There is no shortage of good news when it comes to the success of English cities in the association market. For example, Birmingham rakes in £2.3bn for the local economy from its business tourism industry and Newcastle Gateshead expects the British Council of Shopping Centres' annual event, which it will host in November, to be worth £3m to the local economy alone.
So it's little wonder that venues such as Manchester Central (formerly known as G-Mex and the Manchester International Conference Centre) have the confidence to pitch for big business alongside their European rivals. "We're doing better in the international market than we have ever done and we are being considered alongside Paris, Barcelona and Vienna," says Paula Lorimer, sales director at Manchester Central, which has also housed national events for the Football Supporters' Federation and the National Association of Pension Funds.
But success on an international scale does not come easily, suggests Harrogate International Centre (HIC) director Stuart Quinn. The venue is also trying to increase its international profile but has found the market very competitive. "Venue growth is outstripping any increase in demand in association business and you have to run faster to simply stay still," he explains. The HIC hosts 40 association events on average each year and is about to bring back into commission a Grade-II listed building, known as the Royal Hall, on site.
Birmingham International Convention Centre (ICC) general manager Geoff Fenlon agrees with Quinn. The majority of association business that the centre hosts is national and Fenlon too has his eye on the European market, having appointed dedicated sales managers to target that sector. Around 65% of the venue's revenue comes from the association market and Fenlon believes one of the venue's unique selling points is that it offers events room to grow.
"We certainly see a lot more exhibitions supporting association conferences," he says. "A good example is the British Small Animal Veterinary Association which has been coming here since we first opened and has just signed up for the next five years.
"When they first came here the building was probably too big for them. Now their exhibition is so big they use the National Indoor Arena next door too and attract 8,000 delegates."
Bournemouth International Centre's head of conferences, exhibitions and events, Clive Tyers, has also seen a trend for more association events to incorporate an exhibition. "Many of our association events have a vibrant commercial exhibition alongside, which often occupies three to four times more space than the conference itself," he says.
The venue typically hosts in excess of 35 large association events each year for bodies such as the Local Government Association and the Royal Air Force Association.
Bournemouth International Convention Centre and its sister venue, the Pavilion Theatre, will host upwards of 50,000 association delegates each year, which in turn generates 200,000 bednights.
- Association business is worth £50m to Brighton annually and its hotel stock of 4,293 rooms will increase by 1,000 rooms in the next three years.
- Newcastle Gateshead estimates that association events are worth £5-6m to the region. It will host the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers' AGM in January.
- Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) opens next year and will provide a 10,600-seat arena and 7,000sqm of exhibition space.
- Birmingham rakes in £2.3bn for the local economy from its business tourism success and now offers a total of 23,000 bed spaces.
MS Life is a biennial event that launched in 2006. Organised by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, it provides an opportunity for MS sufferers and their families to learn about recent scientific developments. In March 2008 it will return to Manchester Central and event director Chris Bray hopes it will attract more than 3,500 visitors from the UK and Europe.
As well as hosting more than 100 speakers and exhibitors over the two days, MS Life also incorporates a social programme, with a comedy night and club night in the city and a fashion show at Harvey Nichols. Bray says Manchester is one of the few cities that can accommodate the needs of the delegates, many of whom are mobility impaired.
"We need a lot of space and can't cram in everything like you would at a traditional conference or exhibition," Bray explains. "We receive subvention funding from the tourist board, the venue is right in the city centre and you'll never meet a team more passionate about making that venue more accessible and inclusive," he adds.