Building confex business in Manchester

Manchester Central has been building a reputation for aggressively targeting conference and association business. Forty-five per cent of its annual revenue today stems from 26 association-related events, which also represent the biggest growth driver. Manchester Central’s three-year, £30m redevelopment project, which was completed in 2010 and opened officially this year, will further help give local and global event organisers more flexibility to run conferences, exhibitions or a mixture of both, said the venue’s Sales Manager Paula Lorimer.
“Because of our recent expansion, we’re doing bigger association events that go for longer and provide more economic benefit to Manchester,’ she said. “It’s a conscious decision by us to drive the most economic impact for our city.”

However, Lorimer pointed out Manchester Central continues to host the same number of tradeshows annually – albeit several on a smaller scale. The venue hosted 36 exhibitions including 15 trade and 21 public exhibitions during the 2009/2010 financial year.
“We have not turned our backs on exhibitions – they are very important to us,” Lorimer said.
“We run 15-20 trade exhibitions annually [depending on the market] and we will be running slightly more in 2011 than in 2007, before our redevelopment work started.”
Lorimer admitted public show launches had declined as a result of the recession, along with tradeshows in the property, recruitment and travel markets.
Yet other events, such as Greenbuild, have doubled in size, buoyed by strong industry support.
“What we found was that exhibitions weren’t going to meet our ambitions for the expanded venue alone,” Lorimer said.
“Our exhibition space is popular, but given that it is now attached to the conference area, organisers can take a more ‘confex’ approach,” she added.

The battle for business
Manchester Central is just one of several northern UK venues vying for more conference, meetings and exhibition business. Others in the increasingly fierce pack of competitors include Harrogate International Centre, ACC Liverpool and Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC). The latest exhibition-only contender is The Peel Group’s EventCity by Trafford Park, which opens for business this month.
For Lorimer, EventCity will offer complementary facilities with different value propositions and location benefits to Manchester Central.
”We support any project that brings more business to our city,” she said. “Overall, the success of a venue falls on getting the most customers and exhibitors.
“Being right in the middle of Manchester is a good proposition for us.”
Alongside confex-style events, Manchester Central’s recent wins include the International Co-operative Association’s biennial stand alone exhibition in 2012. The show was last held in India in 2010 and runs for seven days. Manchester Central will be the event’s first UK venue partner.
Lorimer attributed the win to Manchester’s ambassadorial approach to co-operative organisations and its close ties with such groups in the UK.
“Today we are a bigger venue doing many more things,” Lorimer said. She also flagged discussions with several London-based organisers to extend more events to England’s north.
“We have changed our business over the past four to five years as we have developed the venue,’ Lorimer added. “We’re ready to start being more vocal with people about our plans.”

A three-phased approach
Phase 1 – Work begins on the new Chapter Foyer for the conference centre in February 2008 and is completed in November 2008.
Phase 2 – The second development phase focuses on a new entrance and facilities at the front of the venue’s Grade II listed Central Hall. This includes a new permanent reception area, plus-and-play electric capabilities and permanent and flexible conference suites. The Central Hall foyer and Chapter Foyer are also connected. Phase two opens in December 2009.
Phase 3 – Three new modular conference suites, plus a new 2,000sqm ‘unnamed’ space alongside the exhibition hall is finished in September 2010.

Key facts and figures:
£30m – The total cost of Manchester Central’s redevelopment project.
£56m – The total economic impact of business tourism in Manchester in 2009/2010.
45 per cent – The contribution that national and international association business contributes to the venue’s revenues.

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Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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