BEST COMEBACK: NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans has benefited from millions in infrastructure and hotel upgrades since Katrina, aided by at least two million “voluntourists” taking part in charitable rebuilding events (often tacked onto conventions, the city says). The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where thousands sought shelter during the hurricane – and many died – has been beautifully restored. But there’s still more to do, and magazine editor Allen J. Sheinman sees this as still a bargain destination: Along with cheap, tasty soul food, live jazz, and the inimitable French Quarter Festival in April, you get tourism officials willing to “cut some pretty good deals” to secure conventions.

TRIP TIP: Mr. Sheinman advises swapping Bourbon Street for less-touristy Frenchmen Street, where Blue Nile Nightclub ( bluenilelive.com) and Snug Harbor ( snugjazz.com/site) are the jazz hot spots.

9. CITY TO WATCH: SHENZHEN

Flush with billions in foreign investment in its factories, Shenzhen, self-proclaimed City of Ambition, is the southern Chinese engine of industrialization situated 45 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong. It’s a top choice for 2011 for Mr. Sánchez-Lozano, since “it’s supposed to be very exciting for business.” It’s also the host of the influential annual China Hi-Tech Fair.





TRIP TIP: China specialist Francis Liu advises staying at The Shangri-La Hotel ( shangri-la.com/en/property/shenzhen/shangrila); and for business dinners, a quality buffet in gilded surroundings at Four Seas International House.

10: ST MUSIC SCENE: NASHVILLE

Flooding last May left too many damaged buildings to count and nearly destroyed Nashville’s signature Grand Ole Opry House. But the show goes on in the newly renovated Opry; while the city’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, drenched to the tune of $50-million (U.S.), reopened on New Year’s Eve. Franchising expert Larry Carnell loves Music City, calling it well-situated and inexpensive (it’s also Travel+Leisure’s No. 1 pick for the U.S.’s most affordable city with best live music).

visitmusiccity.com.

TRIP TIP: Though most downtown hotels, bars and restaurants were spared flood damage, Mr. Carnell recommends a stay at the historic Hemitage Hotel, Tennessee’s only AAA Five Diamond and Mobil Five Star (thehermitagehotel.com). Don’t miss a chance to dine at the Capitol Grille at the Hermitage ( www.capitolgrillenashville.com).



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