7 safe European destinations to organise your seminar during Covid
Corporate travel, even in small amounts, will always be essential to growth. As companies continue to find their footing and get back to business as usual, corporate travellers will hit the road more frequently. But, as we all know, this isn't a simple process: travel morale may be low and travellers may need to quarantine every time they return home (or worse they may arrive at their destination and not even be allowed in in the first place).
We understand there can be a lot of negativity around business travel right now. But, for a moment, let's not focus on the the all-too-common dos and don'ts. Instead, we've taken a more positive approach and prepared THE LIST of long-awaited 7 safe European destinations to organise that long-overdue conference or seminar. Now you can relaunch your travel program and organise your team retreat without going through the hassle of checking a multitude of official government websites or waste valuable resources on travel agencies to do it for you. Without further ado, here is our list:
1- Rome (€2,500 - €3,000 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
Even though at first Italy was one of Europe's most Covid-affected countries, this fifth-most-visited global destination has reopened its borders and no longer asks valid justification prior to entry. The country, where 33% of flights are currently operating and 75% of hotels have availability, is admitting residents of EU countries without restriction (excluding Croatia, Greece, Malta, Spain, Romania, and Bulgaria).
Moreover, Skytrax, an international airport industry ratings body, has bestowed Rome's Fiumicino Airport with the world's first five-star anti-Covid award. The Mediterranean country has also made mask wearing compulsory in all public spaces from 6pm to 6am and at all times when in indoor spaces. Also, while travelling between regions is permitted, train companies have reduced domestic services and public transport links are less frequent. All this adds up to a large drop in Covid cases in Rome and through Italy, making it one of the safest destinations in Europe today.
While a love for gastronomy and the necessary gelato is always a reason to visit Rome, this just might be the one chance travellers will get to visit the city's heritage sites, such as the Colosseum or the Roman Forum, without masses of tourists. Whether your teams appreciate site-seeing, visiting busy squares (such as Piazza Novana or Piazza Venezia), or they are into more quaint experiences, Rome has it all. Some places to consider that are off the beaten path are Piazza Mattei with its Turtle Fountain and Piazza Monti with its vintage shops, vibrant nightlife, and (now open) bars and restaurants.
😷 Travellers need to complete two self-declaration forms before their arrival in Italy.
2- Athens (€2,000 - €2,500 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
Teams will surely love catching a last bit of summer on their retreat in Athens before Western Europe gets hit with the full wrath of autumn and winter. With 52% of its flights operating and 72% of hotel availability, Athens is primed for your visit. Greece now permits entry from all EU countries without restriction, the exceptions being Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, and Malta, so getting in and out is generally hassle-free. Individuals coming from these specific countries will need to provide the results of a Covid-19 PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.
Having peaked in July and August, Greece's coronavirus cases are now falling rapidly. The country has applied a long list of measures, including disinfecting streets and public transportation. Masks are only compulsory in indoor spaces; however, some outdoor areas might have signage that enforces mask wearing. This may seem strange for those of us from cities where mask-wearing is compulsory, but it seems to be working well to contain the virus in Athens. Be warned — a failure to comply with such regulations can lead to at €150 fine.
Again, Athens provides the perfect backdrop to add in some unique opportunities to your conference. History and literary buffs will be spoiled for choice. We suggest visiting some amazing sites from the ancient world: the Acropolis (and its museum), the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, or the Erechtheion Athena and Poseidon temple. If your team is more into sports, discover the history behind our Olympic games and pay a visit to the 1896 Panathenaic Stadium. If they're more of a museum lover, consider the Museum of Cycladic Art and the National Archaeological Museum. And finally, away from the silence of ancient temples or the hubbub of the city, you'll find Plaka lying above ancient Athens’s residential quarters. It is the perfect place to wind down and get lost in its twisting alleys and 19th-century facades.
🏚️ For your conference, we recommend the finely-designed and central 360Degrees Pop Art Hotel. An alternative is the Adonis Hotel, located in the Plaka area, a 5 minute walk from the Syntagma station, which is directly linked to the airport.
😷 All travellers will be tested upon arrival to Greece, and those who test positive will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine with costs covered by the Greek state. It is also mandatory for all travellers to complete a Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before arrival.
3- Copenhagen (€3,500 - €4,000 budget for 6* days x 10 people)
*Entry to Denmark is limited to those who have booked a trip lasting at least 6 days
In almost stark contrast to the southern cities of Rome and Athens, next on our list is Copenhagen. As of the end of June, Denmark has reopened its borders to most EU countries, with flights to and from the EU having significantly resumed. Having previously been banned entry, even travellers from Portugal are now on the permitted list. Denmark is neither imposing quarantine nor testing upon arrival.
