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Riviera Centre at centre of Torbay tourism shake up

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The Mayor of Torbay’s recent decision to guarantee the future of Torquay’s Riviera International Conference Centre has prompted a full rethink on the resort’s tourism strategy.

Torbay Council has voted to review the future of the new English Riviera Tourism Company, set up last year, and the RICC.

The centre receives an annual subsidy of £560,000 and is looking at a repair bill of at least £6m.

Torbay Council is keen to make savings and combine the marketing of visitor and business tourism together with attracting major events.

Riviera International Conference Centre GM Barry Cole tells CN: “While we have been able to maintain and make improvements to the facilities and have maintained front-of-house aesthetics at the RICC, the back-of-house plant and machinery is showing signs of age. Opportunities now exist for improving the efficiency in boilers, air-conditioning etc and at the same time make these more environmentally-friendly. This aside, the commitment that the Mayor is making to future support of the RICC differs significantly from other councils where conference bureau activities are being decimated and subvention for venues, seriously being curtailed.”

Mayor Gordon Oliver suggested combining the two boards of the RICC and the new English Riviera Tourism Company.

To have a single company handling visitor and business promotion made sense and would give the industry a ’boost’, he said.

There is opposition to the plans, however, and a special scrutiny meeting has been called to discuss the issues on 9 August.

The council had been discussions with a developer over proposals for a new, £20m conference facility, a 120-bed Hilton hotel and dozens of new homes on the site.

Mayor Oliver, elected in May, stepped in to shore up the RICC for the next 20 years, a move he said would safeguard 137 jobs.

Steve Parrock, Chief Executive of Torbay Development Agency, said the existing tourism strategy, Turning the Tide, was now almost two years old and "now that the centre has the support of Torbay Council, it is appropriate to review some of the principals of that strategy.”

The review would, he said, look into opportunities to improve the RICC’s performance, recognising that “some of the baseline decisions in the original tourism strategy have changed."

Consultants looking into the viability of a 200-bedroom hotel at the site concluded in 2007 that a new hotel should be built to boost conferencing. The recession scuppered those plans, it would seem, although Cole is adamant a new hotel is still what is required to boost the centre’s prospects: "I would put my last penny on saying what we need is a brand hotel, an international hotel if not on site then somewhere."

Former Mayor Nick Bye had been keen to cut the centre’s council subsidies to RICC.

Nicky Harding, Conference Torquay Bureau Manager, adds: “While there may previously have been some doubt about the future of the RICC we are already seeing an improvement in enquiries now that we are able to reassure buyers that the RICC is committed to the long term. Conference News, through keeping its ear to the ground, has once again shown how valuable the trade journals can be to individual venues”.

A £3.3m hotel extension creating 60 new rooms and 15 extra jobs was officially opened last week at Torquay’s Premier Inn.

Harding said of the new developments: “Torquay Premier Inn has proved a popular choice with delegates for reasonably priced, quality accommodation. Having a branded hotel so close to the RICC and on a prime seafront location has helped us to secure conferences to the English Riviera.”

The English Riviera is firmly on the map of the Premier Inn chain, with 30 rooms at Goodrington’s Inn on the Quay, and 60 being built at White Rock near South Devon College in Paignton.
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