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TECA to power new post-oil economy

Paul Colston flies north to witness the rise of TECA and explore Aberdeen’s knowledge and innovation economy, fast priming itself to deliver big for events

Scotland’s granite city is ready to reap the events benefits from a solid £333m investment in a new convention and exhibition centre, TECA – or The Event Complex Aberdeen, now taking shape quickly on a large site by the airport.

The project is being delivered by Aberdeen City Council in partnership with Henry Boot Developments and includes a 12,500 capacity arena, 48,000sqm of exhibition space and conferencing for up to 5,000, as well as two on-site hotels with 350 bedrooms. 

There is 33,300sqm of subterranean space designed to deliver a slick and environmentally friendly logistical operation.

Set to open in 2019, TECA is set to springboard Aberdeen into a new international class of convention destinations able to host the very top national and international events.

Managed by SMG, which operates over 240 venues worldwide, including: Manchester Arena, First Direct Arena in Leeds, Bridgewater Hall, Bonus Arena in Hull and the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, TECA will offer a far more flexible and technologically advanced space than the old AECC it replaces.

Cllr Jenny Laing, co-Leader of Aberdeen City Council, said the TECA project “represents one of the most significant developments in the history of the city. It is fantastic to see the construction continuing at pace and the momentum building as the opening draws nearer.”

TECA dovetails with the aims of Aberdeen's Regional Economic Strategy, which has internationalisation at its heart, and to the Council’s £1bn capital programme.

Nick Waight, managing director of the venue, underlines TECA is the largest ever single investment in a venue in the UK.

“TECA is an integrated multi-functional venue which I believe will offer conference and exhibition organisers a unique facility, with the potential to attract audiences who can take advantage not only of the purpose-built event facilities, but also other events happening at the venue,” he says.

Waight clearly has his eye on the big regional potential to drive exhibitions at the venue also.

“Aberdeen households have one of the highest average disposable incomes in the country and as such offer organisers an ideal platform to stage consumer shows,” he says. “With a two-hour drive time giving a population of 750k people, I think the market size will more than sustain an active consumer exhibition programme sized appropriately.”

Neverthless, Waight notes: “The challenge for us is to get organisers up to Aberdeen and to see first-hand the fantastic facilities we offer.” 

Conference software

Combined with a huge energy heritage and a more recent reputation for start-ups and high-tech research, the North Eastern city has been working hard on its conference ‘software’ to boot up the new venue hardware.

Oil and gas, it is true, once the driver of a booming economy, have, in recent years, experienced a bit of a dip. More reason for Aberdeen’s economic and development chiefs to boost diversification of the local economy.

This diversification is moving swiftly and research and start-ups are key components of the new strategy of hothousing innovation.

The University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute is one example. A world leader in nutrition research for 100 years, the institute is one of Europe’s biggest health campuses and its Human Trials Centre  is working with producers of healthy foods, nutraceuticals and supplements. Pharmaceutical and life science companies are also on a client list that includes Marks & Spencer, who engaged the institute’s team to produce a new food line.

Another vibrant example of Aberdeen as an innovation hub is the Oil & Gas Technology Centre. Established in 2016 with a £180m start up fund, it is tasked with firing long-term improvement programmes to enhance growth and competitiveness, connectivity and employment in the regional economy.

A growing team, led by the dynamic David Millar, both funds and directs projects and hothouses innovative talent. For innovators seeking a futuristic vibe for their meetings backdrop, the centre and its design provides an ideal backdrop for the creative sparks to fly.

In residence

The new Marriott Residence Inn close to Marischal Square is an example of Aberdeen’s new design of business accommodation offer. This city centre hotel offers fully-equipped kitchens in delegate rooms and is part of a £107m city centre development opened last October, Residence Inn is the fourth Marriott International hotel in the city.

And, if your delegates take the flight option (around an hour from London) then Jurys Inn Aberdeen Airport might be an option. The hotel is pitching heavily for wedding business with some very competitive package deals throughout 2018.

Hotel GM Alison Christie says: offers start at just over £2,000 for up to 80 guests, which the hotel says is a saving of 75% over the average £8,000 cost. 

Teeing off for teambuilding

Aberdeenshire is also home to 55 golf courses and 236 castles and has many distilleries, all of which can all be of interest for teambuilding and after conference hours activities.

If whisky is not your tipple, then the local success story Brewdog offers tours at its eco-brewery in Ellon, north of Aberdeen. The Brewdog HQ was built by the brewer’s community of Equity Punks.

And if you need a strong sea breeze to wake your delegates up, then there is 165 miles of coastline to explore.

One enterprising farmer in Banchory is specialising in showing off her herd of Highland cattle and teaching visitors about the farming process. Aberdeenshire Highland Beef is run by Grace Noble, who welcomes cruise visitors from the US and hopes to branch out further into the business visits market.

And, if your delegates hanker after bygone times and local cultural experiences, then Footdee is worth a visit. There you will see charming mid-19th century former fishing cottages designed by John Smith, the architect responsible for Balmoral Castle.

Old Aberdeen offers many hidden gems in its cobbled streets and the two main universities both provide a great sight-seeing opportunity but also considerable meetings space.

Aberdeen Football Club, meanwhile, aspires to move to a new home, but for now Pittodrie, a grand old stadium, plays host not only to visiting teams, but to a variety of events within its suites, where it can host 400 delegates in its largest space.

Silver Darling

Oil and gas money has primed a large pump of fine dining and restaurant options in Aberdeen. 

The Silver Darling, in the heart of the harbour and with stunning views, offers fresh seafood and private rooms, while Cognito on the Corner offers quality local dishes served up in a former bank building.

Clearly, distance is the elephant in the granite room for Scotland's third city, but there are direct train links with London and 78 flights per day, 22 of which connect to London’s four airports.

Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam are also served by direct flights from Aberdeen airport.

A 48-hour tour of a city and its surrounds can only ever scratch the surface, of course, and organisers looking to drill down into Aberdeen’s full meetings and events capacity are encouraged to contact the rejuvenated CVB for more detail:

Anita Lowe, CEO of Swindon-based event management agency Venues and Events International, was sales and marketing Manager for Marriott Hotels during the boom of the oil industry a time of real shortage of hotels in the city.

“This is clearly now not the case now and there is plenty of choice for meetings and events in the city today.

“It’s encouraging to hear that Aberdeen City Council has announced the new TECA which I am sure will prove it’s worth to the city when it opens next year. The city is also sure to thrive and become a more popular destination for meetings and events.”