Rise of the West Midlands
The Midlands is a region in the conference ascendency. Martin Fullard talks to Stephanie Mynett of the West Midlands Convention Bureau to learn more
The West Midlands’ most prominent venue, the NEC, has undergone major refurbishments over the last couple of years, with the recent opening of the Bear Grylls Adventure just one example of the venues’ transformation into a full-on resort. And, with HS2 (potentially) on the way, the future is looking bright.
But the events scene in the region is not limited to the NEC, there is far more out there than many realise.
The West Midlands Convention Bureau returned to the mainstream in 2019, and to find out more about the region and its plans, I spoke to the CVB’s visitor economy business development manager, Stephanie Mynett.
How has the conference scene changed in your area over the last five years?
The West Midlands’ economy – underpinned by emerging sector specialisms in technology, advanced manufacturing and professional services – is growing faster than any other regional area. This evolving economy is stimulating a demand for industry-specific events that complement these growth opportunities, with technology in particular, shaping the conferencing scene considerably.
With the West Midlands selected to be the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed, we are seeing a rise in the number of MedTech companies hosting their events here, particularly with healthcare and the emergency services set to be transformed by this new technology.
We are also finding that our conference and meetings spaces are becoming more diverse, giving a wider choice to event organisers. In recent years, for example, we’ve seen the launches of the first Park Regis and Resorts World developments in Europe; once-derelict buildings in Birmingham’s Digbeth quarter becoming new spaces such as the Prince’s Trust centre; and unique visitor attractions including the Coffin Works and the Wolves FC museum opening their doors.
With the conference scene as competitive as ever, there’s an expectation from organisers for our West Midlands business tourism product to be affordable and high-quality. As a result, a number of our spaces have had refurbishments and invested in new audio-visual systems to ensure that we continue to deliver the sort of top-of-the-range service expected by clients in order to return.
There seems to have been a consolidation between the local cities. Is there a unified strategy to bring business events to the region?
These are unprecedented times for the West Midlands. With Coventry becoming the UK’s City of Culture in 2021 and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games a year later, this is a massive opportunity to make our mark as a united region.
While we live in an increasingly digital age, more than ever, we think it’s important to join forces as a region and meet face-to-face with event organisers to showcase the area. In recent months, we’ve taken the West Midlands’ business tourism messages to a global audience, in cities such as Washington and Frankfurt.
The West Midlands currently receives the highest proportion of business visits of all regions, nearly double the UK average. By working together with partners across the West Midlands, we are ensuring that we give organisers the best possible choice and experience when they host events here.”
How does your CVB model work: who are your members and how can conference organisers enquire?
The West Midlands Growth Company is committed to promoting the area as a leading place to invest, do business and visit. We work with Local Enterprise Partnerships, Councils, Growth Hubs, Universities, Chambers of Commerce and hundreds of local businesses, undertaking national and international sales missions to attract more events to the region.
Liaising with more than 250 partners – ranging from attractions and hotels to sporting venues and cultural hubs – our Convention Bureau has been supporting and attracting conferences and events to the region for more than 30 years. Our team has a wealth of local knowledge and expertise, along with personal contacts and regional partnerships to help deliver a successful event.
How would you convince someone to host their event in the Midlands (or specific city)?
This is a forward-looking region, with cranes on the skyline and an energy and creativity that will deliver the 2021 UK City of Culture in Coventry, the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and two new high-speed rail stations.
Being located in the centre of the UK already makes the West Midlands easy to reach, but getting around the region is set to become even easier with a number of game-changing, multi-million-pound transport infrastructure redevelopments. From West Midlands Metro tram extensions in Birmingham and a new state-of-the-art railway station in Wolverhampton, to Birmingham Airport’s new masterplan to increase capacity, we are ensuring that our connectivity keeps us competitive on the global events stage.
The West Midlands is a warm, welcoming destination with a lifestyle scene that makes it a perfect backdrop for an organiser’s next event. Whether it’s diving into our heritage at the Black Country Living Museum, Tolkien’s childhood haunts and Warwick Castle, through to the world-class pedigree of Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Company, we invite event organisers to come and visit a resurgent region, which is making its mark.