Paul Colston shines some light on England’s Northern Powerhouse for events and what it means for organisers.
England’s Northern Lights shining for business tourism are projecting themselves brightly on the meetings market, capitalising on rapid investment in infrastructure and helping develop new knowledge-based economies.
The region’s cities will also be able to tap in to £1m of the government’s £10m Northern Tourism Growth Fund (a sum to be matched by businesses) specifically set aside for promoting business tourism.
An additional 2m visitor nights to the North is one target across the key cities, who made a collective splash at the IMEX America trade show in Las Vegas last October, when the convention bureaux of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and NewcastleGateshead united to shout about the attraction of the Powerhouse area.
“Combining our stories, our history, our infrastructure, accessibility and venue/product strengths, we are an internationally attractive destination that can rival anywhere,” says Paul Szomoru, chief of business tourism at NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau. He is rightly proud that these Northern cities can come together with one voice in markets where, individually, they might struggle to make an impact.
So, what are these cities’ typical elevator pitches for planners considering these destinations?
On the Waterfront in Liverpool
Liverpool, city of the Beatles, two cathedrals, two premier league football stadia and a redeveloped waterfront next to a billion-pound shopping complex, now boasts the only interconnected purpose-built arena, conference and exhibition centre in Europe, ACC Liverpool. The complex’s new baby, Exhibition Centre Liverpool, has already reported its first 11 major events booked in and its new adjoining Pullman hotel is set to add another string to the organiser’s bow. The future roster of major conferences at the ACC Liverpool, includes The European Association for International Education in 2016 and the Royal College of Nurses.
With more listed buildings, museums and galleries than any UK city region outside London, Liverpool offers a compact city treasure trove for delegates after hours.
The International Festival of Business, held in Liverpool in 2014, showcased British business to the world via 250 high-value events which provided live business opportunities worth an estimated £1.7bn.
With 250,000 visitors from 80 countries, it is not surprising the government is backing the return of IFB in 2016.
Alongside the heritage of Everton FC’s Goodison Park and its events spaces catered for by Sodexo, Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium development is set to bring with it a wealth of new conference options, attractive for those keen to rub shoulders with Klopp and the Kop.
The Shankly Hotel and Hard Days Night are two boutique hotels broadening the critical mass of hotels in the city. They are joined also by a new DoubleTree by Hilton.
And Liverpool is accessible as never before, with new air routes flying to John Lennon Airport, including Edinburgh, Barcelona, Belfast, Amsterdam and New York via Dublin.
England’s ‘golf coast’ and resort town Southport is also part of the growing Liverpool City Region conference conurbation. The Ramada Plaza adjoins the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre, and the resurgent resort offers a different vibe in the city region.
Appliance of meetings science in Manchester
Greater Manchester is ready to host an array of major national and international conferences this year, including Global Offshore Wind Conference 2016, British National Science Fiction Convention 2016, and the World Summit on Media for Children 2017.
The city is commited to getting the most out of its tenure as European City of Science 2016, which will see Manchester play host to the EuroScience Open Forum and its 4,500 delegates, giving an estimated economic impact of £10m.
Last year saw the Manchester International Festival, the 25th year of Manchester Pride and the city listed among Lonely Planet’s top 10 travel destinations.
James Smart, Lonely Planet’s destination editor for the UK and Ireland, said: “Manchester deserves to be recognised as one of the UK’s most important destinations for travellers. It has been transformed in recent years, with inspirational new openings, the reinvention of existing spaces and vast investment. Whatever experience travellers are after – culture, sport, shopping, nightlife – they won’t come away disappointed.”
Leeds live for events
Leeds hosted 54,200 events and approaching 4m delegates last year. They did business worth nearly £500m to the local economy.
A revitalised conference bureau now connects organisers with 250 venues across the city and West Yorkshire. The bureau now has a city-wide strategy designed to integrate four core business sectors into the meetings mix: healthcare, financial and professional services, digital and manufacturing.
Venues include the Royal Armouries, The Queens hotel and three university campuses. Out of town options include Oulton Hall, Thorpe Park, Weetwood Hall Hotel and Conference Centre and Wood Hall Hotel & Spa.
There are 2,100 four-star hotel rooms in the city, and the universities add a further 6,690.
Leeds is burnishing its sporting credentials following the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 and being a host city for the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
Leeds-Bradford airport is expanding routes and serves visitors to nearby York and Harrogate, where the HIC is in the centre of a beautiful spa town.
Big Leeds wins for 2016 include:
• International Association of Language Centres Annual Workshop
• British Education Research Association
• ICCA UK & Ireland Chapter Annual Debate
• Association of Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland British Cardiovascular Society
Make it York
In York there is a £15m redevelopment of The Grand Hotel & Spa underway, as well as new investment at The Royal York Hotel. Staycity Serviced Apartments will open a new site next to the York Barbican Centre in spring 2016.
