When you are the National Exhibition Centre, people naturally have certain perceptions. Not least of these is that you are a space that specialises in exhibitions, and on a scale befitting national status. This has natural positives, as well as negatives, when trying to attract new business to the venue.
On one hand, a new launch exhibition can gain instant credibility by coupling with the NEC’s brand and pedigree. On the other, small organisers may assume that The NEC is simply too big for them. Then of course, people will think you only do exhibitions.
The truth is, The NEC is a vast exhibition space, with growing conference facilities, versatile outdoor areas, on-site facilities and superb transport connections. Built in 1976 and extended three times since then, The NEC has undergone numerous refurbishments and improvements, with one of the most significant developments currently underway.
Resorts World Birmingham (located on The NEC site) will add £150m worth of ‘integrated leisure and entertainment complex’. This could be a game-changer for The NEC, and cements its credentials as a genuine destination in itself.
“The NEC site’s ‘Destination NEC’ master plan continues to progress,” says Steve Richard, venue sales director. “Work is now underway on the UK’s first integrated destination leisure and entertainment complex, Resorts World Birmingham, which is due to open in April 2015 with a four-star hotel and spa, an 11-screen cinema, a designer outlet centre of 45 units, a casino and a diverse range of dining experiences, making the site a 24/7 visitor destination.”
Tackling those perceptions on size, Richards agrees that the venue is known for market-leading mega shows, but that only tells part of the story.
“The ‘big’ perception comes with the assumption that we can’t possibly look after small organisers as well as the smaller venues can, and that we’re only interested in large shows from large organisers, but that’s not true,” says Richards. “Ask any of the 50-plus independently owned exhibitions that thrive in our venue. Twenty three of the trade expos we host, and nine of the consumer expos, are less than 4,500sqm gross.
“We also have 34 conference suites and can cater for a small group of 20 people. We’re not currently recognised for our conferencing and live events capability and it’s a perception we want to change.”
Part of that process has seen the addition of Adrian Evans as account director for this arm of the business back in February.
In terms of the venue’s current portfolio, association business is significant, and growing. Associations account for nearly 20 per cent of expo business, up from nine per cent just four years ago. Over that time, exhibitor numbers to association expos have grown 15 per cent and visitors by 17 per cent. Of the 140 trade and consumer shows every year, there is an even split between trade and consumer, edged by trade shows.
But is The NEC only for industry megashows like Spring Fair International? “Not at all,” says Richards. “Obviously we host some of the biggest shows in the industry, but we host a large number of single hall events too and everything in between.
“We can introduce exhibitions of less than 1,000sqm net into our Pavilion Hall and they work perfectly. We can give a small event a national feel and by hosting their events at The NEC, we lend instant credibility to even the smallest show because they use our brand, which makes a statement to exhibitors and visitors.”
Smaller organisers get instant kudos by choosing The NEC, and while this will inevitably impress potential exhibitors, getting visitors through the doors is also essential for all parties if the show is going to enjoy long-term success.
This is where the venue’s excellent transport links come into their own.
“We’re accessible,” says Richards. “Over 40 per cent of the UK’s population live within a two-hour drive time of The NEC and a fantastic transport network surrounds the site; as well as a physical connection to Birmingham International Airport and Birmingham International Railway Station (you can walk between the three venues without going outside).”
Arriving by train (the journey from London Euston to Birmingham International takes 70 minutes), you can walk onto the show floor in minutes without braving the elements. The out-of-town location and extensive grounds (there are 610 acres) lend a campus air and it is easy to feel the ‘destination’ vibe that The NEC is striving for, and that will be boosted by the arrival of Resorts World.
“We have more than 186,000 sqm of covered exhibition space through 34 conference suites and 20 interconnecting halls, in addition to 160 acres of hard standing ground and 75 acres of woodland,” said Richards.
“With our own roads, lake and green space we can accommodate fantastic features and interactive events.”
That was evident when Exhibition News visited during the co-located BBC Gardeners World Live and Good Food Show. Outdoor areas and pavilions were well suited to the gardening side while the food show was a thronged mass of eager consumers.
Exhibitions seem to be thriving at The NEC, so while conferences and casinos may grab some limelight in the coming months, and talk of changing perceptions abounds, the venue is not losing sight of its raison d’etre.
This was first published in the July issue of EN. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org