Royal Highland Centre £30m campaign

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Glasgow and its Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre has arguably overshadowed other exhibition locations in Scotland for consumer and trade show business. But this could be set to change as the Edinburgh-based Royal Highland Centre embarks on a £30m campaign to improve its exhibition and meetings facilities. In April, the City of Edinburgh Council approved a £30m redevelopment of the Royal Highland Centre site by Edinburgh Airport in Ingliston. The plans are designed to transform the venue, which is owned by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) into an internationally competitive exhibition and events space. Proposed improvements include upping its 18,000sqm of covered exhibition space by 50 per cent, building a new Members’ Pavilion and improving circulation space in the east part of the grounds. Two new hotels with 165 and 75 bedrooms are simultaneously being built, and an “agri-business” hub with office, meeting and leisure facilities and a Scottish Centre of Excellence promoting and selling Scottish produce are on the cards. The Eastfield Road boulevard, which leads directly to Edinburgh Airport, will also gain a new East Entrance to give visitors a better sense of arrival. RHASS chief executive Stephen Hutt said the council’s decision will raise Edinburgh to the international events league. “A lot of effort has gone into getting to this stage and we now anticipate an early start to progressing the plans,” he said. “It’s our intention to make the existing facilities more useful and connected. This development is about completing our offering here and being flexible for every style of event.” Why now? Although the £30m investment appears to have come out of the blue, Hutt said the plans have been germinating for some time. The RHASS was initially forced to revise its long-term future and location in 2003 after the Whitepaper and Civil Aviation Bill mooted expansion of Edinburgh Airport and compulsory acquisition of its land. As a result, RHASS spent five years plotting relocation to nearby Norton Park. The subsequent scaling back of the airport’s plans three years ago due to cost opened up the opportunity to improve and expand its existing facilities, Hutt said. “It has been a long process but now that we are there, we can plan ahead with confidence over the next 20 years,” RHASS director Allan Murray said. “We believe the new developments will help us attract even more prestigious events, enhancing our reputation as one of the UK’s leading venues for trade, lifestyle, corporate, sport and leisure events. “All of that has spin-off benefit for Edinburgh and Scottish business in general.” In the short-term As it stands, the Royal Highland Centre contributes £100m annually to the Edinburgh economy and the Lothians region. It hosts 240 events a year with approximately 70 per cent consumer and 30 per cent trade. Highlights are the annual Highland Show and its 190,000 visitors and the Scottish Motorcycle Show.  “In the shorter term, we want to sweat our assets harder,” venue director Archie Glendinning said. He highlighted the venue’s independence from Council ownership, indoor/outdoor space, extensive car park and close proximity to Edinburgh airport and the city centre as major drawing cards. “We are actively going after business and we’re keen to raise our profile with event organisers by being clear about what we are targeting and how we communicate to the market,” Glendinning continued. Hutt was coy about whether longer-term plans included actively pursuing SECC and Glasgow business. “The events industry is a very competitive environment, so we want to focus on what we can add to the overall picture,” he said. Glendinning also claimed there was an opportunity to attract significant exhibitions both to the East and West sides of Scotland. “Scotland isn’t a huge country, but there is an East/West divide and we believe a market for more events in the East,” he said. “Edinburgh has incredible pulling power as a destination.” The venue’s exhibition space expansion is expected to come on-board in five years’ time. The 165-room hotel and first sections of the boulevard are due to be completed in 2012 and the overall masterplan development is scheduled to take 10 to 15 years. As the economy continues to recover, the larger Royal Highland Centre will then be able to provide a new option for exhibition organisers looking to tap into another geographical hotspot. “The potential here is unlimited and being adjacent to an international airport and on the fringe of the capital city, our vision is to be part of the gateway to Scotland,” Hutt added. Any comments? Email sarah@mashmedia.net
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