Magazine article Marketing

Tales of the Conference City

Magazine article Marketing

Tales of the Conference City

Article excerpt

London and the coastal resorts once held a monopoly of UK conference and exhibition facilities.

The conference industry is big business for many British towns, with the country's leading destinations generating between them an estimated [pounds]1bn a year from this source. Even those lower down the scale can earn up to [pounds]1m a year.

It is no wonder that towns without conference centres are falling over themselves in the race to open new facilities and develop the infrastructure to support this lucrative industry. At this year's Confer, the annual showcase for members of the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD), visitors will find new hotels, conference centres and even conference bureaux all plying their wares.

For many, the first step on the way to becoming a recognised conference destination is setting up a dedicated conference bureau to market and promote the town, as well as to offer support and advice to conference organisers.

Ten years ago, Brighton, Bournemouth and Eastbourne were among the few towns to have a full-time conference office. A recent survey of more than 100 UK conference destinations by Conference & Incentive Travel magazine shows that in 1996, 84% now have a dedicated conference bureau - of which 69% were founded in the 1990s and 56% in the past three years.

In the past 18 months, the Isle of Wight, Jersey, St Andrews and Hull have all relaunched their conference offices to strengthen market presence or have set up new conference bureaux with full-time staff.

Increased competition has also heightened the need for constant development of new conference and exhibition facilities and investment in existing ones. In 1995, the 10,000-seat Newcastle Arena opened with 3000 sqm of exhibition space; Nottingham has announced plans for a [pounds]15m city centre conference centre; and Jersey is discussing the construction of a conference hotel or venue.

It is not just competition from within the UK that is making British towns sit up and take notice. "There is an increase in venue numbers both here and overseas, while improved communications are making Europe more accessible and adding to the options for organisers," says Alan Good, conference sales manager at the Eastbourne Conference Office.

The lack of dedicated conference facilities can be a costly business. The Greater Manchester Conference and Visitor Bureau estimates that the city has turned away more than [pounds]20m of business during the past four years, while Liverpool estimates it has suffered to the tune of [pounds]7m a year.

Both these cities are now investing heavily in developing purpose-built conference facilities with the aid of European Regional Development fund grants from the European Union.

In Liverpool, residents are already feeling the first affects of [pounds]630m worth of funding. Central to this development will be the regeneration of the docklands and the creation of an infrastructure that will attract private investment. An earlier development in the Albert Dock is already proving popular with companies which can use the Maritime Museum as well as a private area in the world famous Cavern Club for corporate entertainment.

Liverpool's historic civic buildings have also benefitted from investment. The Town Hall and St George's Hall, both of which are available for gala dinners and receptions, have received nearly [pounds]6m to ensure that their elegance and grandeur continues to impress visitors for at least another 100 years.

But Liverpool still lacks a modern conference centre. Despite the completion in September 1995 of a feasibility study for a conference centre as part of a failed bid for lottery funds, the city has yet to commission a study into the potential sites. Meanwhile, the city's largest conference venue is the 1684-seat Philharmonic Hall, with its marble and gilt Art Deco-style interior, which was restored to its original splendour at a cost of [pounds]10. …

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