Renaissance partnership: York and Scarborough

When York and Scarborough Conferences was launched in October 2009, it marked the old seaside town’s return to the UK conference bureau fold. This was after a brief hiatus following the old Scarborough bureau being closed by the council in March 2008.

The joint bureau has now built up a marketing portfolio of 100 venues across York and North Yorkshire. Sixty of them are in York, with the rest spread over the North Yorkshire Moors and Scarborough.

The region’s recent high profile conference clients include the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry.

York is now ranked by the UK Tourism Survey at seventh in the top 10 business tourism cities in England (ahead of Nottingham and Brighton) while Scarborough continues to use its hard-won title as ‘Europe’s Most Enterprising Place’ (2009) to help market itself to event organisers.

New investments

A £6.5m investment at Scarborough Spa is on course for completion this spring. It will see major alterations to the Spa’s Grand Hall, alongside other areas of the Grade II Victorian building, providing facilities able to stage larger and a more varied events.
Tourism Manager for Scarborough Borough Council, Janet Deacon, says: “The re-development of the Scarborough Spa is already resulting in a great deal of interest from organisers”.

The new Spa will host 1,600 delegates and offer 2,000sqm of exhibition space, enabling the venue to target large association events.

York’s reopening of its Barbican Centre in May 2011, following a £2m refurbishment, means potential for 350 events and 50 conferences a year at the venue, worth up to £11m to York’s economy annually. Operator SMG Europe Holdings will bring in the Snooker Legends 2011 Champions Tour to the venue, 19 May.

Business Tourism Marketing Manager for York and Scarborough Conferences, Laura Freer, says The Barbican reopening will pay long-term dividends to York’s business tourism economy. “This venue is something very special,” she said.


The coastal town of Scarborough is steeped in history but also keeping up with technology. Freebay Wi-Fi is available all across the marina, allowing delegates to work on the web all along the harbour.

Venue choices

Gothic ruins and the Grade II listed Stephen Joseph Theatre are two of the more unusual venues in town, while the Opera House Casino can be used for private parties or corporate events. 

Perched high above the North Yorkshire seaside town is Scarborough Castle. The castle ruins can be used for outside corporate hospitality. 

Coastal retreats

Organisers looking for hotel venues have a good choice down the Yorkshire coast. Scarborough’s four-star Crown Spa hotel, winner of the Yorkshire Moors and Coast Tourism Partnership Hotel of the Year for three consecutive years and Welcome to Yorkshire’s White Rose Award for Sustainable Tourism, is popular for business meetings. It overlooks the Norman Castle and the fishing harbour.

The Royal Hotel has 118 en suite bedrooms, including sea view rooms, executive accommodation and luxury suites. And the Raven Hall Hotel, situated in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay, has 52 bedrooms as well as eight Finnish-style lodges with cliffside views and acres of outdoor space for team building.

Opening in Summer 2011, Raithwaite Hall is located to the north of Whitby within an 80-acre estate. It will offer 83 bedrooms, private dining facilities, a spa and conference and events space for 180. The hotel’s large outdoor space also lends itself for team-building and incentive events.


York claims to be the second-fastest growing city in the UK and is a place full of architecture from every age, yet is also a vibrant, 21st century city.

Quirky venues include The Hospitium, a 14th Century listed building overlooking the Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens. It is one of the oldest timber framed structures surviving in York today.

The largest Railway Museum in the world consists of two halls, one housing some of the most famous locomotives in the world. Receptions take place in either hall with delegates able to wander among the exhibits and dinners taking place on the platforms between the carriages. Delegates can hop aboard Valiant, a refurbished carriage that is available for corporate hire.

York Racecourse offers conference facilities with most of the meeting rooms hosting views across to the winning post. The conference and exhibition space is located in two grandstands, both built in recent years.

Other historic venue settings for events include Bedern Hall and the Merchant Taylor’s Hall.

