Irish exhibitions: Open for business

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Every geographic region has been impacted in some way by the sliding economy, but Ireland has arguably been one of the hardest countries hit. Crippled by public debt, the implosion of its property market and the global economic crisis, the country has faced fiscal volatility and uncertainty. This has subjected exhibition venues to questions about their viability, credibility and competitiveness against UK and international rivals. Despite the challenges, Irish venues have worked hard to bring exhibition organisers through their doors. In the past 12 months, they have been helped by the launch of The Convention Centre Dublin (CCD), a new selling point to national and international event organisers looking for a destination that combines world-class facilities with cultural strength. Efforts by public and private sectors to drive event business into the country off the back of the CCD launch have also raised the profile of the Emerald Isle. Citywest International Events and Convention Centre is a newer entrant to Dublin’s venue offering, appearing on the map in 2010. Its special events and exhibitions manager Sally-Anne Browne said clients are largely from the UK and Ireland. However, partnerships with the CCD, Dublin Tourism and Failte Ireland promoting Dublin as a destination to organisers in Europe and the US are also delivering international business. The venue offers up to 15,000sqm of interconnected exhibition space across three floors. While shows have largely been trade-based so far, the launch of the new Luas lightrail service in July connecting Citywest to Dublin’s city centre, plus Citywest’s accessibility for visitors across the country, is seeing more consumer exhibitions moving in. “Dublin previously really only had one exhibition venue before – the RDS [Royal Dublin Society],” Browne explained. “From that point of view, it has been restrictive for organisers. We’re opening up new markets for organisers that weren’t accessible previously and people who hadn’t looked at Ireland before are looking at us now.” Citywest has secured Irish editions of established shows such as Top Gear as well as the Northern Irish Wedding Journal and Irish organiser-based brands SelfBuild and the Access Care and Mobility Expo. As the market turns a corner, Browne claimed launch exhibitions are popping up and people are preparing to take bigger risks again. “Over the last year, organisers have started to look to launch again as positivity is coming back into the market,” Browne said. “Organisers are looking at the current trends and evolving shows to suit them.” For example, grow-your-own vegetable and environment-based exhibitions are being introduced.Returning optimism RDS commercial director Michele Griffin agreed exhibition business was on the way up but organisers are cautious. Most of the Dublin-based venue’s exhibitions are run by UK organisers and account for 50 per cent of overall event bookings. RDS offers 23,000sqm of exhibition space. “These are completely different times and event organisers are looking at their business in different ways while looking for more value,” Griffin said. “Exhibition organisers are still investing and are taking a cautious approach before making bookings. We have responded with a competitive offering with extra value to the event organiser and with visitor numbers for trade and consumer exhibitions remaining steady, we can see the confidence of exhibition organisers coming back again.” RDS has picked up a number of new exhibitions in 2011 and 2012 and also witnessed increased ticket sales for its in-house run Dublin Horse Show and Art Fair. “From our events we are seeing Irish consumers spending at home and supporting well-established events here in Ireland, which is great for the industry,” Griffin continued. “Ireland may be a small country but demand for events and exhibitions is still strong despite the economic climate. “Consumer exhibitions are holding their own and visitor numbers are also very positive. There has been a dip in certain types of trade events especially around property and construction areas, which was predictable. Despite this, other trade events are remaining strong as businesses realise the importance of trade exhibitions.” Competing in partnership Griffin said the combination of new venues and redevelopment of existing facilities is putting the country on a par with other international exhibition destinations. The CCD’s launch for instance, has brought a new buyer group to Dublin. To keep up, RDS has upgraded its floor and aesthetic appearance, acoustics, lighting systems, amenities and seating. “The fact that we are a venue in Ireland is not a challenge but the biggest challenge is competition from other venues,” Griffin said. “Ireland has invested enormously in supporting this industry with the development of new venues and transport facilities in the capital city. The quality of venues on offer in Ireland is excellent, which is attracting more interest from international event organisers. “The increase in competition has come as a challenge, however it is also bringing more business to the city which can only be seen as a positive.” The CCD is the newest kid on the block, launching with fanfare last September. Its director of sales Catherine Newhall-Caiger claimed overall marketing and meetings budgets were slashed during the economic downturn, but said the market is beginning to turn. The CCD is largely focused on attracting international conference and corporate events business and has secured a range of international confex-style events. “The economic impact to us from the Ireland situation is hard to measure, but it hasn’t really affected our business too much,” she said. “Domestically, corporate events have been impacted as they had to make some tough financial decisions but we are seeing more confidence in the domestic market and inquiry levels are on the up. “By investing in the CCD, Ireland can now host meetings, conferences and events that it couldn’t access before and proactively go after that marketplace.”Making things happen Despite the differences in offering, Irish venues are eager to broadcast their accessibility and events capabilities to both the local and international markets. All point out Ireland’s collective investment into event venues as proof that it wants exhibition business. “There are some concerns about the stability of the Irish economy and there was a wobble in the past 18 months because people were unsure if Dublin was open but we are open for business, receptive to business and secure,” Citywest’s Browne said. RDS’s Griffin added that of all marketing channels, face-to-face and exhibitions have suffered the least in the recession. “The difference is people today are looking to meet and generate leads. Before business was buoyant and we only had to react – now, it’s all about being proactive,” she said. “Ireland isn’t being packaged in the best light, but the events industry is very positive and proactive. We can make things happen.”  Any comments? Email sarah@mashmedia.net
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