CONFERENCES: Meeting demands - The conference market is expanding and top venues are upgrading facilities to accommodate it. Brian Oliver reports

The number of delegates attending UK conferences and exhibitions is expected to grow by an average of 11% to 12% a year over the next decade, and leading venues in the UK are continuing to invest heavily in increasing their capacity and upgrading their technical facilities.

The number of delegates attending UK conferences and exhibitions is

expected to grow by an average of 11% to 12% a year over the next

decade, and leading venues in the UK are continuing to invest heavily in

increasing their capacity and upgrading their technical facilities.

At the same time, they are taking steps to meet organisers’ growing

demands for greater value for money and more flexible use of space.

According to the Meetings Industry Association’s (MIA) latest UK

Conference Market Survey, 83% of UK venues are currently investing in

significant improvements in a bid to remain competitive. They are

spending heavily on facilities such as state-of-the-art presentational

technology and lighting systems, breakout rooms, telephone systems for

computer data transmissions and general refurbishments.

Even so, the NEC in Birmingham is clearly determined to hold on to its

growing share of UK and overseas business. The NEC already stages 180

shows a year, but this figure is expected to rise significantly after

four new exhibition halls open in September at a cost of pounds 60m. The

new halls will increase the NEC’s total exhibition space by 30,000

square metres (to 198,000 square metres), giving it a maximum capacity

of around 12,000 visitors.

The NEC aims to use its increased capacity to exploit the growing demand

for complementary exhibitions staged under one roof. ’There is a trend

to the co-location of individual shows which represent different aspects

of the same industry,’ says Phil Shepherd of the NEC Group. ’We are

trying to give visitors added value by providing an opportunity for them

to see everything to do with their industry in one location.’

Shaun Casey, director of travel operations at conference and incentives

specialist The Travel Organisation, believes that the availability of

large-scale facilities is a factor in determining the popularity of some

locations. ’Birmingham is still the overall favourite UK destination,

generally because of the city’s excellent hotel and conference venue


However, Edinburgh and Glasgow are also beginning to compete


The Edinburgh International Conference Centre is currently examining the

feasibility of extending its site to include a dedicated exhibition

centre. And the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in

Glasgow, which opened in 1985 with five exhibition halls, has just spent

pounds 38m on a new conference centre and an additional exhibition hall.

It has also reconfigured an existing hall to create a suite of breakout


The SECC’s new conference centre includes a major auditorium, the

Clydebank, which can seat up to 3000 people. Because the auditorium’s

design provides tiered seating on three levels, smaller conferences can

be staged on the ground floor, which holds about 1100 delegates. There

is also a smaller auditorium, with a maximum capacity of 620, which has

the same technical specifications as the Clydebank.

’The new centre is designed to give organisers a flexible combination of

totally new facilities on one established site, along with some very

sophisticated technical support and high specification audio-visual

facilities,’ says Jenny Salisbury, the SECC’s director of conferences.

She claims the SECC now attracts over 100,000 delegates a year, and 40%

of its business comes from international events.

On the south coast, the purpose-built Bournemouth International Centre

(BIC) is another top UK venue which claims it is attracting more major

international conferences. As part of an ongoing programme of investment

and refurbishment, the BIC recently spent over pounds 700,000 on the

construction of two breakout rooms and a redesign of the main foyer. The

venue’s three interlinked main halls now provide almost 5000 square

metres of exhibition space, while each of its 16 breakout rooms can

cater for up to 100 people.

The all-purpose Sheffield Arena is a relative newcomer to the

conferences and exhibitions market. However, Rob Vick, its director of

marketing, says the venue is picking up more corporate business, mostly

from UK organisers.

’We now have an airport in Sheffield and this could help the development

of our international business,’ he says. The venue recently extended its

corporate hospitality facilities to include a marquee which can hold up

to 150 people.

With the increasing use of computer-generated audio-visual material

during conference presentations, more venues are now putting a greater

emphasis on installing the latest high-tech AV equipment. The Nynex

Arena in Manchester now boasts the world’s largest indoor videowall, as

well as full TV broadcasting and recording facilities.

In London, the Wembley Conference and Exhibition Centre has just

completed a pounds 2m refurbishment programme, which included the

installation of a state-of-the-art digital lighting and in-house sound

system using the latest audio technology. The venue has also refurbished

its meeting rooms and its Grand Hall, the latter accommodating up to

2600 people.

