MIPIM 2008: Stormy start to real estate’s biggest bash

Our man in Cannes reports on the travel travails and marketing mayhem that have marked the first day of MIPIM.

Bathed in sunshine, Cannes in the south of France was again the site of the largest gathering of real estate professionals as MIPIM 2008 kicked off today.

MIPIM organizers are expecting a record 28,000 attendants this year. This swollen population was evident as delegates poured into the crowded town for the four-day event.

Nice Airport arrivals hall was literally jammed with people frantically trying to make their ways to the coastal resort where the conference is taking place. Taxis were in short supply with queues snaking back at least 100 meters along the airport terminal.

In what might be described as a meteorological metaphor for the current market malaise, the event has been difficult to reach for some participants, with weekend storms in the UK wreaking havoc on travel plans. Scores of flights out of London’s Heathrow and City airports were cancelled or delayed, with frustrated delegates being bumped off overbooked flights bound for Nice.

Most of those delayed have now arrived in Cannes. This correspondent enjoyed a forced overnight stays in Zurich, while others were waylaid in other European destinations.

Once in Cannes though the hordes have been able to enjoy the warm temperatures of the Mediterranean resort, and a raft of drinks receptions staged in front of many of the five star hotels. As evening descends the focus is now turning to the big parties planned throughout the night.

Private equity real estate firms have a sizeable presence at MIPIM 2008. Morgan Stanley Real Estate has erected large hoardings proclaiming 20 years of investing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  And in Cannes Marina there is the usual row of luxury yachts chartered by private equity real estate firms. US-based developer and fund manager Tishman Speyer, for example, has hired a yacht close to the MIPIM exhibition halls.

The investor appetite for drinks, hors devours and capital commitments will be tested at the upcoming Credit Suisse Real Estate private fund groups drinks reception and dinner at the Hotel Gray d’Albion.

MIPIM is often the site of major announcements. For example, HDG Mansur has unveiled plans to launch two funds with a combined value of more than $1 billion, while Abu Dhabi has announced the Abu Dhabi World Trade Center.

With the weather forecasting more sunshine tomorrow MIPIM is warming up nicely.