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Business conferences & seminars: a handpicked guide to special meetings

Every year since 2002, Innovation Norway has handpicked a handful of the most spectacular course and conference centres in the country. These range from a discreet hideaway at the 14th century farm of Norwegian composer Per Gynt or deep sea fishing in majestic fjords, to wilderness arrangements near the Arctic Circle. They represent a unique getaway for business meetings that set them apart from the usual big city, big hotel experience.

Last year, Norwegian and foreign tourists spent NOK 108 billion in Norway. Norwegian business travellers in particular contributed to the growth, spending NOK 23 billion. They can choose from more than 1,000 hotels nationwide and various conference centres around the country, such as the Norway Convention Centre in Oslo, Brunstad Conference Centre, and Stavanger Forum. But Innovation Norway wants business guests to start thinking outside the box.

The concept is called Håndplukket (Handpicked). Innovation Norway has sought out places that stand out from the standard hotel experience and give the opportunity to experience Norwegian culture and traditions in a new and exciting way. This year, there are currently 15 companies that made the cut in its Handpicked Guide for special conferences.

These represent a wide range of offerings for business tourists. But all share a common trait. They are special places with a warm atmosphere and an exciting history and culture attached. The hosts are service minded and try to focus on local food and a green profile. They have at least 10 bedrooms, offer different kinds of activities, and have modern and quality meeting facilities.

“We did a pilot project in 2001 and saw the market wanted something different,” said Anine Elisabeth Rossum, project leader for Handpicked. “We saw there were over 3,000 meetings outside offices in Norway every year. These places needed to be marketed.”
“Many of these places are very high standards,” she added. “They are different from what others offer.”

Discreet Locales & Fishing Paradises
One of the smallest and most discreet places for the discerning business group is Per Gynt Gården, located in the heart of the country at Gudbrandsdalen. It is not so much a hotel as it is an artist’s home with long traditions dating back to the 14th Century. Christian Mikkel Dobloug inherited the farm in 2001 and restored the 17 buildings, known for their distinct ancient, sunburnt timber slate and grass roofs.

Here guests can enjoy the genuine national romantic era, estate etiquette and locally grown gourmet food. Activities include hunting, clay pigeon shooting, trout fishing, archery, horseback riding, dog sledding, or simply relaxing in the cocktail room over chess. There are no televisions or radios.

“We have many board meetings and events for companies who want to have a silent retreat and discretion around their meetings, while at the same time live in absolute comfort with extraordinary food and wines and a joyful staff,” said Dobloug. “We have had many guests from Russia and from the US, and we are looking into the German market and the UK market.”

This year’s Handpicked Guide features three hotels specializing in Norway’s unique west coast seaside experience - Knutholmen in Kalvåg, Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri in the county of Hordaland, and Ramsvig Handelsstad in Sjernarøy, a popular retreat for international oil companies.

Knutholmen is by far among the largest. The hotel can take up to 250 guests and facilitate up to 150 in the largest of its meeting rooms. Among the local attractions are Hornelen, Northern Europe’s highest sea cliff at 860 metres above sea level, and Vingen, one of the largest and most distinctive rock carvings made in the Neolithic times. The hotel helps arrange diving, sailing and crab fishing. The hotel attracts many international guests, according to Rossum.

Per Gynt Gården at Gudbrandsdalen - not so much a hotel as an artist’s home with long traditions dating back to the 14th Century.
© Esten Borgos

Gastronomic Northern Delights
The northernmost treat on the Handpicked guide is Ongajok Mountain Resort, hidden in the Arctic wilderness 25 kilometres from Alta Airport in Norwegian Lapland. The farm comprises nine building built in traditional Norwegian mountain farm style. The cosy resort caters primarily to board meetings, small conferences and seminars. 

Business guests come to experience the peace and quiet of the wilderness and the surrounding nature. In between meetings, they can go on snowscooter safaris, dog sledding, outdoor cooking courses, or set up a lavvo, a temporary dwelling used by the Sami people. They can also arrange transport for sleeping at the famous nearby ice hotel, the Alta Igloo Hotel.

The resort makes use of fresh, local ingredients refl ecting Alta’s hunting and fi shing traditions, which can be traced back thousands of years to the region’s 6,000 year old rock carvings. The menu features wild game, such as elk, hare and grouse, prepared with local mushrooms and cloudberries picked in the Alta area. For the more adventurous, there are wild sheep, boar, seal and whale dishes.

“A typical Norwegian business guest is StatoilHydro, which combines its meetings with outdoor teambuilding activities or food courses,” said Espem Ottem, co- owner of Ongajok Mountatin Resort for the past 11 years. “Most of our international guests come from England and some groups from Spain.”

“We had British company Expedition and Wilderness Medicine hold a course in outdoor medicine in the winter. They do snowmobiling, dog sledding and spend nights outdoors in a snow cave. It is kind of a survival course for doctors who want to work in the Arctic. It’s a fun company to have because they are doing a lot of things out there.”

Handpicked Guide:

From North to South

1. Ongajoksetra, Alta – www.ongajok.no

2. Klokkergården Kystturisme AS, Rødøy – www.klokkergaarden.no 

3. Kongsvold Fjeldstue, Oppdal – www.kongsvold.no

4. Knutholmen, Kalvåg – www.knutholmen.no 

5. Peer Gynt garden, Vinstra – www.pergynt.no 

6. Walaker Hotell, Solvorn – www.walaker.com 

7. Harahorn, Hemsedal – www.harahorn.no 

8. Hoel Gård, Nes Hedmark – www.hoel-gaard.no 

9. Bekkjarvik Gjesgiveri, Bekkjarvik – www.bekkjarvikgjesgiveri.no 

10. Helgaker Gård, Gran – www.helgaker-gard.no 

11. Øvre Vang Gård, Jevnaker – www.ovre-vang-gaard.no 

12. Kringler, Maora – www.kringler.no 

13. Ringnes Gård, Noresund – www.ringnesgard.no 

14. Ramsvig Handelsstad AS, Sjenarøy – www.ramsvig.no 

15. Røyland Gård, Engelsland – www.roylandgard.no 

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