According to the MIA’s UK Conference Market Survey, organisers are

increasingly seeking value for money for their events, and in many cases

this has replaced location as the prime consideration when selecting

venues. At the same time, corporate end-users are putting more

sophisticated demands on venues.

’These days, customers expect more in terms of support and services,’

says Nigel Beaven, marketing manager at the Wembley Conference and

Exhibition Centre. ’If venues market themselves purely on the strength

of their facilities, it is hard to be competitive. You have to add value

by offering a strong package of technical and operational support linked

to good catering at good prices.’

Beaven says new initiatives at Wembley include the introduction of a

Daily Delegate Rate which applies to all events - from small seminars to

major conferences. The fixed rate includes a catering package, technical

support and luncheon room hire. The centre also offers an event

management package which provides discounted airline and accommodation

rates in association with British Midland and Thistle Hotels.

European expansions

Meanwhile, in Europe, industry observers point to Barcelona, Paris and

Prague as the leading destinations for conference groups, with Vienna,

London, Brussels and Copenhagen also featuring strongly. Istanbul is

said to be fighting back by offering competitive rates for


However, competition in Europe is set to increase significantly by the

year 2000 when additional capacity becomes available in major

destinations such as Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. In France, the

Palais des Congres de Paris is spending pounds 50m on the construction

of a new auditorium and additional exhibition space. Due to be completed

in September 1999, the development will increase the venue’s capacity by

around 25%. Meanwhile, the Cannes Convention Centre will double in size

when a pounds 12m extension is opened in autumn 1999.

In Germany, a new International Congress Centre will open in Munich in

October. It will be able to seat about 3000 people. By mid-1999, the

20-year-old Internationales Congress Centrum (ICC) in Berlin will add an

extra 30,000 square metres to its existing 80 halls and rooms.

Lisbon is regaining its popularity as a conference destination and it

will be given a huge boost when several of the city’s Expo 98 pavilions

are converted to provide major conference and exhibition facilities. The

six pavilions which currently house Expo 98’s international exhibition

will be transformed into the Lisbon Exhibition Centre (with about 80,000

square metres of exhibition space). This will replace the old Lisbon

International Fair (FIL). Expo 98’s Utopia Pavilion will also be

transformed into a multi-function convention centre with a capacity of

10,000 to 16,000 people.

In terms of the number of delegates and groups visiting long-haul

destinations, a recent business analysis by The Travel Organisation

shows that New York is still the market leader, with Boston and Cancun

in Mexico catching up quickly. With better flight connections to Cancun

now in place, it is tipped to move further up the league. South Africa

is also becoming popular, with Durban recently unveiling a pounds 45m

state-of-the-art convention centre.

Because of its location, Miami is becoming a key destination for events

which span both North America and South America. ’We are also targeting

UK and European business by focusing our marketing on organisers with

regional offices in the United States,’ explains Susan Eaton, director

of sales at the Miami Beach Convention Centre.

Tony Rogers, executive director of the British Association of Conference

Destinations (BACD), warns that, in future, established venues in

European capital cities are likely to face stiff competition from new


’There is strong competition coming from Eastern European countries,

such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as South East Asia and


According to 1997 statistics from the International Congress and

Convention Association (ICCA), Sydney is now the most popular convention

city in the Asia Pacific region and number two in the world. The

AUdollars 57m (pounds 21m) expansion of the Sydney Convention and

Exhibition Centre will add 2200 square metres of new exhibition space.

The extension also includes a new banquet hall and auditorium (each

seating 1000 people), plus eight breakout rooms. The design of the

extension will enable the centre to hold more multiple events, such as

conferences linked to associated exhibitions.

In Singapore, the pounds 138m construction cost of a new exhibition

centre, Singapore Expo, is being met by the country’s Ministry of Trade

and Industry.

Due to open next year, the new venue will provide 60,000 square metres

of exhibition space. It will feature six column-free exhibition halls

lined up side by side, plus a 15,000 square metre outdoor area and nine

meeting rooms.

Says the BACD’s Rogers: ’The growing competition from new destinations

is partly because organisers are looking for somewhere different, but

also because these relative newcomers recognise the prestige and

economic benefits which can be derived from hosting big conventions.

