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10 years of the Conference & Hospitality Show

by Stuart Wood

The organiser of the Conference & Hospitality Show looks back on a decade serving the North’s event community.


“When you’ve got a really good model, you don’t want to change anything just because it’s the 10th year,” reflects Emma Cartmell, CEO of CHS Group, organiser of the Conference & Hospitality Show (CHS). “People still have expectations of what they’re going to get from a business perspective, and the buyers do as well.”

EN is meeting with Cartmell to discuss the 10th birthday of CHS, a one-day event connecting organisers with venues and suppliers held annually in Leeds.

“Ten years has flown by,” she continues. “It doesn’t feel like it at all. I’ve got that self-pressurised idea of ‘what do we do now?’. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, but also you don’t want it getting stale.”

CHS has evolved from humble beginnings into a relatively large show (around 250 exhibitors in the city’s First Direct Arena), but an area of pride for Cartmell is the fact that the organising team have managed to stay true to the promises they made when the show first launched in 2010.

“Things like never negotiating on price, never letting there be entertainment in the day while people are doing business and not allowing students into the show,” she tells EN.  “Those things still hold true and I’m really proud that they do.

“I don’t think things have dramatically changed in the last ten years. For us it’s still all about relationships. We have people attending and exhibiting at the show who’ve been at every event.

“Everything has become more sophisticated, but the ethos is the same. I still know buyers or exhibitors personally when they come through the door. As a business our values are still the same and what we do is the same.”

With the show now wall-bound in Leeds’ largest exhibition venue it sold out well become Christmas, despite not taking place until April, which Cartmell sees as a blessing and a curse.

“I’m a big believer that it should only grow due to visitor numbers not because you could sell more. The growth has to be driven by visitor numbers. We sold out and it’s a nice position to be in, but from an exhibition organiser perspective it’s hard because you’re leaving money on the table. We have to think now about how else people can get involved if they can’t be there and we’ve reduced the seminar space – it’s still same number of seats but we’ve sweated the area a bit more.”

The audience for the show, in terms of visitors, is relatively localised, with approximately 25 per cent coming from Leeds, 25 per cent from Yorkshire outside of Leeds and 50 per cent outside of Yorkshire but still largely hailing from the Midlands and the North.

EN asks if Cartmell would consider expanding the show to be a two-day event.

“I would only make it two days if the venue told me I had to because of demand,” she says. “Buyers say they haven’t got enough time to get around, but equally I know most of them wouldn’t come for two days.

“Exhibitors also like the fact that it’s one day. We work with a lot of independently-owned venues who don’t have big budgets, we’re very accessible in terms of price and in terms of what we do. A one-day show means they can get out of the office.”

When we ask what the future holds for the show, Cartmell reveals that she’s just finished writing the business plan for the next three years.

“I get excited about possibilities,” she concludes. “Ten years ago, I was doing a small event with 30 or 40 venues and around 200 people through the door. I never imagined we’d end up where we are now.”

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