Latest figures from the VisitYork4Meetings bureau says that the city’s 90 conference venues hosted over 16,000 meetings last year, generating £140.7m in income, 25% of the total visitor spend.
NewcastleGateshead’s holy conference trinity
NewcastleGateshead has always been a lively conurbation, and business tourism is now delivering in excess of £77m per year and supporting over 1,600 jobs.
On the River Tyne, smart bars and restaurants provide a big draw for hipsters, and all keen to sample the new fusion style.NewcastleGateshead is also hot for hotel developments with the new 251-bed Crowne Plaza, near Central Station. The hotel’s Stephenson Suite is able to cater for 400 delegates.
One of the world’s finest music centres at Sage Gateshead is also the city’s biggest conference venue. The city’s warm welcome has the bureau claiming 91% of delegates who visit say they’d like to come back soon with friends or family.
There are three key sectors being targetted for conference business:
Creative and digital: a sector that accounts for almost 1,800 businesses and employing over 8,000 people in the city;
Science and healthcare: The region is home to 250 companies operating in the sector including GSK and Procter & Gamble and employs 6,500 people;
Offshore and marine: NewcastleGateshead is one of six Centres for Offshore Renewable Engineering (CORE) in England.
Sheffield’s great outdoors
The Sheffield City Trust Group operates a portfolio of venues including Ponds Forge and the English Institute of Sport Sheffield.
Big recent investments include a new Hampton by Hilton hotel, with Marco Pierre White restaurant, and new facilities unveiled at both city universities, including the 450-seater Pennine lecture theatre at Hallam and a £20m investment at the University of Sheffield’s The Diamond, a six-storey sustainable building.
There are 20 venues in the Sheffield International Venues (SIV) portfolio, including Sheffield City Hall and the largest exhibition halls in the region, the Motorpoint Arena and iceSheffield.
Sheffield is netting a higher percentage of association business (27%) than the national average (19%) and its conference ambassador programme generated over £13.5m worth of events to the local economy last year.
The city is laying claim to the title of the UK’s Outdoor Capital, with the European Outdoor Summit and the International Adventure tourism Conference taking place in 2015.
Another big draw is the International Documentary Festival and the bureau says you can walk to over 2,000 hotel rooms in 10 minutes from the central station.
Hull is a city with a strong individual identity and one that is fast embracing conferencing. It has its own train company (Hull Trains), its own communications network (KC Communications) and was home to the anti slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and poet Philip Larkin.
Since winning the bid to be the UK City of Culture 2017, the local Hull and East Yorkshire (HEY) Conferences bureau has been targeting association meetings business as the multi-million pound regeneration scheme continues to transform the city and its venues.
Hull is a UK Energy City and its location on the Humber estuary makes it an ideal a hub for renewable energy industries. Europe’s largest wind turbine manufacturing plant is being developed at Alexandra Dock.
Hull is also a gateway to Yorkshire and the Wolds and close to Bridlington Spa, which offers a 1930s Art Deco Ballroom and Edwardian Theatre.
Back on the Hull Marina, delegates can dine with sharks and rays as the backdrop at The Deep, a futuristic aquarium that caters for large dinners and awards ceremonies.
The hotel stock has improved drastically in recent years, with the four-star Hallmark Hotel Hull fresh from a £3m renovation and able to host conferences for up to 200 delegates.
Hull City Hall can accommodate up to 1,300 people and has hosted the International Classical Masters Series and major conferences. Hull Guildhall is another choice for conferences and civic receptions.
The city’s remodelled Transport Interchange is another investment paying off for delegates.
Now the city’s big project is marketing Hull 2017, a 365-day festival and £100m programme of cultural experiences for which the BBC has partnered.
The British Shakespeare Association (BSA) Conference heads to Hull in September 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Blackpool by the sea
Blackpool is Britain’s most visited beach resort and £350m has been invested in the town over the last five years, resulting in a new promenade and tramway. The Winter Gardens conference centre and the Blackpool Tower remain big attractions for delegates.
Political conventions, World Fitness conventions and the Young Farmers Association have been regular visitors to Blackpool and the sector contributes £50m to the resort’s economy.
New hotels are coming to Blackpool in 2016/17, include Hilton Hamptons, Premier and a five-star private build.
Chester is another Northern gem, with chocolate box high streets. It has a racecourse and hotels, as well as a zoo, and this historic Roman town is worth including on any Northern meetings map.
The Northern Lights of England’s conferencing portfolio are shining as never before and ready to add illumination to any event.