A new and unique venue for the city is the Chapter House, housed in York Minster. Completed in 1286, the octagonal room contains some of the Minster’s finest carvings and is still used today by the Dean and Chapter. The Chapter House is the only part of the Minster that is not consecrated and it offers a space in which to impress delegates.

Popular hotels for conference organisers include the luxury Hotel Du Vin chain and the recently opened Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa which is aspiring to become the city’s first five-star property.

The four-star Victorian hotel The Royal York is set in landscaped grounds adjacent to York Station and can host events for up to 600 guests.

Other chain hotels include the Marriott, Hilton, and Park Inn by Radisson, alongside privately-owned luxury hotels including The Grange and Middlethorpe Hall.

Teambuilding and incentives

The kind of incentives available in York and Scarborough include sporting escapes, pampering breaks and cultural retreats.

The region offers towns, moorlands, and sweeping coastlines as settings for incentives.

Smaller groups can take a seat among the grandeur of 18th century Fairfax House or the Merchant Taylors Hall. Venues such as the medieval Bedern Hall can arrange a dinner followed by dramatisations of works by Poe and Conan-Doyle.

If the great outdoors is more appealing, teams can work at the North of England Activity Centre at Rufforth, near York, with giant skis, raft building, human sheep or blindfold driving. Other activities include husky driving and surf schools.

A new twist for conferences in North Yorkshire this year is being offered by poet Anneliese Emmans Dean. Featured on BBC Radio Four Woman’s Hour, Anneliese provided the entertainment for the recent Society of Editors and Proofreaders Conference held at the University of York.

This month York and Scarborough Conferences will launch a Conference Ambassador Programme aimed at the association market, and the bureau is expecting 50 local venue exhibitors at its Venue Showcase at York Racecourse’s Ebor Stand on 31 March 2011.

John Gallery, of York-based business tourism specialists Great Potential, says York is a conference destination that offers a lot of choice for meeting planners. 

“More than the venues,” says Gallery, “York’s strongest suit is that it is full of ideas for making meetings and events more interesting, especially for incentive groups. Ghost Walks, Roman and Viking history, the ancient City Walls, provide a great way to exercise minds as well as bodies for a fact-finding trail. There is also York Minster, The ARC – archaeological ’hands-on’ resource centre, and there is even a meeting centre at York brewery.” 

Gallery says that attitudes toward delegates in York are good because the city is used to welcoming millions of tourists every year.

“Everyone knows it is the city’s main industry and livelihoods depend upon it. In recent times the meetings market has become more important as the traditional leisure tourist visitor profile has changed. City bosses have developed a year-round festivals programme to support the industry and this has spin-offs business tourism visitors.” 

Gallery believes quality has improved in recent years with many of the old fashioned B&Bs now converted into either boutique hotels or apartments. The city also has its first five-star hotel at the Cedar Court Grand, a project developed from the former North Eastern Railway company headquarters.

There are challenges for car travel within the city due to it’s medieval streets and pedestrian precincts but it has, according to Gallery, “one of the best park and ride services in the country”. 

York may still lack a convention centre for very large international events. The maximum at the University is 1,100 at present, but the city’s Barbican Centre, when it reopens in Spring 2011, will offer 1,400 capacity.

Train of new venue space thought
The new Learning Centre at North Yorkshire Moors Railway provides training and conference facilities as part of a £1.6m Train of Thought project aimed at regenerating the station area.

There is a new suite of meetings rooms within the ‘Catalyst’ building at York Science Park, a location for start-up companies in the creative, digital and media sectors. 
The Grand Hotel Scarborough will see 21 rooms added in 2011, boosting its total rooms to 381 by Easter and making it one of the largest hotels in North Yorkshire. 

York Minster recently played host to the International Service Human Rights Awards, the first time in the Awards’ eight-year history that the ceremony had been held in the city. Guests and award-winners travelled from Cameroon, Uganda and Ecuador. 
The AirCrew Association (ACA) recently celebrated its 33rd year at its annual reunion at the Park Inn by Radisson.

York – £203m 
Total business tourism spend 

Scarborough – £9m
Total business tourism spend

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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