Quays to success

Research last year sponsored by the One North East development agency revealed business tourism pumped almost £240m into the North East economy and helped create 5,700 jobs. Previous estimates had valued the region s business tourism at £100m.

The NewcastleGateshead twin-city conurbation represented 63 per cent of all gross business tourism value in the region and welcomed 1.6m conference delegates. The research project was a blend of qualitative and quantitative research, national statistics and venue audits based on the UK Event Market Trends Survey.

It is clearly a destination on the up, with a strong ambassador programme and big conference aspirations, including plans for a new convention centre lodged with the government s £1.4bn regional growth fund.

Medical and scientific association conferences are the driving force in NewcastleGateshead’s conference market, but now the political landscape is being filled in, with both Labour and the Conservatives meeting in the region in recent years. The y Liberal Democrats are also booked in for 2012.

The MS Society s Paul Crossman says: “While we were in NewcastleGateshead, they lit up the Gateshead Millennium Bridge; this added great added value for the event and for us as organisers.

Towards an ICEC

Jessica Roberts, Head of Business Tourism at the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the organisation which oversees the convention bureau, says the present lack of large-scale, flat-floor exhibition space means, however, the bigger conventions are sometimes turned away. “Realising the goal of establishing an International Convention and Exhibition Centre (ICEC) in NewcastleGateshead would be a great economic driver for the region and for the UK, says Roberts. An ICEC would certainly crown a decade of transformation and hard work.

Go-ahead for the project would move the destination up another conference gear, much as the opening of The Sage Gateshead in 2004 put the region back on the map for major events.

Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the Sage building on Gateshead Quays can accommodate over 1,600 delegates in its main auditorium and has held major conferences for the MS Society and the National Union of Students in recent years.

1NG, NewcastleGateshead’s city development company, in collaboration with Gateshead Council, is keen to build on the successes on Gateshead Quays. It is supporting the next phase of the Quays project – a £200m private sector regeneration, with an ICEC at its heart. The plans envisage:

  • 4,000sqm of multi-purpose space to host major conferences, exhibitions and events.
  • Around 215,000 additional delegate days per annum
  • At least £19m per annum into the economy
  • 3,000 private-sector jobs sustained

The ICEC would provide the critical infrastructure to build the business tourism market, the agency argues. Head of Events at The British Society of Rheumatology, James Glavin, agrees and says: “We’re keen to bring a conference of over 2,000 delegates to the North East but can’t with the current facilities. Like many associations we need at least 4,000sqm of exhibition and conference space.”

Jessica Roberts underlines the ICEC plan would also have enormously positive implications, not just for NewcastleGateshead but for the UK as a whole. “NewcastleGateshead delivers world leading research in fields such as new and renewable energy, stem cells and regenerative medicine, marine science and technology,” she adds. “The ICEC would allow the UK to compete effectively to bring international meetings in these key fields to its shores.

Ten for the future

The NewcastleGateshead convention bureau celebrated its 10th birthday at International Confex in London not only by outlining its ICEC plans but reminding stand visitors of infrastructure developments in the past decade that have brought in hotel brands such as Hilton, Hotel du Vin, and Jurys Inn; increasing bed stock by 42 per cent and providing meeting planners with access to over 5,500 bedrooms.

As well as looking back, the bureau lists 10 things to look forward to in 2011:

  • The Baltic Centre or Contemporary Art welcomes the Turner Prize in 2011
  • Outcomes from the first stage of the funding applications for an International Conference and Exhibition Centre on Gateshead Quays expected, April 2011
  • The Sage Gateshead will again welcome over 1,000 delegates for the National Union of Students annual conference in 2011.
  • Jurys Inn to open its second hotel in NewcastleGateshead, adding 200 bedrooms along the riverside
  • A year of significant medical conferences including for the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV; the College of Emergency Medicine and the European Society for Paediatric Research
  • New accommodation brands include the UK s first Sandman Signature hotel, Sleeperz and Hotel Indigo, plus the opening of the budget Euro Hostel Newcastle, A newly-designed Delegate Welcome Pack with a Discover Pass and discounts and offers to make the most of the cities
  • The NewcastleGateshead Bridges Festival will have its pilot events, celebrating the life blood of the city, the River Tyne, and the famous seven bridges, which stitch Newcastle and Gateshead together
  • Major refurbishments at Slaley Hall and Close House Hotel, as well as at city venues The CastleGate and Holiday Inn Newcastle Jesmond
  • A new edition of the NewcastleGateshead Conference Guide will be available late 2011.

Meet on the Tyne

NewcastleGateshead CB’s flagship big venue is The Sage Gateshead which sits next to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art on Gateshead Quays. The ICEC project is also earmarked for land adjoining The Sage. Newcastle United Football Club’s St James’ Park, as well as packing in over 60,000 fans at most home matches also offers Sodexo-managed meetings and event facilities.

The CastleGate, built in 1902 to generate power for the tram network, has emerged from a £1.5m programme of investment able to offer conference organisers new space for up to 500 delegates. The Turbine Hall, with its 18-metre vaulted ceiling, is the venue’s stand-out space for larger exhibitions and conferences.

Set within 800 acres of countryside lies Newcastle Racecourse where Northern Racing has invested £7m in the facilities. Meeting rooms can cater for up to 480 delegates and event programmes can be tailored to include horse racing.

The Georgian stately home Close House Hotel has also invested extensively to turn itself into a four-star golf venue. It reopens this month.

Out in Northumberland and Durham Matfen Hall, Slaley Hall, Rockliffe Hall and Seaham Hall are all top-end luxury country hotels with extensive sports facilities, spas and meeting rooms.

The Newcastle Marriott Hotel Gosforth Park offers some of the cities’ largest conference facilities, including for up to 600 in the biggest suite.

Back in the urban heart of the destination, the lets delegates get up close and personal with the world of science.

The Art Deco Newcastle Civic Centre and Hilton Newcastle Gateshead are two more central venues, and The University of Sunderland is making a mark in the budget market for meetings and accommodation.

Unusual experiences…

Beamish Wild at Beamish Hall Country House Hotel has launched a series of ‘Team Challenges’ for clients keen to incorporate into their events programme. The tasks range from the high ropes course set among the treetops, to those involving the birds of prey from the venue’s conservation centre. Arts venue Northern Stage offers a range of meetings and events space in a creative environment. Corporate training programmes provide drama for delegates with performance-based courses to boost team working and presentation skills.

Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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