As an industry we should change how we view, and speak about, venues and destinations outside of London. This was the conclusion of a roundtable held this week in the VIP area at Confex Future Focus, hosted by EN.
Attendees Simon Jones (Event City), Mandy Tythe-McCallum (Visit Blackpool), Colm Graham (ACC Liverpool), Alison Griffin (The International Centre, Telford), Emma Cartmell (CHS Group) and Nelson Beaumont-Laurencia (CityCo), along with EN editor Nicola Macdonald, discussed how venues and destinations outside the capital could attract national and international event business.
Beaumont-Laurencia highlighted the fact that connectivity was a major issue for both organisers and visitors, and that understanding the visitor journey was vital to winning new business. Cartmell added that visitor access, such as regular inbound flights and trains, was very important to an organiser.
The discussion then focused around the capability of non-London venues to offer a bespoke service to organisers that stretched beyond their four walls to include local attractions, amenities and particularly hotels.
“It’s all about culture, heritage and destination,” said Graham. “If you’re a destination that sells then that’s half the battle.”
Tythe-McCallum brought up the possibility of cooperation between northern venues and destinations, and described the journey to launch Blackpool’s new conference centre and reestablish the town’s business offer in the context of a successful leisure destination.
“We’re not fighting against our neighbours, it’s about tempting people out of cities to come and have a look and see what we can deliver,” she added.
You have to think country first, then region, then city, then venue, agreed Cartmell.
One of the biggest challenges in tempting organisers away from the capital is to convince them to visit in the first place, the group agreed, pointing to the perception that northern venues were far away as a key barrier to new business.
“I think it’s about thinking intelligently,” observed Griffin. “There’s a perception that venues outside of London aren’t busy, but we’ve all got very busy venue diaries. It is horses for courses, people take their events to different venues for different reasons.”
“One thing we have to consider on the venue side is how hard we do our homework and research beforehand, before we contact an organiser,” said Griffin.
Cartmell added that she is often approached by venues with less square meterage than her Leeds event – the Conference & Hospitality Show – takes up. She also pointed out that one of the reasons she would hesitate to move her show is the loyalty shown to the event from the city as a whole, saying: “Do you know how much work I’d have to do to start all those relationships again?”
Graham pointed out that it was important to add value as well as services when it comes to working with an organiser: “You need to show them where their event can be, you can tailor your packages and tailor your services to their events.”
Interestingly, when asked how often venues included information about potential hotel options and nightlife opportunities when attempting to sell their services over the phone, Cartmell replied ‘never’.
Beaumont-Laurencia, who works with the Manchester Hoteliers Association, pointed out that while there are many diverse audiences coming to the city needing hotel space, the space just doesn’t exist. And, while new hotels are being build in Manchester, it is taking too long.
“Cities grow with demand, and Manchester has something like 20,000 more beds coming online over the next few years,” concluded Jones. “It can be challenging to get beds but at Event City we work really hard with our hotel partners and they are prepared to work with us and support us.
“Demand is really high but it’s fantastic that more people are choosing to visit Manchester and other northern cities and as a consequence we’re developing the area and making noise about it.”
The discussion concluded with a look at the terminology used to describe venues and destinations outside of London, with participants pointing out that even the term ‘regional venue’ implies an otherness from the ‘national’ venues of the capital.