Boutique associations: the backbone of the UK association conference industry

By Sammi Rudge, business tourism development officer at Southport Conferences

It’s difficult not to be impressed when major association meetings visit a destination. In recent years, the UK industry has been blessed with thousands of cardiologists in London, hoards of urologists in Scotland, and an army of nurses in Liverpool, among many, many others.

When they arrive, they ignite a destination, and increasingly our UK venues are lighting themselves up (literally in many cases!) for this huge influx of guests. However, I feel that, against these mammoth events, some incredibly large, and important association conferences often get second billing.

Here in Southport, with a maximum plenary capacity of just over 1,600, we’re a smaller destination so don’t have the capacity for many thousands of people although we do host our fair share of 800+ delegate national events.

However, what we do really well, is cater for numbers of between 300 and 750. That still represents a big event by any standard and will inevitably have a significant impact on the destination, particularly for one like Southport. Such events encompass a myriad of trade, industry and not-for-profit organisations, from medical and pharma, to specialist hobby, gaming, and manufacturing, and without them a significant part of the £19bn-plus the UK conference industry is said to be worth, would be lost.

In Southport, we call these meetings ‘boutique association conferences’; we do this because they’re just the right size to be given a more specialist service from a destination, particularly ours. The numbers are of course significant, but they can be managed more easily by the event organiser.

Boutique, for us, also engenders more of a specialism, and makes these conferences incredibly interesting. They may not have the breadth of a major medical conference, but they have an amazing uniqueness and are rewarding to work on. They really do have a way of enriching the destination with their content as well as their presence.

The final reason we call them ‘boutique’ is that we, as a destination, want to demonstrate that we will show the utmost care with these meetings and underline their importance to us.

Over the last 12 months we’ve hosted dozens of boutique associations with anything from 300 to 750 people and they remain a core part of our events business.

So, boutique doesn’t mean small, but it doesn’t mean gigantic. It doesn’t always mean luxurious, but it does mean pampered. It may not mean big, but it definitely does mean special. It means that we care enough about these events to highlight them as a crucial part of this country’s event economy and one that we feel could do with a little more attention.

So, let’s hear it for the boutique association conferences, and remind them just how wonderfully welcome they are in the UK.

Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard is the Deputy Editor at Conference News. Formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

Martin Fullard


Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard is the Deputy Editor at Conference News. Formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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