eThis is an ambitious goal pursued by the head of the Hamburg Congress Center (CCH). Heike Mahmoud wants to make the house, which is currently undergoing extensive renovation work, one of the most prosperous convention centers in Europe. Hamburg has a number of unique outlets compared to its competitors, says the 55-year-old. How she wants to propel the new 36,000 square meter complex to the forefront of the international events sector and what part of the new University of Excellence Hamburg has, reveals Mahmoud a year before the reopening of the CCH in conversation with WELT.
WORLD: Mrs Mahmoud, the University of Hamburg can now call itself a university of excellence: to what extent will the CHC benefit if science automatically acquires a higher priority?
Heike Mahmoud: Scientific congresses are the cornerstone of CCH. It is very important for us to address this target group. However, the close ties with the university have existed for a long time, which is also due to its geographical proximity. And as university congresses expand, we will continue to work closely together. For example, we are going to apply for two conferences this year with the university.
WORLD: Do you want to reveal more?
Mahmoud: These are mathematics conventions that do not match the number of participants in the university auditorium.
WORLD: What was the percentage of importance of science in the previous concept of CCH and what do you aim for after the opening of the reconstruction?
Mahmoud: Science related to medicine has so far absorbed about 60%. It's not so much the amount of the share that we want to change, but rather the composition of the customers. Until the closing of CCH on December 31, 2016, there were approximately 80% national and 20% international events. As I traveled mainly abroad in the past, my goal is to organize more international congresses.
WORLD: That is, invert the relationship?
Mahmoud: Our most important target group are national and international associations. When we buy it, it takes us four or five years to get started. We are currently working on events up to 2030. We will soon not be able to achieve a higher percentage of international events. But we are on the right track as we are already talking to many international customers who are eager to come to Hamburg. We want to focus on major conventions and events – something that was not always possible before. And there will also be events related to digitization, IT and start-ups, for which the CCH will provide an excellent platform.
WORLD: Will there still be cultural events such as pop concerts that hamburgers have trained in CCH for decades?
Mahmoud: We will also resume this division – perhaps not in quantity, but certainly in supply. The CHC must remain a home for Hamburg, although in recent years a number of other sites in this region have been added. A good range of events has developed in Hamburg, which we always wish to enrich. We want to win new organizers in Hamburg, also because we do not want to provoke competition at the Elbphilharmonie or other places.
WORLD: Who are your competitors in the fight for the main desired customers in this country?
Mahmoud: These are Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt.
WORLD: How do you differentiate yourself from these competitors with the new CCH?
Mahmoud: They do not believe how many unique outlets we have. The location of the CCH is remarkable: a convention center located in the heart of the city, connected to a park, public transportation and shopping. We are one of the few cities in the world to own this constellation. In addition, there is a hotel landscape that offers different categories – and is also within walking distance. And third, we will be a certified sustainable building with sustainable materials. We also use fresh air from the nearby park for air conditioning. By using smart systems, we consume less energy, which is an important aspect for the future of the home.
WORLD: The construction of the congress does not miss the subject of climate and the protection of the environment.
Mahmoud: No, we do not want it either. After all, sustainability is no longer a unique selling proposition at the national and international levels, but almost a prerequisite for placing on the market of a modern building.
WORLD: And what should the new CHC represent?
Mahmoud: We want to become one of the largest and most successful congress centers in Europe. We want to be service providers, consultants and magnets for our customers – so much so that they can no longer go beyond Hamburg. We want Hamburg to be better known and internationally. It is an ambitious goal. It will take a few years. But we are convinced that we will succeed. The new building will make us much more flexible in that we can divide the building into 50 rooms and better manage side events. The new CCH can accommodate a maximum of 12,000 participants simultaneously.
WORLD: How many participants a year are you targeting from 2020?
Mahmoud: In the last 15 years of the old CCH, we had an average of 330,000 event participants per year – an order of magnitude that we are also aiming for with the new building. We will take a close look at the international conventions that will suit us best, how to keep participants in the city as long as possible and how to get them back. Of course, we must make more sales in the future. I would like to achieve this growth with a more focused international focus and even closer cooperation with our partners in the city, such as the University of Hamburg, the University Hospital of Eppendorf and the University of Hamburg. Hamburg Convention Bureau. Hamburg is manageable, and that is what makes the city so special. We always find out that once the customers are here, they are very enthusiastic. So we have to bring people back.
WORLD: When does it officially start?
Mahmoud: We open on August 26, 2020 with a world congress of medicine with 1500 participants. Our goal is to reach at least half of the base occupancy rate in the future through long term association conventions. Then we still have enough capacity to cover short-term activities. From 2021, we have already booked very well: during the high season from the end of March to July and from September to November, nothing is free. In addition, there will be other investigations by 2025.
WORLD: When do you want to be profitable?
Mahmoud: We are a public building under reconstruction, with 235 million euros of taxpayer money. Such a building will not be profitable for very long. However, Hamburg benefits in many ways from guests at the convention who spend the night, eat, shop and spend so many millions of euros each year. It also secures jobs. We also have the social responsibility that international congresses and works councils of locally established companies can be found in our range of events. So we give something back to the city. Hamburg will benefit from the new CCH, various guest structures, content exchange and follow-up projects.