LONDON VENUES: Centres of excellence - Venues across the capital are investing in up-to-the minute technology and facilities to attract exhibitions. Sara White looks at how the key players are developing for life in the 21st century

As competition hots up at London venues, the key players are

investing heavily in new technology and facilities to meet the demands

of exhibition organisers.



At Wembley there is a possible sell-off of the venue. Wembley director

of sales and marketing Peter Tudor says: 'When the company published its

annual results it decided to review the business. There is a possibility

of selling the business to developers and 25 companies are looking at

the site. There will be a report on the options within the next two

months.'



General refurbishment work is under way at Wembley Arena with plans in

the pipeline to decorate the outside of the building. One of the venue's

biggest events this year is the UK Radiological Conference (UKRC).The

exhibition, which takes place this month, covers all aspects of medical

imaging and oncology in the UK. More than 120 companies are expected to

exhibit to about 6,000 delegates.



Other shows scheduled for this year include the NHS Conference, the

Cleanex laundry and dry-cleaning show that is held every three years and

a major nursing recruitment exhibition.



Earls Court Olympia (ECO) is investing heavily in products and

facilities.



ECO commercial director Nigel Mason says: 'We're committed to spending

pounds 60m. We are continuing to upgrade all the toilet facilities and

the general hall environment. We plan to paint the Grand Hall and we are

upgrading security at Olympia as well as doing work on the glazed

ceiling in the Grand Hall. We have also just opened a 220-cover Pizza

Express in Earls Court which has proved popular with visitors.



It looks great. It is not what people expect in an exhibition

centre.



'At International Confex we launched plans for a new conference centre

in the Pillar Hall at Olympia with capacity for between 200 and 400. We

believe there is growth in that market. It is due to open in spring

2002, subject to finalising the design and getting planning

permission.



'Our latest challenge is to redefine the space in Earls Court 1. We want

to unveil a way of using Earls Court 1 in a different way. It has a

10,000sq m to 15,000sq m capacity and is fairly flexible. We see future

growth in this size of show.'



There is also a major programme to improve the PA system as well as a

special focus on health and safety.



A number of new shows have booked into the venue in 2001. These include

the National Countryside Show, Incentive World - which has moved from

Wembley - and Asia Expo. All three shows are committed to return to

Earls Court in 2002. New launches include Home Technology, What Holiday

and Viva Espana.



Strong economy



'The economy is strong and there is a good dynamic in the industry which

is encouraging people to launch shows,' Mason says. 'People are

committing longer term to us, which is very encouraging. We work closely

with the organisers to see how shows can grow. We try to offer the best

facilities, the right atmosphere and the right experience for visitors.

The whole catering experience has changed radically and we are

introducing a new bar concept whereby we are creating ECO bars

throughout the venue. What is increasingly important to us is the level

of service we provide. In years to come we will be differentiated by the

experience and level of service people have received.'



At the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC) work has been

completed on a radical overhaul of the 5th and 6th floors, creating more

meetings and exhibition space and opening up new foyer areas. New decor

has also been introduced to this area, including new carpets, wall

finishes, door finishes, conference chairs and lounge furniture. This

year the venue is hosting a number of pharmaceutical and technology

exhibitions combined with conferences.



London Arena in the Docklands has just awarded its cleaning contract to

M Prize. London Arena sales director James Rees says: 'We have just

completed a refurbishment of the Waterside Room which has capacity for

200. There was increasing demand from exhibition organisers who need

conference space. Some other remedial work is planned throughout the

building and a cashpoint machine will soon be installed. We try to

improve the service we give people. We are anticipating our busiest year

ever and we are very excited about it.'



In terms of shows, London Arena will hold ASP World, which has moved

from the London Novotel. A brand new show, Storage Area Networks, is

being launched in November. In early April it hosted the London Marathon

Show, which was attended by 60,000 visitors.



At the Barbican Centre work is being completed on the concert hall where

several million pounds is being spent on renovation. Barbican commercial

director Mark Taylor says: 'The rebranding has been well received. We

are going through the process of implementation and it is being

incorporated on front-of-house costumes, new brochures and stationery.

We haven't yet completed the changes on the outside of the building but

this will happen soon.'



Westminster Central Hall director and general manager Michael Sharp

says: 'We are continually upgrading and investing heavily in facilities.

We plan to spend pounds 4m on the centre in 2002. From an investment

point of view we are spending money on new furniture and decorating. We

welcome quite a diverse range of events to the venue from public

inquiries, such as the one into the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster, and

the Holocaust Memorial broadcast. We are also hosting a number of major

art shows such as the Society of Botanical Artists in May. We hold about

six to eight exhibitions annually.'



Heavy investment



The Business Design Centre in Islington, north London has upgraded and

painted the entire building. A new gallery hall has been created with an

atrium on the second level of the building. The venue has also invested

heavily in a new safety rigging system in the roof of the building.



One of the newest venues in London is the Hilton London Metropole Hotel

& Conference Centre. It has exhibition capacity of 1,175sq m in the

combined Monarch and King suites, while the Palace suite offers 732sq m.

Recent events have included conferences and exhibitions for the

Institute of Travel Management, Russian Chamber of Commerce and IBM.



At Sandown Park in Surrey, United Racecourses has spent pounds 23m on a

complete refurbishment and building a new meetings facility scheduled

for completion in May 2001. The suite has capacity for 150 for a dinner

and 23 additional meeting rooms. It is a very modern, up-to-date

building and has air-conditioning throughout. The facility will be used

for corporate hospitality on race days.



CASE STUDY: Alexandra Palace



Alexandra Palace in north London recently staged two new events - the

first London Garden Show and the Fleet Show, which is now in its 19th

year.



The London Garden Show, organised by Mainline Events, is dedicated to

urban horticulture and designer gardening. It took place from 5-8

April.



The Fleet Show, run by Emap Automotive, ran from 1-3 May 2001. A number

of leading manufacturers unveiled their newest models to the UK's top

fleet buyers, including Jaguar, which launched its new X-type.



Fleet Show event director Chris Lester says: 'We made the decision last

October to move the show from the NEC. The event started off in 1983 at

Wembley Conference & Exhibition Centre and then moved to Olympia. It may

not be the end of the story, but we will stay in London for the next two

years. The capital offers us a large proportion of our target audience

who work in the South East. The show will attract between 6,000 and

8,000 visitors and Alexandra Palace allows us to create a buzz with that

number of visitors. Seventeen manufacturers attended the Fleet Show and

there were a record number of launches this year.'



CASE STUDY: Excel



Excel-Intouch, the EDS/ntl partnership ntl formed to install Excel's

communications and technology infrastructure, spent pounds 12m on IT

capabilities at the venue in London's Docklands.



As well as the standard communication services, Excel-Intouch has

created a web-enabled venue, providing integrated facilities

throughout.



An integrated Internet Protocol (IP) network supports voice, video and

data, IP video-conferencing and digital television. A connection to the

InTouch local area network (LAN) enables unlimited access to the web for

one flat fee. And Wireless LAN connectivity will help product

demonstrations, cable management and networking of multiple offices.



Web kiosks in the boulevard give direct access to the Internet, emails

and the Excel intranet. Over time the web kiosks will offer booking and

billing of venue facilities and real-time customer services, travel and

event information. The kiosks also provide a web-based interactive

advertising and sponsorship portal for organisers, exhibitors and

corporate sponsors.



Excel-InTouch launched a Mobile Business Centre at the Smart Card

Technology exhibition in late February. Facilities at the centre include

hot desks, private meeting facilities and Internet access.




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