Conferencing in Chester and Cheshire has picked up over the past few years, with businesses and associations bringing their AGM’s to the region. With conference powerhouse neighbours Liverpool and Manchester nearby, some of the North-West meetings magic has clearly rubbed off, and the large event spaces at Chester Racecourse, The Mere Golf Resort & Spa and The Queen Hotel all report good business.
Recent investments have seen the 18th Century Hoole Hall rebrand into Doubletree by Hilton, with a spa and onsite Marco Pierre White Steakhouse following a £25m renovation. The Queen hotel has invested £20m extending its accommodation facilities to 218 bedrooms.
Chester is a bustling city of contrasts, packed with historic buildings and 21st century facilities. The Roman amphitheatre is the largest example of its kind in the UK, while the racecourse is the country’s oldest.
Chester offers an upmarket chocolate box backdrop, with its Roman city (Deva) and walls and quality shopping experience.
Chester Town Hall and the Cathedral offer unusual event spaces, including the Consistory Court in the Cathedral for those wanting an intimate historical setting with a sense of drama.
Signs of the Cheshire events market coming out of the recession include large association business wins, such as the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators and the British Dental Association which have, between them, brought in major revenues into the region, revenues that total over £600,000 in the past three years alone.
Ashley Shacklady, Head of Business Tourism at Marketing Cheshire, says: “Our indicators are showing that a recovery is happening as there has been a recent surge in conference bookings with many venues in Cheshire stating 2013/2014 is their best year for Business Tourism ever. Average spend is increasing and venues are beginning to look at quality of business tourism as well as rate.”
The rail and road links into Chester help attract business, with four major motorways leading into the city, and the high speed train system allowing delegates to arrive from London in two hours.
Revenue into venues in Chester and Cheshire increased by 20 per cent over the past year, according to Shacklady, with hotel occupancy increasing by 29 per cent. “This shows that the conference and events market is growing in the region,” she adds.
Recent conferences with the After Eights Past Master Association and AIACE saw delegates enjoy the social activities available in the region such as Chester Zoo, Blue Planet Aquarium, Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet and guided walking tours of Chester.
Over 2,000 years of commerce has given Chester a dynamic approach to business tourism and the industry today makes a serious contribution to overall visitor numbers, which have increased by 12m in the past three years. “We aim to maintain this for the foreseeable future,” says Shacklady.
With 301 festivals throughout the year, from the RHS Show Tatton Park to horse racing and cultural events, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Chester and Cheshire. The May Festival at Chester Racecourse is a big opportunity for corporate hospitality, with on course restaurant spaces and marquee structures providing plenty of space for entertaining clients.
The three days in May saw 10,000 hospitality covers served and event and hospitality supplier Horseradish also provided major event catering and logistical support for Chester Rocks, at the Racecourse, 6-8 June. That event, which has gone from two to three days and is sponsored by Ab InBev, generated over £500k in 2013.
Artists this year included Dizzee Rascal, Razorlight and The Hoosiers.
Over 15,000 attended the event and Kate Dawson, Head of Sales at Horseradish, says: “Chester Rocks was an exciting line-up. The event took place between race meetings and polo tournaments, but highlighted our capacity to accommodate several large scale events within a short time frame.”
Chester Racecourse Chief Executive, Richard Thomas notes Horseradish also provides venue management and catering solutions at Chester Town Hall, Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse and Llangollen International Pavilion.
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston