Island meetings

The UK has a rich inventory of islands that can provide a unique experience for delegates, with a host of added extras on offer that can really set them apart from mainland destinations.

Jersey

Located 100 miles off mainland Britain, Jersey is the most southerly island of the British Isles. Over 20 UK airports fly into Jersey with EasyJet, BA, Blue Islands and Flybe the main airlines able to get delegates to the island in under an hour. With the island measuring nine miles by five, once delegates arrive everything is within easy reach.

“Down time of sitting on coach transfers is minimal and St Helier really is a walking town,” says Hamish Reid, General Manager of the Jersey Conference Bureau. “A small island has the advantage that it offers everything but on a smaller scale. Everything is within 15 minutes, which makes a huge difference when organising an itinerary for an event.

“Plus,” he adds, “Jersey is neutral, not many UK companies have offices there, outside of the financial services, so clients love the fact that delegates don’t drive home one evening and nip off to see clients, but they keep the group together meaning a greater ROI.”

The bureau’s current MICE strategy, according to Reid, is about promoting unique experiences. “Choosing a destination like Jersey is about wanting to impress a message on staff or clients. It is not about sitting in a meeting room for 24 hours.”

Reid says that most of the 250 plus residential events Jersey hosts each year are in the corporate sector and tend to be up to 100 delegates in size. For these events Jersey has a range of venues including 17 four-star hotels offering over 1,600 bedrooms.

New event venue options on the island include Banjo Jersey, a European-style grand brasserie with space for 120 guests. The venue’s Banjo Bar is able to host 60 guests for drinks receptions, while there are three private dining and conference rooms on the first floor for 150 guests. Ormer in St Helier is another new venue in the island’s meeting stream. The venue houses a 50-cover restaurant, bars and terrace, a private dining room for corporate hire and a roof garden for 25 guests.

Following its 10-week, £1m refurbishment programme The Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel has launched its new-look Waterfront Bar, restaurant and terrace. “The refurbishment is testament to the growth of hospitality on the island and a commitment to the industry for years to come,” says GM Fergus O’Donovan.

The hotel is available for events including banquets, corporate retreats and teambuilding. For organisers wanting an even more secluded meeting, the venue’s Le Hocq is an exclusive space on the central tower’s top floor with views of St Aubin’s Bay and Elizabeth Marina. Organisers can host high-profile events or product launches accompanied by discreet meetings in two adjacent suites that offer private lift access.

The hotel’s partnership with Jersey Adventures means delegates can take part in a variety of activities including trips to Elizabeth Castle, sea kayaking, abseiling and sand yachting. A game of golf, wine tasting at the local vineyard or chartering a private yacht to explore the area is also available.

“Our hotel is very much part of the destination and the island has a wealth of natural scenery and sweeping coastline which provides a real incentives playground for delegates,” says O’Donovan.

Isle of Wight

While perhaps not your typical conference destination, the Isle of Wight is upping its conference game with a refurbishment of The Ventnor Winter Gardens to allow the venue to accommodate larger conferences and exhibitions. From the autumn, the venue’s pillar-free auditorium with fixed stage will be able to host 300 people theatre-style. A private dining room with sea views, and a 70-cover restaurant with outside terrace will also be available. The long-term plan is to add 30 bedrooms to the property, so that it can offer residential conferences.

Other venues with conference facilities include the four-star Lakeside Park Hotel & Spa, with capacity for 140 delegates theatre-style; and the Priory Bay Hotel with event space for 100 delegates, accommodation for 50 guests, and after-conference facilities including a golf course, tennis courts and private beach.

Scotland’s Islands

Officially recognised as being the place to go by TripAdvisor, the Scottish Islands can offer a unique getaway for delegates seeking some meetings inspiration. Lewis and Harris, the northernmost island in the Outer Hebrides has been crowned the number one island in Europe in the TripAdvisor 2014 Travellers’ Choice Islands Awards. It is followed by Mainland Orkney, which sits fourth, and the Isle of Mull in ninth.

Conference facilities offered by Scotland’s islands include Shetland’s music, cinema and creative industries centre, Mareel, which opened in 2012 following a £12m investment. The venue offers a main auditorium for 600 people and four additional spaces. Sabhal Mor Ostaig, a Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye, can host conferences for 200 delegates, while the Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa is popular with city-based companies organising incentives, motivational events and conferences looking for a secluded hideaway.

Situated on the Isle of Lewis, Stornoway, hosted the Environmental Interactions of Marine Renewables in April 2014, generating an estimated economic benefit of £350,000.

“The Scottish Government is working with our island communities to make the most of unrivalled natural, economic and cultural assets, creating opportunities that strengthen island economies,” says Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.

Island isolation

For meetings looking for real seclusion, Amazing Venues’ Spitbank Fort, a sea fortress in the Solent, offers five event spaces for 60 delegates and nine bedroom suites.

“One of the main advantages of Spitbank Fort is the sense of freedom delegates feel,” says Sales and Events Manager Victoria Campbell. “Being out at sea and breathing fresh sea air is a great way to leave the stresses of life behind. There is a sense of calm on the water and the open space gives delegates room to think and get creative.”

No Man’s Land, the big brother of the three forts in the Solent, is currently being renovated with conferences and events in mind. The fort will be able to hold larger events and will open later this year.

The sense of seclusion island destinations can offer is something that Russell Allen, founder of agency Crescendo, says can help form a sense of togetherness during a corporate event, making messaging more impactful.

At a recent black tie dinner event for 12 delegates on Cliveden, an island set on the River Thames,  Allen says while the seclusion aspect was beneficial, the challenges involved in staging a small event such as this were notable, with equipment and delegates needing to be shipped over to the island. “Health and safety aspects assessments are critical here, and access was aided by a strong relationship we’ve built with the National Trust over the years,” he says.
   
The UK’s inventory of island destinations is proof if ever it was needed that it’s not all about travelling to continental climates and far-flung tropical beaches if you want to meet leaving the mainland behind.

This was first published in the June issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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