Following its ill-timed opening just six months before the first lockdown, a new(ish) event space is ready to host large scale exhibitions again in the ‘overlooked’ city of Aberdeen.
September 2019 should have marked a new chapter for the Scottish events market when Aberdeen’s P&J Live opened its doors following a £333m construction. But more than two years on, the venue is now having to start afresh following an extremely turbulent journey.
The ASM Global-operated arena was only able to host 12 exhibitions between opening and the outbreak of Covid-19, including Offshore Europe, followed by BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December 2019. It was finally able to reopen in September 2021.
The venue follows in the footsteps of the previous Aberdeen City Council owned arena, the AECC, which closed in 2019 and was demolished in 2020 after 44 years of activity.
“It wasn’t fit for purpose anymore – it had been there for decades and it was tired and dated. Aberdeen deserved new and sophisticated,” says P&J Live marketing manager Lynsey Shepherd.
In contrast, P&J Live’s 48,000sqm “flexible” space can host 12,500–15,000 people standing and can be tailored for use to host meetings, conferences and large-scale events, with a 15,000sqm space dedicated to exhibitions.
The challenge that the arena has is not so much selling the space to consumers and event organisers, but rather selling Aberdeen as a city – one that is often disregarded according to the venue’s team due to its perceived inaccessibility.
“For us, the difficulty is that a lot of people don’t look past the Central Belt, so they will automatically go to Edinburgh or Glasgow,” says Shepherd.
“Aberdeen can sometimes be overlooked by exhibition organisers, which is a pity as we are very well connected, and we’ve got the airport literally just over the fence from our venue.
“It’s about breaking down those perceptions that we’re in the middle of nowhere or too far north.”
Aberdeen also benefits from a major road route that was completed in 2019, meaning it’s now far easier to travel to the 228,000 populated port city from the Central Belt.
Shepherd adds that there is an “untapped audience” up north when you consider the Scottish Highlands, as well as nearby places such as the coastal city of Dundee which has a population of 150,000.
As well as having the UK’s second highest disposable income next to London, Shepherd claims show organisers can be attracted by the fact that 25% of Scotland’s food is produced in the Aberdeen region, and the city’s new harbour will have the largest berthage in Scotland.
To increase sustainability, the venue, which has the highest possible Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating, features its own energy centre to generate the site’s heating, cooling and power the two on-site hotels.
Thinking positively, Shepherd says the venue’s prolonged closure has given more “breathing space” to plan for future events and think about its target market.
This year is looking far healthier for P&J Live with eight shows lined up, including the Dog Lover Show, Gin to My Tonic, Comic Con Scotland and the Scottish Skipper Expo.
This feature appears in the February issue of Exhibition News.