Conferencing Caledonia

On 23 July Glasgow plays host to the biggest sporting event ever held in Scotland. A million spectators are expected in the city for the XX Commonwealth Games. The hope in Scotland is that the Games provide a lasting legacy attracting future sporting events to some of the venues built for the Games.

Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Tourism at VisitScotland, says: “This is a huge year for Scotland. The combination of the hundreds of exciting events of Homecoming 2014, the staging of the Commonwealth Games and the return of The Ryder Cup will showcase to the world the many reasons why event organisers choose Scotland.

Business tourism, according to a recent report commissioned by the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, is worth £1.9bn to the Scottish economy. Although Scotland is renowned for its scenery and nature, much of the meetings business is concentrated in the major cities. We look here at what a selection has to offer:

Since its inception in 2005, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) has secured business tourism worth £1bn to the city’s economy. More than 2,200 domestic and international conferences have been brought to the city in partnership with the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), and other city venues. This equates to more than 800,000 delegates spending 3.3m nights in the city’s hotels.

Head of Conventions, Aileen Crawford, says: “We specifically target those conferences that strategically match our academic and medical credentials. Our focus is very much on associations linked into Glasgow’s key sectors including: life sciences, financial services, science and engineering.”

The Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe (CIRSE), to be held in the SECC in September 2014, is set to bring in 6,000 delegates. Also taking place in the city are the Societe Internationale d’Urologie (SIU) and the Liberal Democrats Conference (both October).

Stephanie Plassa, Director of Meetings at the Electrochemical Society, tells CN Glasgow is “an affordable, world-class city with lovely people, and plenty for attendees to do”.

Plassa adds: “It was clear by the venue pricing and selection of the meeting space that Team Glasgow understood our needs”.

The first ever UK-based Conference Ambassador Programme was founded more than 20 years ago in Glasgow and it now accounts for 40 per cent of conferencing capital secured for the city.

Glasgow’s museums provide plenty for the delegate to appreciate culturally as well as providing the odd gem of event space. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Glasgow School of Art, The Mackintosh House, The Willow Tea Rooms and Queen’s Cross Church are all popular with delegates, while the Zaha Hadid designed Riverside Museum provides another option.

A whisky tour at Glengoyne Distillery and a chocolate matching workshop by Glaswegian chocolatier, Nucoco, are on the F&B menu for those delegates keen to indulge.

The SECC is proud of its SSE Hydro venue, launched last year, and Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales, says it offers “a unique experiential space for our corporate clients, while offering us the opportunity to dedicate the remaining venue facilities to our conference and exhibition customers.”

One venue customer is Contendam agency’s Commercial Director Caroline Mackenzie, who says the SECC has evolved “from what was at first a flexible but blank canvass venue. However, the additions of the ‘Armadillo’ and dedicated conference rooms and, more recently, the Hydro, give three distinct areas that can be used independently or in combination, which gives an organiser a huge number of options”.

Glasgow based PCO Meeting Makers has been taking a bite of the dental association market by securing contracts to organise a series of dental conferences. The agency is core PCO for the annual conference for the British Association of Paediatric Dentistry. The group has planned the 25th Meeting of the International Association of Paediatric Dentists in Glasgow in 2015 and working with a local specialist to organise the 23rd World Congress of Psychosomatic medicine, which will be held at the SECC in 2015.

Seven things to do in Glasgow:

?  Visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum; hear  one of the organ daily recitals
?  Local comedy at The Stand Comedy Club
?  Shop at Vintage Guru on Byres Rd, Glasgow’s Bohemian west end, where regulars include Lana Del Rey
?  Have tea in a Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building at the Willow Tearooms
?  Watch a football match at Parkhead, Ibrox or Hampden Park
?  Visit Oran Mor, a restored church housing over 210 whiskies
?  Visit the Gallery of Modern Art


Edinburgh, at No.33 in the ICCA City Ranking list, is the only UK destination apart from London in the 2013 top 50 published in May.

The past 12 months have seen conference bid wins for the city worth £90.1m, a £16.1m increase on the previous year. Conferences won include the SPIE 2016 Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation, Deaf History International Conference 2015 and the International Neuromodulation Society World Congress 2017.

Marketing Edinburgh’s Convention Bureau Head of Business Tourism, Lesley Williams, says it has been the strongest meetings year to date, with 151 events won in 12 months.

Having generated just under £2m of accommodation bookings in 2013-14, Marketing Edinburgh’s own dedicated Conference Accommodation Booking Service is anticipating a busy time.

“A £110m investment in recent years in the capital’s game-changing facilities,” says Williams, “includes the expansion at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa and The Assembly Rooms. They all mean that we are better placed than ever before to succeed in this competitive international marketplace.”

Over 1,250 delegates from 73 countries attended the four-day International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua) conference, which took place in October 2013 at the EICC, generating over £1.9m for the local economy.

Eadin Murphy, Events Manager for ISQua, says: “Delegate feedback was extremely positive, both for the scientific programme and overall conference experience in Edinburgh. The support from the bureau was invaluable. From the initial bid process and Ambassador expertise, right through to site-inspections, accommodation assistance and promoting the conference at our previous event in Geneva.”

