Beside the seaside

Traditional British Victorian seaside resorts have been on the decline
since the 1970s when mass tourism to Spain and other sunnier
destinations took hold. Poor transport links and a perception of being
old-fashioned, run-down and poor value have meant that larger
conferences have taken their business to more modern city destinations.
But after years of neglect by home-grown visitors, the British seaside
is experiencing a comeback.
Eastbourne tackled its blue rinse image head on with the ‘Change Your
View Campaign’. “The campaign has, over recent years, had a great
impact in challenging the perceptions among visitors to Eastbourne and
our conference market,” says Eastbourne Convention Bureau’s director of
economy, tourism and environment, Norman Kinnish.
“We’re seeing younger visitors and delegates, with a desire to try new
activities – especially now Eastbourne is confirmed as the gateway to
the new South Downs National Park,” claims Kinnish. “Delegates can
enjoy a range of group activities, from wine tasting tours and cookery
courses at one of the UK’s leading culinary arts teaching studios, to
paragliding and windsurfing.
“This coupled with investment, has seen great changes in our product.
From the new Towner art gallery, which opened in April, to new
beachfront cafes,” says Kinnish.
Independent and quirky shops, a sparkling marina and the UK’s best
sunshine record, also means Eastbourne can offer a cosmopolitan
atmosphere, for an ‘abroad’ feel, without the hassle of airports.
Brighton, meanwhile, is growing its reputation as one of the UK’s most
contemporary, cosmopolitan and stylish beachside cities. The abundance
of creative businesses (fashion, digital media and design) helps to
attract business and leisure visits to the city and its surrounding
areas.
The coastal city has hosted the ICCA UK and Ireland Chapter Summer
Debate 2007 and recent Summer Eventia July 2009. “These events have
played an important role in presenting the city’s business credentials
and conference and events product to the wider industry. They stand as
a firm endorsement of our progress as a leading business destination,”
says Visit Brighton’s Convention Bureau manager Julia Gallagher.
Bournemouth is also experiencing a revival. Head of conferences,
exhibitions and events at the Bournemouth International Centre, Clive
Tyers says: “The concept that seaside resorts are old fashioned is
itself old fashioned!
“Bournemouth has moved away from that stereotype and is a cosmopolitan
and vibrant business and leisure resort, proven by the fact that we won
Best UK Resort at the Group Leisure Magazine’s 2008 Group Leisure
Awards.”
In the last financial year Bournemouth attracted 66,000 conference
delegates and 42,000 exhibition visitors. “Bournemouth is so much more
than a seaside resort,” says Tyers. “There is a young professional
population here, and we have thriving financial and education sectors.
“What with the soon-to-be-completed surf reef, buzzing nightlife, a
cosmopolitan centre for shopping, award-winning restaurants and
fashionable bars, there’s more than enough to rival any big city,” he
says. “It’s about getting these messages out through our promotional
campaigns, hence we’re currently using a surf-themed advert calling for
people to get on board with Bournemouth – we’re very aware of the
fantastic incentives on our doorstep and that we need to fully promote
them.”
Hull and East Yorkshire Conference’s conference sales manager Anna Lamb
says “seaside locations don’t receive the credit they deserve”.
“The seaside is a hidden gem in the conference world and those who have
used the coast as a conference location have been surprised and
converted,” adds Lamb.
Situated on the promenade of the East Coast is the Spa Bridlington,
which Lamb describes as “the jewel in the crown”. This flagship venue
with its opulent Art Deco theatre and Edwardian 1930’s ballroom plays
host to a range of conferences and events for up to 3,000 delegates.
The Spa has recently undergone a £20m redevelopment programme, a major
investment from East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The Spa Bridlington has many high profile concerts and shows in 2009
and now provides a range of contemporary meeting rooms offering
stunning views of the seafront to complement the refurbished theatre
and Spa Royal Hall.
“If you’re looking for a location with a difference, treat your
delegates to a traditional seaside experience with a modern twist,”
says Lamb.
Eastbourne’s conference team offers a venue-finding service, with a
full range of resources also available on ConferenceEastbourne.com and
a personal co-ordinator to assist in each conference. Its free
Accommodation Booking Service looks after accommodation needs with
delegate rates, and from the autumn will include a new online booking
system.
It offers a wide range of accommodation, from the five-star Grand Hotel
to boutique hotels such as the Waterside and new designer budget hotel,
the Big Sleep, a new chain backed by film star John Malkovich.
The main conference centre is the Devonshire Park Centre, with
facilities for up to 1,700 delegates and 2,500 square metres of
exhibition space now complete with Wi-Fi. The Towner art gallery
provides additional exhibition space and next door the International
Lawn Tennis Centre offers break-out facilities, in a modern world class
tennis venue, set in idyllic parkland. For something different,
Eastbourne and its surrounding area offers a range of unique venues
from the medieval Herstmonceux Castle to the English Wine Centre.

Bournemouth International Centre also doubles up as the town’s
conference bureau, so has plenty of experience in dealing with industry
demand.
Brighton Convention Bureau says it is conscious it wants to
attract the “right sort of business to the city”. “We’re proud of our
green credentials (an area the people of Brighton are particularly
passionate about) and have attracted ‘green’ conferences such as
UNISON. It bought with it solar panels to help supplement the energy
cost of the event.” Another endorsement of Brighton’s green credentials
will be its hosting of the Green Party later in the year between 21 and
24 September.
Brighton says it is also keen to attract business that utilises the
social and incentive product it has on offer within the city, from bars
and restaurants, to horse racing and outside Zorbing – not to mention
the beach. “Our strong business product will attract delegates and
events to Brighton, but it is these extra offerings that make them
stay,” says Gallagher.
“In terms of marketing, over the last few years we have made sure that
the Brighton brand is of a lively, modern ‘city be the sea’ – we are
certainly NOT a seaside resort. Our messages have ensured that Brighton
is seen as a year round destination which does not ‘close down’ in the
winter, but maintains a vibrancy at all times,” she adds.
Bournemouth’s Clive Tyers challenges the view that larger conferences
prefer to locate their shows in modern cities. “I wouldn’t necessarily
agree with that trend,” he says. “There’s been a classic rotation of
events between different destinations for years; it’s all about giving
a different delegate experience by alternating between several venues.
“Event organisers have an undeniably tough job of making sure that the
delegate experience and partner programme of an event runs as smoothly
as the event itself. “These days the delegate experience comes as high
up on the list as the venue so we’re all aware of the importance of the
incentive market. Bournemouth is up there with the likes of any of the
big cities with our incentive offerings, we certainly aren’t feeling
the effects of people flocking to the large cities. Green shoots or no
green shoots, considering we’re in the midst of a recession our figures
and diary are very strong.”

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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