|B'is for Bournemouth as well as Bravo. The town on England's south coast, close to Thomas Hardy country, which the author once described as a "fashionable meeting place" is still just that. But today, in addition, it has taken a quantum leap from pre-war primness to post-war success as England's Resort of the Year and one of the country's most successful conference towns.
Bournemouth has accepted that the age of refinement, when prime ministers like Disraeli and Gladstone were frequent visitors, has gone. Instead it has learned to fit into a more functional era which is one of the hallmarks of the last decade of the 20th century. It is recognised as a first-class location for national and international meetings. But more important, more than 50% of the organisations which book into the town re-book.
A survey carried out a few months ago among thousands of delegates revealed that of the 52,000 participants at conferences in the town who spent 268,000 bednights in local hotels, one in five stayed on for a few extra days "to enjoy the seven miles of beaches which fringe the waters of the English Channel". The sands may not be "unrivalled" as the municipal literature suggests but they are, together with the abundance of parks and gardens, as good as anything you will find within 150 miles.
Conferences brought almost 30 [pounds] m into the town's coffers last year and Luis Candal, director of the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), says that preliminary figures for 1992 indicate that, despite the recession, this year's figures "will not be worse". In addition, Bournemouth's hotels report bookings are up, on average, 15% on 1991.
The BIC opened in 1984. It is one of only three or four venues with sufficient space and facilities to stage the kingsize conferences of the Conservative and Labour Parties plus other multi-thousand gatherings such as the CBI and some international associations.
As well as three main halls, a multistorey car park, and pantechnicon size loading bays, the centre is only a short walk from the refurbished pavilion with its pre-war theatre and art deco ballroom. In 1990/91 the BIC made an operating profit of 99,000 [pounds.]
The Windsor Hall is multi-purpose and has been booked for concerts as well as conferences, exhibitions as well as banquets. A mix of flat floor and tiered seating adds up to a maximum capacity of 3900. On the second level is the Tregonwell Hall with seating for 1200 spread over three different flat floor levels which means it has the versatility and flexibility to be equally ideal for a gathering of just 300.
The Tregonwell is linked both to the lower Windsor Hall and the smaller circular Purbeck Hall with its unusual timber domed ceiling of Scandinavian pine and attractive arched windows. The sound system in the Purbeck was installed by the same people who equipped St Paul's Cathedral with its modern-as-the-moment amplification system. Its loading bay can comfortably accommodate 12 lorries or 24 vans.
Where to stay in Bournemouth? Delegates are almost spoiled for choice. There are a couple of five-star properties, at least four hotels in the four star category, and another 20 which have earned three-star status, and sometimes deserved more.
The flag wavers are the welcoming Carlton Hotel and its rival the Royal Bath - the latter a member of the De Vere group which also owns the Grand Hotels in Brighton and Eastbourne, ihe Belfry, on the outskirts of Birmingham, and the Dormy Hotel a few miles from Bournemouth.
Both provide a high standard of service and the Carlton is five stars to its elbows, if not quite its fingertips. It boasts a team of experienced conference managers who have helped plan meetings for, among others, Thorn EMI, Abbey Life, Marks & Spencer, Glixco, Price Waterhouse and the Boss Federation. …