CN surveys the current offer from the UK’s convention bureaus
The North West’s Golf Coast
Southport Conference Bureau up on England’s Golf Coast has been around for 25 years and is adapting fast to changing trends. With six staff, the bureau is a public/private sector partnership comprising of Sefton Council’s sales and marketing team and the sales team at the Southport Theatre & Convention Centre.
“Team Southport works closely with STBN (Southport Tourism Business Network) and the Southport BID (Business Improvement District) combining resources to provide a seamless service for conference buyers,” says business tourism development officer Sammi Rudge.
Rudge lists the top three priorities
Pro-active sales – targeting the not-for-profit sector looking to place large 300+ multi-day events
Presence – strategic marketing in trade and vertical press as well as attendance at selected exhibitions
PR – Southport has invested in becoming industry ‘thought-leaders’ and identifying emerging trends.
“Successful bureaus have adapted to the changing needs and expectations of buyers and have refined their list of services to suit current requirements,” says Rudge who identifies the most successful piece of conference business to come through the bureau in the past year, as the Royal British Legion Women’s Section event, booked for 2016. A thousand delegates are expected for three days, for a conference worth £1m to the economy.
Dundee & Angus
Dundee is a city that has invested hard in its infrastructural makeover and some exciting projects have emerged from the construction sites.
Karen Tocher is business tourism manager of Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau, which was formed in 1998 and which is funded through a partnership between Dundee City Council and Angus Council.
The bureau employs three staff.
“Our focus is working closely with ambassadors based within the universities and research institutes to identify opportunities for bidding and hosting national and international academic and research meetings,” says Tocher.
The programme was launched in November 2001, and has since secured 187 conferences worth over £34m.
Tocher points to a varied venue offering in the region, from the historic sailing ship RRS Discovery, to the modern Dundee Science Centre.
A priority for Tocher is to improve the delegate journey. “We know that business tourists spend 2–3 times more than leisure tourists and if they have had a good experience will return again as leisure visitors,” she says.
Another task she identifies for the bureau is maintaining partnerships with key industries in Dundee & Angus including biotechnology, life sciences, digital media, medicine, law and education.
Dundee is home to one of the largest research communities in Europe, with 3,000 life scientists from 52 countries working in the area.
The V&A Museum of Design, part of the Waterfront Project, is due for completion by 2018 and has recently become the first UNESCO City of Design in the UK. The £1bn transformation will attract hotels, businesses and create over 7,000 jobs.
The most successful piece of conference business in recent times was the result of four years’ work: The isamDUNDEE2015 Congress (International Society of Addiction Medicine), which will run 5-8 October 2015. The congress is expected to attract 500 delegates.
The biggest challenge for Dundee is accommodating the very large congresses but Tocher hopes the Waterfront developments will change that.
Dundee and Angus has a small subvention fund to support its academic and association bids and can apply for match funding to support a bid through VisitScotland’s National Bid Fund.
Business Events Bournemouth
Business Events Bournemouth is the destination marketing, venue finding and delegate booking brand for the region, formed in 2014 and supported by town partners BH Live (who manage Bournemouth International Centre), Bournemouth Borough Council and Bournemouth Coastal BID.
The service provides a single point of contact to help build engaging delegate experiences.
The main venues are clustered under the BHLive brand.
In June, the Royal College of Nursing brings 4,000 members to BIC. By incorporating physical activity into the four-day programme, such as seafront walks and sunrise yoga, attendees can invigorate themselves before, during and after sessions.
“Organisers are looking for added value through special experiences to get the most out of the destination,” says Karina Gregory, Business Events Bournemouth manager. “By looking beyond the traditional footprint of venue finding and marshalling activities unique to the region, we are creating an extra spark to each event which, in turn, boosts Bournemouth’s reputation as a major event destination.”
Liverpool not resting on its laurels
Liverpool Convention Bureau has been operating since 2004 and has a team of six.
The LCB is partly funded by 80 city partners, including venues, hotels and restaurants, as well as attractions which benefit from business tourism.
“The MICE industry has a huge effect on the city’s economy, so we’re well supported by those around us,” says the bureau’s manager Kate Currie.
“We focus on lead generation through exhibition attendance and through Club Liverpool, our ambassador programme. There is scope to grow business tourism further – however we must continue to enhance the city’s reputation internationally.”