However, Denmark is generally firmer on Covid-related measures and its case count is relatively low compared to its Western European neighbours. Restaurants and bars close latest at 10pm and individuals must wear a mask in these spaces except while seated at their table. Some travellers may be delighted to know that wearing a mask in public is not compulsory. However, we still recommend wearing one when social distancing measures cannot be respected.
Although you should expect the weather to be on the colder side, Copenhagen has fantastic options when it comes to leisure activities. One cannot visit without stopping to grab a coffee in one of Nyhavn's (New Harbor) tall, colourful houses dating to the 1600s and 1700s. Deeper in the city, you can take a stroll in Strøget, a large pedestrian mall, branching off to smaller streets near the Old City. There you'll find many independent shops. Copenhagen is also rich in cultural attractions such as the Nationalmuseet or The David Collection,which includes the largest ensemble of Islamic art in Scandinavia. The Botanical Gardens can be a beautiful place to take some time off.
😷 Travellers must provide proof of booking confirmation mentioning the duration of stay and the name of the person who made the booking.
4- Lisbon (€1,650 - €2,000 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
If keeping the summer spirit alive is important, then also consider Lisbon in the coming months. Portugal's capital would normally see 20 million visitors a year. Its citizens are ready and willing to welcome visitors with open arms and with 38% of flights operating and 71% hotel availability you'll have lots of choice. Today, visitors from the EU and the Schengen area can enter freely, offering businesses a chance to plan a (cheaper) corporate getaway. Here again, masks are required on public transportation as well as in the Madeira archipelago.
But, Lisbon is not merely a great choice because it's cheaper. It offers a variety of options to round out your retreat. The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the best in the world. If your team is less interested in nature and more into culture, Lisbon offers a beautiful contrast of old and new architecture, which can easily be discovered on a city walk or trip by tram or funicular. It is also home to the famous architect Alvaro Siza's many buildings, which are smattered across the city. And to further delve into Lisbon's art scene, you can choose to visit the National Museum of Ancient Art, the Museu do Oriente, or the modern Berardo Collection Museum. You can even encourage team members to bring along their swimsuits in order to enjoy the waves at Caxias.
🏚️ To go beyond hotels, we suggest looking into the Heden Chiado, a creative hub combining co-working and art studios, offering a fun, well-lit atmosphere. Alternatively, the Hotel da Baixa with its green-tiled facade is a perfectly located hotel for your conference.
😷 Travel insurance covering Covid-19 is mandatory for all incoming travellers.
😷 When flying to Azores and Madeira Islands, travellers will be required to present a negative Covid-19 test.
5- Berlin (€2,250 - €2,600 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
Berlin is another great choice to hold a retreat. With 32% of flights operating and 86% of hotels having availability, Germany is pushing to boost tourism by reopening its doors to travellers from France and other countries without the need to provide a negative PCR test or enter quarantine.
Germany is on the safest large countries in Europe. It has applied many Covid preventative measures and, after peaking in April, has since lowered its infection cases significantly. While public events are permitted, regular restrictions apply, such as wearing a mask on all public transport and in closed public spaces, as well as maintaining a 1.5 meter distance between people.
Options for non-work events abound. Located in the middle of the Spree River, Museum Island (also known as Museumsinsel Berlin) is a complex that was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Theatre lovers might appreciate visiting Schaübuhne, a Bauhaus styled old cinema now home to theatre plays. If your team is there on a Sunday, Mauerpark is one of Berlin's biggest flea markets, offering a wide range of vintage items and clothes. Finally, if a little rush is in order, one can literally base fly off Park Inn Hotel Berlin's roof (maybe check your company's travel insurance policy beforehand on this one). Berlin is a superb, well-balanced destination.
🏚️ With its mostly earth coloured interiors, Hotel Mani by Amano Group offers a warm and relaxed setting for your conference. In the Mitte area, Park Plaza Wallstreet offers vibrantly coloured interiors just 5 minutes away from Alexanderplatz.
😷 Travel insurance covering Covid-19 is mandatory for all incoming travellers.
😷 Travellers from Ile-de-France or the Cote-d'Azur might need to take a test upon arrival and self-isolate until results are confirmed negative.
