A corporate community
Cameron Roberts speaks to Michael Williams, managing director, Blackpool Entertainment Company Limited, about how corporate events impact communities.
Events do not exist in a vacuum; hosting a large-scale conference has an impact on the surrounding area as well as supporting businesses beyond the organiser. This is why events are uniquely placed to aid in the recovery of economies.
Blackpool Winter Gardens hosted the Conservative Party Spring Conference, an event which brought together the senior leadership of the UK Conservative party. The undertaking was not only a unique experience for those at the venue, but was also an opportunity to highlight how an event can raise the profile of a local area.
Events at scale
Speaking with Michael Williams, managing director, Blackpool Entertainment Company Limited, he detailed how the Conservative Party Spring Conference presented a unique challenge for the venue. Beyond that of a run-of-the-mill corporate event, the conference had a detailed planning process influenced by external forces.
Williams said: “For something like the Conservative Party Spring Conference, they take over the whole venue, including the new Congress and Exhibition Centre. I think the most unique thing when you’re hosting a political conference is the security, the protection of the prime minister and the delegates that are attending the event.”
This process included taking over the venue in the weeks prior to the actual event, making it difficult for event staff to plan onsite. Williams said: “The search operation starts weeks ahead of the event, and as we get closer to the event we go into complete lockdown. My team is obviously not allowed in the building as well. The police and the army take over the place, it’s a massive search operation.”
The event itself hosted over 2,000 delegates, putting Blackpool in the spotlight on the national stage. This gave the local community the chance to shine and imprint the town in the minds of the delegates.
That local spirit to show off the best of Blackpool was highlighted by Williams, who talked about how the venue “has great relationships with all of the other businesses in Blackpool.” This showcases, in a very real way, how events at scale can truly benefit local economies beyond the events value chain.
“After a conference finishes at lunchtime. If delegates bring their families, they can go to the piers. They can go to the opera house here at the Winter Gardens, or go to the Grand Theatre. I think the wraparound offer that we have in Blackpool is ideal.”
It’s not just conferences coming to the venue externally which is a measure for success for Winter Gardens Blackpool. Local business utilise the venue for meetings and corporate events. Having this resource on their doorsteps, I wanted to know how highly Williams prioritised using the space for local corporate events.
He said: “We measure local corporate events as one of our KPIs. Our corporate bookings tend to be split a third, a third and a third. A third is local, another is drive time of two hours, from just the border of Yorkshire to Lancaster.”
He did, however, point out that much of the benefit to the local community does come from external events. He said: “I think it’s a good split, because that then for the local economy, if a third of people are coming into Blackpool for any event, or conference or an exhibition, then they’ll be staying over as well.”
Making corporate events memorable is more than just a great venue; it’s about linking the content of the event to experiences alongside the event itself. For many events this comes in the form of shared activities within an organisation.
Blackpool is perhaps best known for its attractions, meaning it’s somewhat uniquely placed to offer an experience to a delegate. Williams spoke about how Winter Gardens Blackpool shines a light on local businesses to improve a delegate experience.
He said: “During the Conservative Party Conference, at the top of the tower, there’s a new bar that was rented out a couple of nights for private parties, so delegates could go and have drinks with a 360-degree view, 519ft in the air.
“Some delegates wanted to go and ride the Big One at the pleasure beach, so we spoke to the beach, and we facilitated that. Or if they just wanted to book a table in a restaurant, we could arrange all of that. We do work very closely with the local community to enhance that experience.”