Venue focus: The Hydro in Glasgow

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Next year is going to be a landmark one for Scotland. Not only will the country be thrown into the sporting spotlight as host to the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. On top of that, there is the potentially highly significant independence referendum that will see Scots vote for the right to be a state separate from the UK. Although Edinburgh is the capital city, Glasgow is in fact the largest, and it will host the 20th Commonwealth Games from 23 July to 3 August. With the world’s media descending on Glasgow for those games, then the referendum, followed by the golf, it is going to be an incredible showcase period for Scotland. Good timing, then, that the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) has added live events venue The SSE Hydro to its already impressive portfolio. Opened on 30 September, the SSE Hydro can seat 12,000 and will host around 140 music, entertainment and sporting events a year, attracting a million visitors. This puts The Hydro in the same premier league as Madison Square Garden or, closer to home, The O2. So, how will this affect business at the SECC? “The visual impact is huge, we are now the only site in the world that has two Foster + Partners buildings on one campus, and one of the few with purpose-built venues for exhibitions, conferences and live events,” says Ben Goedegebuure, sales director at SECC. “The SECC campus is now part of an even more iconic Glasgow skyline that will feature heavily in event promotion for business events to the Commonwealth Games next year. “From a business point of view it has a major impact. Firstly, it will free up a lot of the exhibition space within The SECC formerly used to host many live events. This gives us more capacity for exhibitions and increased flexibility for our customers, and will make a major impact on our business. “We then have the increased live event business that the new space can take, from large-scale product launches to brand activations. “Finally, the SSE Hydro also means our different areas of business can work in tandem together, providing live entertainment as part of a social itinerary for a conference or exhibition, or a collaboration of events that speak to the same audience.” Let’s not underestimate the first point Goedegebuure makes about aesthetics. Having a purpose-built, state-of-the-art campus is naturally going to impress visitors more than some shabby collection of warehouses in the middle of nowhere. Locally, the SECC already has iconic status for its ‘armadillo’ design. On paper, the SECC spaces look good and seem to tick all of the boxes, so now the onus would appear to be on Glasgow itself to pull in the punters. Does it have the standing to do that? “In this industry absolutely,” says Goedegebuure. “Glasgow is well understood both domestically and internationally for its cosmopolitan approach, relaxed people and deep cultural roots. It’s a great city for events and that’s why we’re seeing so much success. “Both Glasgow and Scotland have been the talk of the town for some time now. As a business tourism product we punch well above our weight, we have a brilliant reputation around the world and an events community that is as strong as anywhere.” The Hydro has already hosted major international touring acts and it’s only sensible to believe that showing people a good time at a pop concert can only have a positive psychological impact on those people when they get the chance to attend an exhibition at the same venue. By venue, in this instance we refer to the entire SECC campus. Goedegebuure says it’s too early to say if The SSE Hydro has increased the profile of exhibitions at the venue, but thinks it certainly would not have done any harm. He says SECC has kept organisers informed and emphasized the extra dimension the new venue provides. When it comes to the current crop of exhibitions, the venue has a healthy mix of business and consumer shows. High-profile consumer shows like BBC Good Food Show and Ideal Home Show Scotland get a lot of attention, but trade events are also doing great business. “For any exhibition, it is about using a venue that opens up a market or expertise,” says Goedegebuure. “The large consumer shows do well at the SECC as the people of Glasgow and Scotland see us as the place they go to for events. Business exhibitions like us because they can tap into the communities of expertise within the country, be it renewable energy, life sciences or medical and pharma. “We also see organisations coming to us as a centre point to target both mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as the UK. This all works in our favour.” With a glitzy new live events venue grabbing the headlines, exhibition organisers may feel the balance of power in Glasgow is slipping further away from their business. Not so, says Goedegebuure, who explains SECC’s business is split evenly three ways between live events, conferences and exhibitions. “Exhibitions are very important,” he says. “We have big exhibition halls and we want them full as much as possible. We also value our place among our local and national communities as the place to come for exhibitions – be they business or consumer. Exhibitions are a crucial part of our revenue and we do them really well – the more the merrier.” And The SSE Hydro opening does in theory free up more show days at the SECC for organisers, so the potential is there for new exhibitions and larger shows. Goedegebuure says these are tough times for exhibitions, and that the industry needs to evolve to accept the changing nature of the competition. However, despite the challenges, he says that the belief in the power of face-to-face communication and of doing business in person is the industry’s greatest asset. “We believe good exhibitions move markets forward and that our job is to provide the environment for this to happen,” he says. “As with any sector of business in this time of economic stability, if the products are good, they will succeed.” The opportunities presenting themselves this coming summer could have far-reaching implications for the future of the SECC. Post London 2012, you can’t help feeling that these Commonwealth Games will be followed more passionately than the British public than, say, the Manchester games in 2002, and the ill-fated Edinburgh games of 1986 (which were boycotted by 32 of the 59 eligible countries). For Glasgow, it’s time to do it right. “The market is looking good for 2014 regardless of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup,” says Goedegebuure. “However, like the Olympics, we will also see large ancillary events coming to the venue both before and after these events. We know there will be a confidence boost to potential clients when they see how well Glasgow activates itself for major events, so we can be positive for 2014 and beyond.” This was first published in the December issue of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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