John Keenan joins a specially invited group of international buyers on their visit to the UK’s Northern Powerhouse.
The North of England, long regarded as something of a Cinderella figure by many of the nation’s meetings industry planners, has set out to show that it can sparkle when the occasion demands.
The region’s cities have tapped into £1m of the government’s £10m Northern Tourism Growth Fund.
Marketing Liverpool, on behalf of the Northern Tourism Group, brought 12 influential international organisers on a fam trip immediately following IMEX Frankfurt. Their four-day itinerary took them across the North of England, stopping at Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle for a closer look at the MICE offer in these cities. They met key stakeholders from venues, hotels and associations.
The trip took place at a time of continuing positive changes in the area and the visitors dropped in at ACC Liverpool which claims to have brought £1bn in economic benefit in the last eight years. The centre recently expanded to include a £66m exhibition centre and hotel. In 2015 the complex hosted 182 events and 72,000 delegates.
The Sage in Gateshead on the river Tyne, which accommodates 1,700 delegates, was also in focus on the fam, while Manchester Central, housed in the shell of a former railway terminus, showcased why it pulls in half a million visitors a year and £75m into the economy.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne’s announced spending of £60m to develop detailed plans for the HS3 high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds is another big ticket project in the North, with £75m going to explore options for a trans-Pennine road tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield; and £161m to accelerate upgrades to the M62. He also announced studies on improvements to the North’s two new train franchises, which began on 1 April and herald the start of a £1.2bn investment programme.
New franchise operator Arriva Rail North and FirstGroup, which runs the new TransPennine Express franchise, will provide trains costing more than £800m.
Nick Brooks-Sykes, director of tourism at Marketing Manchester, said: “Nothing beats seeing a city for yourself. By inviting key planners and association executives from around the world, we can demonstrate Manchester’s world-class convention infrastructure, our international accessibility and compact city centre.
“All this is complemented by our high-quality venues and accommodation and access to our thriving academic and business communities. Last year Manchester attracted over 5m delegates, bringing £823m into the local economy. Our ambition is to work with our partners to grow this to £1.2bn by 2020.
“This year Manchester is poised to enter a ‘Summer of Science’ as we will host a number of high-profile international scientific meetings. We have been chosen as the European City of Science 2016. As part of this we will host the Euroscience Open Forum in July 2016, the largest general-science symposium in Europe which will attract 4,500 scientists to Manchester and more than 500 science journalists and communicators.
“There will also be over 30 significant national and international scientific associations holding their events in Manchester this summer.
“Other significant events include the International Symposium on Medicinal Chemistry and the Biennial Conference of the European Association for Cancer Research. These two conferences highlight Manchester’s strategy in attracting conferences in life sciences, one of the city’s key sectors.”
Paul Szomoru, head of business tourism at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, added: “The familiarisation visit, alongside our year-long programme promoting the region, has been a huge success. We are making noise in the international market and raising the profile of Northern England as a place to bring conferences and events.
“We’re competing in an ever growing global marketplace and this past year’s programme has allowed us to combine our individual destination strengths and really impress international audiences with how inspiring, relevant and accessible we are. There’s simply no substitute for experiencing something yourself first-hand. It’s a wonderful feeling when you see people’s reactions and mouths go ‘wow’ as they see your city.”
Leeds hosted 54,200 events and approaching 4m delegates last year bringing in business worth almost £500m to the local economy. A rejigged conference bureau connects organisers with 250 venues across the city and West Yorkshire.
Fam visitors saw the Royal Armouries, The Queens hotel and three university campuses. Out of town venue 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.
Jennifer Young, head of visitor economy and inward investment for ConferenceLeeds, said: “Over the past 12 months we have been working collaboratively with Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester, capitalising on funding from the Northern Tourism Growth Fund, in order to engage with international conference and incentive buyers.
“The visit gave delegates the fantastic opportunity to see four great Northern cities in one visit. As the majority of the delegates had little knowledge of the North of England, it was also our chance to introduce them to new UK destinations outside of London.
“We wanted to show delegates how we can create the unexpected to make a lasting impression and their conference or event a memorable one. Delegates also visited The Mansion at Roundhay Park, which is where the Columbia and Threadneedle World Triathlon Series will begin in June.”
Kate Currie, at Marketing Liverpool, said: “Although the fam attendees were in Liverpool for only a short period of time, we hope that their visit gave them a taste of our legendary welcome. We wanted to showcase how flexible Liverpool is as a conference destination; through tours of the multi-purpose facilities at ACC Liverpool and the sensational spaces that can be used for social events at the Anglican Cathedral. We were pleased that some of the attendees took us up on a late night trip to the Cavern Club where they got to experience Liverpool’s legendary nightlife and downtime offering.”
Jerry Vaughn, president CEALS – Meetings and Incentive Programs, said: “I enjoyed visiting on the Northern England fam. I found it to be an informative and enjoyable event, definitely one of the better ones I have been on. I went on this with some general perceptions of the areas we visited but very little factual information to make judgements on. I thought each city had a lot to offer and for the right group, I wouldn’t hesitate to put them in any of the cities we visited.
“Liverpool was very impressive and fun and combining the ‘Beatles’ dimension to it gave me a lot of ideas to use with groups. The Titanic Hotel was top notch.
“I also loved the character of Newcastle. The architecture and setting is really special. This fam provided me with the knowledge and appropriate perspective to market and recommend it to our clients. It is definitely an option that likely would not have been explored had I not participated and just been stuck with baseless perceptions of the area I had before.”