The bureau played a leading role during the International Festival for Business last summer, which had more than 400 events.
“One of the biggest challenges,” says Currie, “is ensuring we continue to evolve and we need to broaden our range of services in line with industry trends and product. As the city’s reputation for business tourism grows, so do expectations of organisers and delegates: we’re not resting on our laurels.”
Glasgow: what ‘good’ looks like
A decade of conference business has equated to £1.2bn for Glasgow’s economy, according to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB).
Ten years of promoting the city to the rest of the world has led to many accolades.
On 13 May, the bureau revealed that in the past decade it had helped secure 3,323 domestic and international conferences together with city partners.
More than 1.2m conference delegates have spent 3.8m nights in the city’s hotels during this time with delegates accounting for up to one in five hotel beds sold in Glasgow.
GCMB reported its best ever conference sales over the past financial year.
The bureau, together with city partners including the SECC, the universities, venues and hotels, secured conventions business worth £140m in 2014/15, representing a 3% year-on-year increase.
Between 1 April, 2014 and 31 March, 2015, 504 new international and UK conventions were confirmed through to 2022, including:
The Congress of the International Academy of Pathology 2020
The European Society of Hypertension and the International Society of Hypertension’s (ESH/ISH) Joint Scientific Congress 2020
The World Congress of Soil Science 2022
Through match funding, GCMB and partners have confirmed nine future conferences including the World Congress of Basic Clinical Pharmacology 2022 and the International Congress on Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions 2019.
Bristol: Go West
Conference Bristol has been operating within Destination Bristol since 1999 when it was formed as the Bristol Tourism & Conference Bureau. There are four members of the team and while the remit of bringing conferences and business events to Bristol has not changed, the way the bureau delivers has.
“We work much more closely with agents and third parties,” says Kathryn Davis, head of tourism at Destination Bristol.
“We have become more international, attending more overseas events and increasingly using social and digital communication with clients.
Although the umbrella organisation is a public/private partnership, the conference unit is largely self-funded. This comes from a range of income streams – membership, advertising and commission.
The bureau works with 70 venues directly.
“Customer service is critical,” says Davis. “We aim to have a proposal for clients within 24 hours as far as possible.”
Davis picks out the creative sector, green and sustainable technologies, aerospace and advanced engineering and hi-tech as sectors in which Bristol performs strongly.
The bureau is putting together a programme online of ‘experiences’ that can be added to a meeting to create something memorable, says Davis. “From sheep herding to creating street art – we try and do things a little differently.”
The future looks rosy out West.
“Our enquiry levels are the highest they’ve been for seven years and the value of those enquiries, the highest on record,” Davis adds.
Eastbourne by the sea
Eastbourne has been welcoming conferences to the Devonshire Park Centre for over 50 years. The Centre offers the largest conference facilities in town, with a 1,700 seated auditorium and Grade II listed Winter Garden for exhibition and banqueting.
The grounds itself are famed for its tennis status which welcomes the pre-Wimbledon championships each year (International Lawn Tennis Centre) and the award-winning contemporary art gallery and museum, Towner; both venues also offer breakout spaces for conferences.
The venue is run by Eastbourne Borough Council with Conference Eastbourne supported by bureau members who financially support the work in exchange for promotion through exhibition attendance, brochures, newsletters, Conferenceeastbourne.com, free venue finding and dedicated accommodation booking services.
The bureau says local government enquiries are rising, with not-for-profit conferences still forefront of the centre’s use.
Established in 1982, Birmingham Convention Bureau (BCB) is the service delivery element of Meet Birmingham, the official business tourism programme for the city, part of Marketing Birmingham’s destination marketing strategy.
The BCB’s focuses on offering venue location advice and social programme planning; providing support for event organisers, including welcome branding, literature, special offers and PR; and helping to bid for new events.
BCB is funded by earned commission, private sector partners and its service-level agreement with Birmingham City Council.
The BCB model has evolved to react to industry requirements. It targets new conferences in line with the region’s sectoral strengths, which include advanced engineering, life sciences and Business, Professional and Financial Services (BPFS).
The area can lay claim to four of the world’s top exhibition, conference and event venues – the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), the International Convention Centre (ICC), the Genting Arena and the Barclaycard Arena, fresh from a £26m transformation last year.
Birmingham and the wider region also boasts a range of academic venues, including venuebirmingham at the University of Birmingham and Conference Aston.
