Roger Büchel, CEO Kongresshaus Zurich: "The digital infrastructure was a major concern for me".

After four years of renovation and expansion, the time has come: the Kongresshaus and Tonhalle on Zurich's lakefront present themselves refreshed and tidy, flexible and climate-neutral, and with many new digital possibilities. The best conditions for the present with Corona - and also for the time after, says Kongresshaus CEO Roger Büchel in an exclusive interview.

Roger Büchel, CEO Kongresshaus Zurich

 

Werbewoche/m&k: The Kongresshaus has been a hotly debated topic in Zurich for decades. There were various projects, including new buildings elsewhere in the city. Finally, the decision was made to renovate, convert and expand the existing building. Looking back, was this a good decision?

Roger Buechel: In retrospect, one must even say that it was fortunate that we didn't put up a big thing. Talking about large congresses at the moment would really be the wrong time. Because the large congresses that we wanted to attract with a large centre don't exist at the moment. At the moment there is only a very modest willingness to fly and travel internationally. As a result, major international congresses are not taking place at the moment. I think it will be another two years before that happens again.

Will you be able to bridge this time gap well?

Yes, we will be hosting many national events. That's why we are very well positioned for the current situation with the size we have now with the building - with a capacity of 2,000 in the congress hall and a total capacity of the entire complex of 4,500 people.

Keyword "hybrid events" - the Kongresshaus now also has a modern TV studio - has this only become an issue now with Corona?

We had already planned the TV studio and further expansions of the digital infrastructure before Corona - this was also a big concern for me personally. I come from the event technology industry and am correspondingly tech-savvy. When I first got involved with the project in 2019, I noticed that the topic of technology, i.e. audio, video and lighting technology - digitalisation - had been treated very stepmotherly until then. I then advocated investing more in digitalisation and digital networking. Also in sound systems, modern lighting systems and camera systems. There was a growing need for hybrid events back in the pre-pandemic days. Back then, people thought that Büchel would come and turn everything upside down. But then Corona came along - with zoom and team calls and people started to understand me - and understood that digital networking is essential. We need to be able to transfer the content that we produce live to the Internet. My thesis is that the big congresses will not come back: People will start connecting the different destinations. Then the Americans will stay in America, the French will stay in France, the Swiss will stay here and that will be digitally networked.

There are others - and also some new offers at the Zurich location.

You could say that competition has increased greatly, among other things with the Samsung Hall and the Circle Convention Center, the Hallenstadion, where the ZSC is now moving out, and the new ice hockey stadium, which will also be available for event formats. But competition has also increased sharply both nationally and internationally. That's why I've always said that if we want to play in this market, we have to position ourselves well - including in the technical area. We are in contact with Hallenstadion and The Circle. This stimulates and supports each other and makes Zurich a more attractive destination. Our venues are also very different and can complement each other. We simply have to work together and not against each other. So there is certainly no oversupply. There is still talk of an additional congress center - at least that was the case before Corona. But if another congress centre or event hall were built in Zurich now, that would probably be more than enough.

What are your most important USPs?

In terms of our central location in the city, we have a triple-A situation - we have excellent public transport connections. Now we have certainly added a few USPs in terms of technology and climate neutrality, which is very much appreciated by customers. International corporations in particular attach great importance to events taking place in a climate-neutral manner. We are proud to be the first completely climate-neutral event and congress centre in Switzerland since 2019. Everything that cannot be reduced is compensated via a forest conservation project in Peru. This results in us being completely climate neutral - at no additional cost to the event organiser. So every event we host is completely carbon neutral. We also have an in-house seawater plant. This is used to pump lake water - the energy is used to cover 70 percent of the cooling and heating requirements of our building.

The Zurich Film Festival will also use the new Kongresshaus.

Yes, this is definitely a lighthouse project. The opening night will also take place here, as well as some of the film screenings. The Kongresshaus will be by far the largest cinema hall at the ZFF, or even in Switzerland. There is no other cinema hall in the whole of Switzerland with such a large screen. The fact that the new James Bond film will also celebrate its Swiss premiere in the Kongresshaus is fantastic.

What is the current market situation?

For the current situation we can be more than satisfied. Since the middle of August, we have had one event after another, even multiple occupancies, which is possible because we have several entrances. This is also possible because we have several entrances and rooms, which are far apart from each other. Basically, we are confident that we can make good use of the building. It needs creativity and innovation. All those who can play along will have a chance to survive in the future. There will certainly be a certain shakeout in the event and location market.

How do you see the future of the MICE industry?

We are cautiously confident. We are watching very closely how the whole situation is developing. People talk about the new normal, but the situation will never be the same as it was before Corona - formats don't come back exactly the same. But new possibilities and opportunities are opening up. As a venue, you have to be creative and find answers, like with a TV studio. Or how our space can be used other than for events. We're thinking very openly about that. Not only events will take place - the space can also be used for other purposes.

For example?

What's in vogue now are pop-up stores, for example. Where you offer products in a short time, with a sales area, and we are very open to such projects. This is not primarily an event, but rather a sales platform. In the case of trade fairs, there was already a decline in the classic trade fair formats before Corona, and there is a need for new ideas, new formats, more networking, more knowledge transfer. Only exhibitions are no longer enough - all trade fair venues had to feel this very hard. A normal classic trade fair exhibition format no longer works. Now new formats are needed, which can then also be combined with hybrid and digital possibilities.


The 47-year-old Roger Büchel has been leading the Kongresshaus Zürich as Director and CEO since the beginning of 2019. He studied Music, Sales & Marketing and General Management and holds an Executive MBA from the University of Zurich. Active as a professional musician and lecturer in his younger years, he founded and led an event technology company and then spent 25 years in several top management positions in international event and live communication companies.


Kongresshaus and Tonhalle Zurich shine in new splendour

The renovation of the Kongresshaus and Tonhalle in Zurich took four years - and it was much more than a simple renovation: the Kongresshaus is now brighter, more modern and more spacious. The Panorama Hall, a "building sin" from the eighties, was removed. The concert foyer now offers a clear view of the lake and mountains. The new restaurant on the first floor scores with a view of the lake basin that is unique for Zurich. The Tonhalle is back to its former pomp and splendour - painted gold leaf has been uncovered again. Here, as everywhere else in the new building complex, it is not only the visuals that shine; immense investments have also been made in technology. This ranges from the structurally optimised acoustics and digital networking to the in-house TV studio with curved LED video wall.

Modernised, optimised and digitally upgraded: The large Kongresshaus hall is ready for the future.

 

The great hall of the Tonhalle shines in gold leaf brilliance as before - and also offers much better acoustics than before the extensive renovation.
Adjustable walls, flexible furnishings: multifunctionality is one of the advantages of the newly designed premises.

Tickets for the opening days on September 4 and 5 are available at Deeyouamsee.ch

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