Paul Colston meets Farnborough International’s recently appointed venue director, Michael Watton, who will oversee a £30m expansion at the Hampshire facility.
The £30m funding for the new exhibition and event space at Farnborough International signals a new phase in development at the Hampshire venue and its events business at the 100,000sqm airfield site.
The investment in the new facility, due to be ready in 2018, comes from a mix of funders including: the Enterprise M3 LEP; Hampshire County Council; Rushmoor Borough Council; and Barclays Bank.
The man newly appointed as venue director to oversee the projectd, Michael Watton, brings 30 year’s experience in conventions and exhibitions, including over 10 years in senior positions at Birmingham’s NEC, three years as commercial director at the Dubai World Trace Center and most recently as venue director at Glow Bluewater.
Watton’s first foray to big industry event was to International Confex last month, where he raised awareness of the investment and what it could mean for the market.
“As a multi-purpose venue, we are targeting event organisers that are looking for flexibility, whether it’s a membership based conference with exhibition space or a major exhibition with a requirement for meetings, seminar or workshop space. Our geographic location along the M3/M4 corridor makes us ideally positioned to target the business-to-business market place on our doorstep,” he says and underlines that Farnborough International Venue and Events (FIVE) is already a large-scale events business because of the way in which the airshow has developed. Although the venue does host a wide range of events outside of the aviation sector, and the new investment is designed to secure additional business in the future.
Watton believes the biggest success at FIVE has been to establish the quality and reliability of the Farnborough Airshow experience in a permanent and all-year round venue.
“With an additional, new exhibition and event space opening in 2018 we have the opportunity to provide an even bigger, flexible facility that will take us into an exciting new phase of the Farnborough story. The challenge of funding the additional event space has been met,” he says.
Expanding Farnborough’s airshow expertise and know-how to an even larger, permanent presence in the wider events industry is Watton’s aim.
“Our part of the world has long been crying out for a large purpose-built event space with easy access to London, Gatwick and Heathrow and the number of industries and companies taking root in the area makes Farnborough the perfect destination for a whole range of events,” he says.
Many corporate companies have made Farnborough their home and the area is in one of the top 10 business districts in the UK.
When complete, the new FIVE facility will be able to cater for events that need up to 12,500sqm of exhibition space or 2,500 conference seats and multiple purpose-built function rooms for between 12-1,200 people. Watton expects B2B events to be a big priority.
He points out that the venue is right next to a working airport (the first airport in the UK), has its own bus station and thousands of parking spaces. The Airshow welcomes over 100,000 visitors, so it’s a space that’s geared towards visitor flow. “Add a new state-of-the-art, flexible venue to the footprint and we think our offer will be hard to match,” says a clearly enthused Watton.
“As event organisers ourselves – we call ourselves ‘match fit’ internally – we aspire to be both reliable and dynamic, so think of us very much as an extension to your own team,” says Watton in pitch mode. “Secondly, Farnborough is a place of pioneering firsts and innovations so we’re always happy to work to develop new ways of organising an event. Lastly, we are working hard to create a truly flexible venue that will meet a wide range of event requirements,” he adds.
Farnborough is deeply connected to many industries such as aerospace, engineering, technology, security and defence and Watton believes there is enthusiasm in these sectors for the new event space. “We also meet a good deal of demand already for events that need to be located in Southern England. With an additional purpose-built venue, we will be flexible enough for many events and will be looking to widen and expand our appeal to both UK and internationalorganisers,” he says.
Watton is looking beyond the bricks and mortar of the venue, and underlines he wants to build on Farnborough’s legacy to create an exciting and dynamic events-based future. With Farnborough’s proven track record, he is a firm believer that he has the runway in place for a smooth take off.