Birmingham’s transport connections put over 90% of the UK market within a four hour journey time.
Another big USP for the bureau is the 36,000 bed spaces available for visitors in the city centre and surrounding area.
The most successful recent piece of conference business won is the Conservative Party’s decision to return to the city in 2016, 2018 and 2020. In 2014, the Tory Conference – the city’s fourth since 2008 – contributed around £17m to the local economy.
Leeds has weathered a severe funding problem in recent years, when its convention bureau pretty much dipped out of view under pressure of recessionary times.
Now the University is pushing its conference, meetings and events arm MEETinLEEDS as a solution for organisers, whether they are looking for a short day meeting or a fully managed conference with accommodation.
Dominating the city’s skyline, the Parkinson Building provides an impressive entrance to the University, which offers a diverse collection of buildings ranging from the Victoria era, to Art Deco and modern architecture.
These venues allow organisers to add some theatre to their event, whether it is a small meeting in one of the more rural off-campus locations or large-scale conference in a state-of-the-art 550-seat theatre. Cuisine ranges from buffets to Silver Service dinners.
MEETinLEEDS has an annual turnover of £1.2m and has, among its event successes, a four-day Medieval Congress – the largest gathering of its kind in the world.
MEETinLEEDS claims there is a definite increase in organisations looking for more sustainable ways of working and meeting and the bureau says it is attracting more conferences about sustainability. The bureau cites endorsements from players including The Soil Association, which granted the University a Gold Award for its menus for a sustainability conference, and the Green Tourism Business Scheme which has given Gold Awards to some of its venues and accommodation.
The greatest challenge in Oxford is the shortage of accommodation – Ulrike Werner
Meet Oxfordshire is the official convention bureau of Oxford and Oxfordshire and attempts to match clients with suitable venues for their events, as well as drawing up social programmes.
“The greatest challenge in Oxford is the shortage of accommodation,” says marketing assistant at the bureau Ulrike Werner. “As there is very high demand for hotel beds all year round, residential conferences should be prepared to book far in advance and keep to the University’s off term time to make sure they can secure the spaces required.”
Staffordshire on the radar
The Staffordshire Stoke-on-Trent Conference Bureau is a public/private sector partnership formed in 1996 following a merger of services provided by the Stoke-on-Trent Conference Desk and the Stafford Tourism Bureau.
The bureau’s focus has changed considerably in recent years and it now has 37 member venues and support services. Its main task is tackling the lack of awareness among organisers of Staffordshire at national level.
“Increasingly we are dealing with clients looking for something special but still with flexibility,” says bureau manager Claire Williams.
As to how robust the business has been, Williams acknowledges a decrease in the number of enquiries received 3-4 years ago, but says the last two years have improved.
“In 2014 we saw an increase in enquiries and an even bigger increase in their value.”
With 40% of the UK population within two hour’s drive time and with Alton Towers, the Wedgwood Visitor Centre, Weston Park and Swinfen Hall Hotel, the area certainly has good venue material to work with.
London’s complete solution
London & Partners is the official promotional company for London and launched in April 2011, having brought together the remits of the capital’s three promotional agencies: Think London, Study London and Visit London, which were previously independently responsible for attracting inward investment, international students and tourism.
London & Partners employs 135 staff at its London offices.
The core conference bureau element consists of 15 people and offers help with all aspects of event planning, from handling RFPs to providing visitor information for delegates.
The bureau’s team of association experts helps international congress organisers deliver successful events, as well as helping ‘unlock’ the city, working with clients from bid to closing night gala.
The bureau also works curates its own calendar of events, working with partners and across the industry to cultivate original experiences and grow new events.
London & Partners is a not-for-profit public/ private partnership, funded by the Mayor of London and commercial partners. Recent figures show it has attracted £15 of additional wealth for every £1 of grant funding and private sector income received.
Over the past year the bureau has begun to target larger conventions and corporate meetings that are contestable and have not already taken a location decision. There is also a focus on sectoral expertise and attracting and supporting large events in the technology, life sciences and creative industries.
The bureau says it is also looking to attract more incentive and high end group travel to London.
There is also demand for the ‘creative factor’, with many potential clients enquiring about how they can show their delegates a new side of London.
London’s bureau says it has moved on from being a venue finding resource to being a complete event organising solution.