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Event resorts: being a part of it

Think of a resort and you’d be forgiven for picturing sandy white beaches, water sports, and maybe even a giant mouse sporting red underwear. The events industry, however, has its own interpretation. 

While you won’t find any hammocks or palm trees (although RAI Amsterdam does have a beach), you will find event spaces of all types and together with them hotels, restaurants and attentive staff.

The clubbing together of multi-purpose event spaces and amenities doesn’t sound so groundbreaking, but the reality is that such things aren’t common, with only a few in existence in the UK. They are, however, catching on.

“The rise of  multi-purpose venues has enhanced the delegate experience”

Justin Squires, group commercial director, GES EMEA says: “From a visitor, delegate and sponsor perspective, the emergence of multi-purpose venues such as the NEC and SEC has only enhanced the overall experience of attending an event. It increases dwell time and encourages repeat attendance and has raised the bar for conference organisers in particular. They are now able to use the venue’s additional attractions to curate the entire delegate journey - pre, during and post event.

“We’ll see further competition over the next few years. On a smaller scale, conference hotels such as Celtic Manor has the Welsh Convention Centre under construction and the O2 intercontinental benefits from its location next to The O2 in London.

“The commercial benefits continue to drive a convergence of venues, hotels and entertainment hubs into the same space.”

A notable 'resort' example is the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. The resort – or campus if you prefer – only rebranded itself in this guise in early 2017. 

The SEC is an integrated conference, exhibition and live entertainment centre with 22,000sqm of event space over five halls. There are three auditoria which seat between 800 and 3,000.

There are six hotels on site catering for a range of budgets, including: Premier Inn, Village Hotel, Campanile, Hilton Garden Inn, Crowne Plaza and the most recent addition opening in April 2018 – the Radisson Red. These hotels provide 1,027 rooms. Across the campus you will find 10 restaurants catering for a variety of cuisines and budgets. 

What are the benefits of clubbing together multiple event venues with hotels? Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales at the SEC, says: “It keeps everyone concentrated in one area on campus and this in turn brings many benefits. It helps to create a destination experience for attendees, particularly when combined with the range of experiences we have on, and neighbouring, our campus.  

“From a practical point of view, the close proximity of everything leads to reduced time wasted on travelling to and from the venue, reduces travel costs and importantly, reduces emissions. In line with our Healthy Venue initiative, it also means that delegates are encouraged to walk around the campus, rather than get in taxis at the end of the day.”

With everything condensed in one place, does a resort risk reducing the benefit of economic impact with the rest of the city? Warden goes on to say: “Quite the contrary. Because the capacity of the SEC campus has increased, it means we can attract more events, brining even greater economic benefit to Glasgow, Scotland and the UK.  

“The SEC is in a central location in the city and typically delegates make the most of this geography.”

The NEC in Birmingham is another case in point. Across the complex there is the exhibition centre and the Vox Conference Centre. But it’s the supporting facilities that make the place stand out.

The resort is connected to Birmingham International railway station, for which London is an hour to the south and Manchester an hour to the north, and in turn is connected to Birmingham airport. 

Hotels on site include the Hilton Birmingham Metropole and Ibis Styles. 

With such a large site, how seamlessly can events at the NEC run simultaneously? Ian Taylor, venue sales director, NEC Group Conventions and Exhibitions, says: “We have such a flexible proposition that events can be running simultaneously in the NEC, the Vox and Genting Arena along with hotel events and at Resort World Birmingham. As we keep moving forward, particularly with the NEC being a host venue for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, we will see an even larger number of people visiting the site.”

The NEC has developed itself as a local attration too, as Taylor explains: “In 2017, the NEC embarked on its first long-stay show – Dinosaurs in the Wild – and we’re now further developing our leisure destination offering with the addition of the Bear Grylls Adventure, which will be opening in 2018.”

While the SEC and NEC are the major, established players, the likes of Liverpool and even Wembley also offer multiple facilities, but the big one in the future to look out for is Harrogate. The management have indicated an interest in taking Harrogate in the resort direction. Why is this? Simon Kent, director of Harrogate Convention Centre, explains: “We are aware of this shift towards campus-style event venues. We’ve been responding to changes in the industry for 150 years and we’re determined to be part of this latest evolution.

“We’ve just launched a major business study to establish how our whole site can be redeveloped. It’s not just about keeping up with the competition, it’s about being up there with the best.”

Unlike the NEC and SEC, which are blessed with space left behind from abandoned docks and farmland, Harrogate is located in a town centre. How will they find the space for everything? “We’re different from other large venues in that we’re located in a town centre so we have to be very clever about how we develop within the space we have,” says Kent.

“We have to go beyond seeing ourselves as a business located in the centre of Harrogate, and actually integrate fully with the town centre.

“Whether you want to call it a campus or a mixed-use site, I think the development of the Convention Centre will see it with retail and accommodation offerings, restaurants, public spaces and a large exhibition facility.

“We will essentially become an extension of all the attractions that Harrogate does so well.

“Our unique selling point, as a venue, is the town of Harrogate itself. People come here because they love to shop and dine out when they’ve left our venue for the day. In the future our venue will become part of that. More than just a venue or a collection of halls, we want to be part of the town.”