Magazine article Marketing

Meeting Demands

Magazine article Marketing

Meeting Demands

Article excerpt

The conference market is expanding and top venues are upgrading facilities to accommodate it.

The number of delegates attending UK conferences and exhibitions is expected to grow by an average of 11% to 12% a year over the next decade, and leading venues in the UK are continuing to invest heavily in increasing their capacity and upgrading their technical facilities. At the same time, they are taking steps to meet organisers' growing demands for greater value for money and more flexible use of space.

According to the Meetings Industry Association's (MIA) latest UK Conference Market Survey, 83% of UK venues are currently investing in significant improvements in a bid to remain competitive. They are spending heavily on facilities such as state-of-the-art presentational technology and lighting systems, breakout rooms, telephone systems for computer data transmissions and general refurbishments.

Even so, the NEC in Birmingham is clearly determined to hold on to its growing share of UK and overseas business. The NEC already stages 180 shows a year, but this figure is expected to rise significantly after four new exhibition halls open in September at a cost of [pounds]60m. The new halls will increase the NEC's total exhibition space by 30,000 square metres (to 198,000 square metres), giving it a maximum capacity of around 12,000 visitors.

The NEC aims to use its increased capacity to exploit the growing demand for complementary exhibitions staged under one roof. "There is a trend to the co-location of individual shows which represent different aspects of the same industry," says Phil Shepherd of the NEC Group. "We are trying to give visitors added value by providing an opportunity for them to see everything to do with their industry in one location."

Shaun Casey, director of travel operations at conference and incentives specialist The Travel Organisation, believes that the availability of large-scale facilities is a factor in determining the popularity of some locations. "Birmingham is still the overall favourite UK destination, generally because of the city's excellent hotel and conference venue infrastructure."

However, Edinburgh and Glasgow are also beginning to compete strongly. The Edinburgh International Conference Centre is currently examining the feasibility of extending its site to include a dedicated exhibition centre. And the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, which opened in 1985 with five exhibition halls, has just spent [pounds]38m on a new conference centre and an additional exhibition hall. It has also reconfigured an existing hall to create a suite of breakout rooms.

The SECC's new conference centre includes a major auditorium, the Clydebank, which can seat up to 3000 people. Because the auditorium's design provides tiered seating on three levels, smaller conferences can be staged on the ground floor, which holds about 1100 delegates. There is also a smaller auditorium, with a maximum capacity of 620, which has the same technical specifications as the Clydebank.

"The new centre is designed to give organisers a flexible combination of totally new facilities on one established site, along with some very sophisticated technical support and high specification audio-visual facilities," says Jenny Salisbury, the SECC's director of conferences. She claims the SECC now attracts over 100,000 delegates a year, and 40% of its business comes from international events.

On the south coast, the purpose-built Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) is another top UK venue which claims it is attracting more major international conferences. As part of an ongoing programme of investment and refurbishment, the BIC recently spent over [pounds]700,000 on the construction of two breakout rooms and a redesign of the main foyer. The venue's three interlinked main halls now provide almost 5000 square metres of exhibition space, while each of its 16 breakout rooms can cater for up to 100 people. …

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