Ahead of the CURVE

Scot­land is punch­ing above its weight in at­tract­ing ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences, writes An­tho­nyHar­ring­ton

The Herald Business - - Special report: Conferencing -

For some years now, pow­ered both by the sales ef­forts of i ndi­vid­ual con­fer­ence venues and by the com­bined ac­tiv­i­ties of Vis­itScot­land and the two Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh Mar­ket­ing Bu­reaus, Scot­land has been win­ning a dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of the in­ter­na­tional con­fer­enc­ing busi­ness.

In fact, as Caro­line Pack­man, Head of Busi­ness Tourism at Vis­itScot­land ob­serves, over the last year Scot­land has played host to 29% of all the in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ences that have come to the UK. “Our strength in the uni­ver­si­ties, along with the tremen­dous value for money that Scot­land of­fers, is a large part of our ap­peal,” Pack­man says.

The uni­ver­si­ties come into play thanks to a care­fully de­vel­oped ar­range­ment that has se­nior aca­demics with world­wide rep­u­ta­tions in their field fronting bids for ma­jor as­so­ci­a­tion events on be­half of the mar­ket­ing bu­reaus. The sci­ences and life sci­ences sec­tors have a large num­ber of as­so­ci­a­tions who move their an­nual in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences from city to city each year and Scot­land’s uni­ver­si­ties are par­tic­u­larly strong in these ar­eas, which does us no harm at all, Pack­man says.

“ Win­ning these events takes years. Each event is com­peted for by the world’s lead­ing cities and it takes a con­certed and sus­tained ef­fort to win busi­ness for events that are still years and years away. We al­ready have one event com­mit­ted for 2021!” she says.

Within the last few months Glas­gow has won four ma­jor sci­en­tific con­fer­ences, which will see a to­tal of some 5,000 or more del­e­gates com­ing to the city. The four con­fer­ences are the So­ci­ety of Chi­ropodists and Po­di­a­trists, the Euro­pean Congress of Ob­stet­rics and Gy­nae­col­ogy; the In­fec­tion Pre­ven­tion So­ci­ety and lastly, the Royal Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers An­nual Pri­mary Care Con­fer­ence.

Keep­ing at or near the top of con­fer­ence or­gan­is­ers’ “de­sir­able cities” wish list means re­quires con­tin­ual in­vest­ment in Scot­land’s ho­tel and con­fer­ence in­dus­try as

well as in its trans­port in­fra­struc­ture. Pack­man points out that ma­jor projects such as the ex­pan­sion of the SECC with the new Arena, which will be able to ac­com­mo­date an ad­di­tional 12,500 del­e­gates when it opens some­where around 2014, are ab­so­lutely vi­tal. “ The great thing about the Arena is that it is a multi-pur­pose venue that can deal with con­certs and sport­ing events as well as con­fer­ences,” she says. Once it opens, the Arena will free up a tremen­dous amount of room in the SECC which cur­rently has to host both con­fer­ences and pop­u­lar events such as mu­sic con­certs. The fact that it can also dou­ble as an ad­di­tional con­fer­ence cen­tre for 12,500 del­e­gates will also be highly wel­come. “It will be by far Scot­land’s largest venue and it will be ex­cel­lent for ple­nary ses­sions of large as­so­ca­tions,” Pack­man said.

In ad­di­tion, a devel­op­ment part­ner­ship in­volv­ing the City of Ed­in­burgh Coun­cil, Scot­tish En­ter­prise and the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence Cen­tre (EICC) has be­gun work on the site of a £85m ex­pan­sion of the EICC and an 186,000 square feet of ad­join­ing of­fice fa­cil­i­ties. This is the fi­nal piece of the master­plan for Ed­in­burgh’s Ex­change Fi­nan­cial District.

A com­pe­ti­tion for the de­sign of the site held by the lo­cal author­ity at­tracted a short­list of five con­sor­tia and the win­ning scheme in­volved a sale and lease-back model which will f inance the project, but that has since been moved to a pub­licly backed model. The 21,500 square foot ex­ten­sion is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2013.

The ho­tel sec­tor in Glas­gow is cur­rently able to of­fer about 17,000 beds per night. That sounds like a large num­ber, but the largest con­fer­ence hosted so far by Scot­land was the an­nual Euro­pean Res­pi­ra­tory Con­fer­ence which was held at the SECC a few years back. That at­tracted 24,000 del­e­gates and they were found ac­com­mo­da­tion across the cen­tral belt.

With this in mind Vis­itScot­land and the two mar­ket­ing bu­reaus are very pleased with ev­ery new ho­tel open­ing in the cen­tral belt. The most re­cent lux­ury ho­tel open­ing was the Blythswood, which added some 186 beds at the top end of the mar­ket. An­other ma­jor ho­tel open­ing is the Grand Cen­tral Ho­tel, just be­side Glas­gow’s Cen­tral Sta­tion. That was taken over and ex­ten­sively mod­ernised by Prin­ci­pal Hay­ley. Its inaugural con­fer­ence fol­low­ing its £20m re­fur­bish­ment will be the Scot­tish Event Awards on Oc­to­ber 9 this year and it brings a fur­ther 186 beds to the city.

“In ad­di­tion to our city cen­tre venues we have tremen­dous outof-town venues which make the most of the won­der­ful Scot­tish coun­try­side,” Pack­man says. Key ex­am­ples here are Cameron House, which un­der­went a ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment two years ago, which in­cluded the ad­di­tion of the Car­rick golf course and a ma­jor new spa fa­cil­ity; and Mar Hall, an­other five star prop­erty that is also very ac­ces­si­ble from Glas­gow.

In ad­di­tion to the main­stream con­fer­ence venues, some of Scot­land’s city coun­cils have long had a prac­tice of mak­ing his­toric town halls and prop­er­ties avail­able for hire by con­fer­ence or­gan­is­ers. A spokesper­son for South La­nark­shire Coun­cil (SLC) pointed out that the coun­cil has a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent halls and venues within its lo­cale, in­clud­ing three main venues, The Al­mada Suite, Hamil­ton Town House and Ruther­glen Town Hall, all of which are suit­able for host­ing a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent con­fer­ences.

Ac­cord­ing to the spokesper­son, be­tween them, the three venues host some 800 con­fer­ences and busi­ness events each year. A full range of sup­port fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing state of the art con­fer­ence sup­port equip­ment and full cater­ing ser­vices are avail­able from the coun­cil.

Glas­gow has suc­ceeded in win­ning four big sci­en­tific con­fer­ences in re­cent months

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