6- Istanbul (€2,550 - €2,850 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
Slightly farther east, we have Istanbul. It has the facilities, the food, and the history to be the perfect host for your event. To regain its position as one of the most visited countries in the world, Turkey has put in place exceptionally relaxed Covid-19 entry requirements. In short, if you are neither from Afghanistan nor Bangladesh, you are free to visit the country without providing a negative PCR test. However, the country is still taking security measures seriously. Much like in Paris, masks are mandatory in all public spaces in Istanbul, Ankara, and Bursa.
Bridging Asia and Europe, Istanbul has a rich heritage. There is no shortage of sites to see and things to do. The most obvious choice is to visit the Sultan Ahmet area and its many mosques, as well as the ever-dynamic Hagia Sophia, and the impressive Basilica Cisterns. But visitors can also take a long walk in the Galata Tower area, a hilly and authentic part of the city rich with small restaurants and shops. And for the shopping lovers of the group, the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar are never a disappointment. Alternatively you can organise a boat trip on the Bosporus. Once complete, you can continue to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and grab a coffee and dessert to watch the sun set over the water. Istanbul is particularly known for its desserts in many shapes and forms, but an unusual, however delicious, dessert to try is the chicken-based Tavuk göğsü.
🏚️ We recommend the Yasmak Comfort Hotel conveniently situated next to Gülhane Park, which overlooks the Bosporus. Another option for those with a less classical taste is the colour-blocked Topkapi Meeting Room at the Yasmak Sultan hotel.
😷 If a traveller shows symptoms of infection during the health screenings performed upon arrival, a PCR test will be taken immediately. If the visitor tests positive, they will have to quarantine at a state medical facility at their own cost.
7- Warsaw (€1,900 - €2,200 budget for 3 days x 10 people)
Many wouldn't initially consider Warsaw on their shortlist of cities for an in-house conference, however the city has many advantages. With 44% of flights operating and 75% of hotels having availability it's ready and waiting for business customers. Home to many UN world heritage sites, Poland has reopened its borders and lifted restrictions to visitors coming in from the EU and the 4 EFTA nations. Moreover, Poland has also had relatively low levels of Covid-19 infections with rates still dropping from a peak in mid-August.
Admittedly, it's currently a bit tricky to get to Warsaw from France by plane since France is included on the list of 30 countries for which direct flights to Poland are banned. However, land transport, including buses and cars, have no border restrictions. And since Warsaw is one of the more cost-effective places to hold your retreat, getting there just may be worth the extra effort.
When it comes to safety, it is mandatory to self-isolate if (a) one develops any corona virus symptoms after arrival in the country or (b) if one is notified they have come into contact with someone who is infected. Cinemas, restaurants, and shops have re-opened; however masks are mandatory in closed public spaces and also in open ones where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Another advantage is that whereas many people have already visited one or more of the other cities, that's rarely the case with Warsaw, making any cultural activity novel. An interesting fact about the city is that all its main historic landmarks lie on a single axis starting from the Castle Square and straight south for 15 kilometres, past Lazienki Park, all the way to Wilanów Palace. Slightly off that path sits the Old Town with its orange and green hues. It's a remarkable area to take in all the unique architecture.
🏚️ Your conference can be organised at the modern and minimal CitySpace - Rondo 1, a landmark in Warsaw's skyline, situated in a very central location. Another affordable option is the Apartamenty Zgoda Warszawa by DeSilva which is located at 300 meters from the city center.
😷 Travellers must have travel insurance upon arrival to Poland.
Wrapping it all up
It is entirely possible to offer your team a safe and relaxing trip while still respecting a limited budget. Rome, Athens, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Berlin, Istanbul, and Warsaw would each bring something different to your conference, yet they are all safe, accessible, affordable, and full of interesting attractions.
Importantly, and regardless of your destination, corporate travel safety should never be taken for granted. Be sure to consider travel insurance that provides sufficient cover for the entirety of your team's stay, even when it might not be an official requirement; travel insurance has now become an essential tool in planning travel. For further surety, we suggest using a dashboard that allows you to track your travellers' locations. Finally, if you're also not sure how to adapt your travel program so that it's ready and adapted for "Covid travel", have a look at our Business Travel Reboot Kit. This simple, easy-to-implement program been created to help companies get their business travel going again in a cost-effective, safe, and sustainable way.
Please also remember that our cities can never make up the definitive list. Travel restrictions and requirements are constantly in flux and the situation will continue to evolve. Thus, our final piece of advice is that if a retreat is on the horizon, start planning as soon as possible!
Other related articles you might like:
- A Travel Policy Template to help reboot your travel program
- Introducing Fairjungle's Covid Travel Reboot Kit
- Optimising business travel management: the 4 archetypes
- 7 steps to create your post-COVID travel policy