Manchester confex business
28-Mar-11by Annie Byrne
The first thing Manchester Central sales manager Paula Lorimer flags to EN during our meeting is her love of exhibitions.
“My background is in exhibitions and I’m a massive supporter of the industry,” the former IIR Exhibitions group exhibitions director said.
The comment comes in contrast to the venue’s growing reputation for hosting conference and association business. Forty-five per cent of Manchester Central’s annual revenue today stems from 26 association-related events, which also represent its biggest growth driver. The venue claims its three-year, £30m redevelopment project completed in 2010 and opened officially this year will help give local and global event organisers more flexibility to run exhibitions, conferences or a mixture of both.
“Because of our recent expansion, we’re doing bigger association events that go for longer and provide more economic benefit to Manchester,” Lorimer said. “It’s a conscious decision by us to drive the most economic impact for our city.”Still exhibiting
However, Lorimer pointed out Manchester Central continues to host the same number of trade shows annually – albeit several on a smaller scale. The venue hosted 36 exhibitions including 15 trade and 21 consumer exhibitions during the 2009/2010 financial year.
“We have not turned our backs on exhibitions – they are very important to us,” Lorimer said. “We run 15-20 trade exhibitions annually [depending on the market] and we will be running slightly more in 2011 than in 2007, before our redevelopment work started.”
Lorimer admitted consumer show launches declined as a result of the recession, along with trade shows in the property, recruitment and travel markets. Yet other events, such as Greenbuild, have doubled in size, buoyed by strong industry support.
“What we found was that exhibitions weren’t going to meet our ambitions for the expanded venue alone,” Lorimer continued. “Our exhibition space is popular as a venue, but given it’s now attached to the conference area it allows organisers to take a more ‘confex’ approach.
“Many of the association events have exhibitions alongside them. Exhibitions continue to thrive, it’s just they’re being done in a different way – it’s about merging exhibitions and content.” The battle for business
Manchester Central is just one of several regional UK venues vying for more exhibition, conference and meetings business. Others in the increasingly fierce pack of competitors are Telford’s expanding International Centre, Harrogate International Centre, ACC Liverpool and Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC).
The latest exhibition-only contender is The Peel Group’s EventCity by Trafford Park, which opens for commercial exhibition business this month.
For Lorimer, EventCity will offer complementary facilities with different value propositions and location benefits to Manchester Central.
“We support any project that brings more business to our city,” she said. “Overall, the success of a venue falls on getting the most customers and exhibitors.
“Being right in the middle of Manchester is a good proposition for us.”
Alongside ‘confex’-style events, Manchester Central’s recent wins include the International Cooperative Association’s standalone exhibition in 2012. The show was last held in India in 2010 and runs for seven days. Manchester Central will be the event’s first UK venue partner.
Lorimer attributed the win to Manchester’s ambassadorial approach with cooperative organisations and its close ties with such groups in the UK. Closer to home, new exhibitions in 2011 include Clarion’s Baby Show and Firex. “Today we are a bigger venue doing many more things,” Lorimer said. She also flagged discussions with several London-based organisers to extend more shows to England’s north.
“We have changed our business over the past 4-5 years as we developed the venue,” Lorimer added. “We’re ready to start being more vocal with people about our plans.”
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