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Monaco Is Banking on Corporate Tourism

November 21, 1997|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONACO — These days, that man--or woman--trying to break the bank here may be a visiting sports medicine specialist, an insurance company executive or somebody who makes a living selling John Deere tractors or Fritos corn chips.

Exploiting its glamorous snob appeal, this cliff-side ministate of high-rolling casinos and posh five-star hotels, long the haunt of millionaires, nobles and jet-setters, is now marketing itself as an ideal place for business conventions, corporate meetings and product launches.

And it's working.

This year, business-related visits are forecast to account for a record 38% (up from 30% last year) of all tourism in this principality cut into the French Mediterranean coast near Italy's border. Hotel occupancy rates here should climb to 66%, up from a dreary 52% in 1996.

"This is one of the most beautiful spots in the world," said Vladimir Radichenko, an impressed visitor from Russia. "This concentration of contemporary and ancient architecture, of mountains and sea--where else can you find it?"

Vice president of his country's Olympic committee, Radichenko had come to Monaco as one of hundreds of participants in the International Olympic Committee's 4th Congress on Sports Science. It was just one of 665 scheduled events to be held this year.

"For a lot of people, coming here is a kind of dream," said Dario dell'Antonia, president of the tourism and convention authority.

Over the next three years, the goal of Dell'Antonia and other tourism officials in the country less than one mile square is to push yearly hotel occupancy rates up to 70%.

To help attract more of the business and convention trade when summer vacationers and winter sunbirds have flown, Monaco, which already possesses a seaside conference center capable of holding 1,100 people, is building a second facility that will boast three auditoriums, 24 meeting halls and more than 80,000 square feet of exposition space.

The new Forum Grimaldi is scheduled to open in 2000.

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Since the 19th century, when the first casino was built and the tables of Monte Carlo became Europe's most famous and popular spot for gambling, Monaco has been a favored watering hole for the nobility and the wealthy of all continents.

It's lately been the venue for meetings by the boards of PepsiCo and Dupont, for the European Petrochemical Assn. and other conventions.

Mercedes-Benz, Fiat and Peugeot have used a Monaco backdrop to launch some of their cars, while John Deere is one of the U.S. corporations awarding top achievers with all-expense-paid holidays here.

These sorts of stays--known in the travel trade as "incentives"--are a valued boost to Monaco tourism, since they are often for four- or five-day packages, versus an average tourist stay of 2.86 days.

For some special events, like last month's annual meeting of the 39-nation International Whaling Commission, ruler Prince Rainier III shows up in person, lending a priceless cachet.

But the IWC conference may have been one case where the same chic that has made Monaco internationally famous made it harder to do business.

The group had to drop its plan to meet here last summer when Monaco officials objected that those dates would interfere with the Grand Prix road race and Monaco Open tennis tournament, both big tourist draws.

When a venue was found for the rescheduled October dates, IWC officials said they had to insist that it include a buffet serving coffee, tea and sandwiches. Their hosts apparently hadn't thought of it.

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Dahlburg was recently on assignment in Monaco.

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