They are investing heavily in facilities and infrastructure and they are

marketing themselves very strongly, often with substantial government



To give marketers an idea of the wide range of venues now available to

them, both in the UK and abroad, this week we publish the latest

listings from Venue 1998, Haymarket’s directory of conference and

exhibition venues.

This is not meant to be a definitive league table, as some places - most

notably the National Exhibition Centre - did not put themselves forward

for inclusion in Venue 1998.

However, it does provide a useful and detailed source of exhibition and

conference space - some purpose-built and others of the more unusual


As marketers strive to make more impact with their events, unusual

venues are proving more popular.

Venue 1998 is available from Haymarket Directories. Tel: 0171 413



Venue                     Location             Maximum   Audi-   Exhib-

                                                         toria    ition

                                                           cap    space

                                                                 (sq m)

Cobb Galleria Centre      Atlanta, US          108,000       1      n/a

Fair Park                 Dallas, US            72,000       6   83,610

Texas Stadium             Dallas, US            65,000       1      n/a

Indira Ghandi Indoor

Stadium                   New Delhi, India      25,000     n/a      n/a

Washington Convention

Centre                    Washington DC, US     20,000       4      371

New York City

Passenger Ship Terminal   New York, US          19,500       2     5017

Metro Toronto

Convention Centre         Toronto, Canada       10,606       1   31,003

Royal Exhibition

Building                  Carlton, Australia    10,000     n/a   12,000

Vancouver Trade &

Convention Centre         Vancouver, Canada     10,000       6   10,683

Congress Centre Messe     Frankfurt, Germany    10,000       2  290,000

Europarque Congress

Center                    Santa Maria da Feira,

                          Portugal              10,000       1     7200

Westpac Trust Centre,     Christchurch, NZ        8500       1     3900

Miami Beach

Convention Centre         Miami, Florida          8300       4      n/a

Hungexpo Fair Centre      Budapest, Hungary       8000       3     5400

Hong Kong Convention

& Exhibition Centre       Hong Kong               8000       1      n/a

Neal S Blaisdell

Center                    Honolulu, US            8000       3   64,000

Palais des Congres de

Montreal                  Montreal, Canada        6000       1     9500

Radio City Music Hall     New York, US            5901       1      n/a

Lausanne Tourist

Office & Convention

Bureau                    Lausanne, Switzerland   5800     n/a   70,000

Walt Disney World         Florida, US             5200       4   18,580

Source: Venue 1998


Venue                     Location             Maximum   Audi-   Exhib-

                                                         toria    ition

                                                           cap    space

                                                                 (sq m)

Nynex Arena               Manchester            19,000       1     3168

London Arena              London                12,500       1     9092

Wembley Arena             London                12,000       1      n/a

NEC                       Birmingham            12,000       1  198,000

Sheffield Arena           Sheffield             12,000       1     3500

Wembley Conference

& Exhibition Centre       London                11,000       5   17,000

Bournemouth Intl          Bournemouth           10,500       5     6000

Newcastle Telewest

Arena                     Newcastle             10,000       1     3716

Scottish Exhibition &

Conference Centre         Glasgow               10,000       2   22,355

One Devonshire Gardens    Glasgow               10,000     n/a      n/a

Royal Highland Centre     Edinburgh              8000      n/a     4200

Alexandra Palace          London                  7250       2     9300

Westpoint Exhibition

Centre                    Exeter                  6000       1     4590

Cardiff Intl Arena        Cardiff                 5500      50     4500

Royal Albert Hall         London                  5200       1     1085

Brighton Centre           Brighton                4450     n/a     1941

Edinburgh Playhouse       Edinburgh               3056       1      n/a

Blackpool Wintergardens   Blackpool               3000       4     2600

Plymouth Pavilions        Plymouth                3000       1     1800

Bowlers                   Manchester              3000       4      n/a

ICC                       Birmingham              2970      11     5295

Donington Park            Castle Donington,       2500       1     4405

Exhib. & Conference       Derbyshire

Royal Centre              Nottingham              2500       2     7680

Ascot Racecourse          Berkshire               2500       2     6000

Westminster Central Hall  London                  2350     n/a     1200

Liverpool Empire Theatre  Liverpool               2348       1      n/a

Bridgewater Hall          Manchester              2335     n/a      n/a

Caird Hall                Dundee                  2300       1      920

Futurist Theatre          Scarborough             2155       1      n/a

Newport Centre            Newport, Gwent          2024       1     1452

Source: Venue 1998


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