Some of the big conferences the Edinburgh bureau is working with this year include European Congress on Biotechnology 2014 and the 12th Congress of the European Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, both in July.

The Edinburgh Ambassadors Programme has 500 members who secure 70 per cent of association meetings coming to the city.

Recent hotel developments include:

Motel One Edinburgh-Princes opened in April 2014 at the east end, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Point Hotel and Penthouse Suite opened in March.

A 259-bed Ibis Hotel forms a key part of the new South Bridge/Cowgate (SoCo) development in the heart of the Old Town and The De Vere Group has plans for the £20m Crewe Toll, North Edinburgh development featuring a hotel and conference centre.

Developments at Haymarket and in St James Quarter could turn the city into a retail force to rival Glasgow.

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society, meanwhile, has spent £1m on its 4,200sqm Lowland Hall.

Despite the continued investment, the Edinburgh bureau admits the subvention that some locations offer remains a challenge.

Reasons for organisers to choose Edinburgh, according to the bureau:

?  Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site covers over 1.76 square miles and 75% of all the buildings are listed
?  Edinburgh has more restaurants per head of population than any UK city and more Michelin star restaurants than any city, bar London
?  The top paid visitor attraction in Scotland is Edinburgh Castle with more than 1.4m visitors in 2013 and the National Museum of Scotland (with free admission) is the top visitor attraction outside London with 1.76m visitors in 2013
?  Edinburgh’s 12 festivals attract over 4m people (ticket sales exceeded only by the Olympics and the World Cup)

Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Hamilton is in close proximity to the financial and commercial hubs of Glasgow and Edinburgh and offers a fresh escape for delegates looking for outdoor pursuits, packed with natural and historical backdrops.

Venues include Hamilton Park Racecourse which offers 19 function suites, two permanent marquees and over 20 acres of outdoor space.

Chatelherault Hunting Lodge was built in 1732 and its Stables Suite can host up to 50, while the tiered Auditorium can hold 61.

The four-star Alona Hotel  has a conference suite for up to 140 and a banqueting suite seating 450. Teambuilding can be held in Strathclyde Country Park, venue for the Commonwealth Games’ triathlon.


Latest economic impact figures for business tourism in Dundee & Angus show conferences and events held in the area generated over £56.5m for the local economy.

A £1bn transformation on the waterfront will see a new V&A at Dundee museum emerge as a modern events venue, as well as a major arts centre. A new Malmaison Dundee hotel offers function space for up to 200 people across five meeting rooms.

Karen Tocher, Business Tourism Manager at Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau, says: “There is a lot of excitement around the new developments in Dundee and Angus, and capitalising on their potential will help to put us on the map.”

Dundee and Angus has secured the International Society of Addiction Medicine (ISAM15) conference in October 2015 and the European University Information Systems organisation’s annual congress EUNIS2015.

Dr Alex Baldacchino, a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Addiction Psychiatry with the University of Dundee, says the bureau provided his team with the advice and expertise needed to create a solid tender bid.

“Dundee and Angus is at the forefront of academic excellence and the area is famed for its pioneering accomplishments. It is also home to one of the largest research communities in Europe.”

As the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, Aberdeen is home to golf, castles and the Scottish whisky trail, a major attraction for organisers compiling social programmes for delegates and partners. 

Partners in the region include Virgin, Scotrail, VisitAberdeen, Trump International, all of whom offer reduced packages for Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) delegates. 

Subvention funding and financial support from VisitScotland’s Bid Fund (and VisitAberdeen) has encouraged more association organisers to choose Aberdeen. The AECC says that organisers tend to be looking for more ‘extras’ including free Wi-Fi and AV in their room hire, and more on-site hotels. Sustainability and green issues are increasingly relevant, with ISO20121 becoming more widely recognised (especially with the larger agencies), the venue reports.

While some UK cities have seen weekday occupancy and rates dropping in recent years, Aberdeen’s economy remains buoyant, mainly due to the oil and gas industry.

Early 2014 hotel rates in Aberdeen are ahead of other Scottish and indeed UK cities and occupancy in the Granite City remains the highest in Scotland at 64.7 per cent in January, ahead of Glasgow (63.8 per cent), Edinburgh (58.5 per cent) and Inverness (55.7 per cent). The market in the city fluctuates little throughout the year as the oil industry events remove seasonality issues.

Steve Harris, Chief Executive of VisitAberdeen says: “The opening of the new £22m Aquatics Centre is already paying dividends. It has hosted the Commonwealth Water Polo Championship where 250 competitors and officials visited from eight countries. The economic benefit of that event is calculated to be in the region of £270k.”

New hotel openings include The Courtyard By Marriott at the airport and The Chester Hotel in the west end. These new beds, along with expanding international direct flights to Aberdeen from additional Norwegian cities and Latvia, mean the city is increasingly accessible to global destinations.

Pitfalls when taking events to Scottish cities can include any outdoor event being weather dependent. There is a perception that the region is tricky to get to. The upsides include these cities offering first class facilities for a lot less than other major destinations, as well as an abundance of heritage.

This was first published in the June issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

Up Next

Related Posts