MIDLANDS VENUES: Hitting the big time

As the NEC prepares to stage ITMA, one of the world's biggest trade fairs, Philip Chadwick finds it's not just the host venue that is anticipating a surge in business.

Big international events are usually the preserve of the world's major cities, but the Midlands has muscled in on the act and will be in the event spotlight when the NEC welcomes international textile and machinery show ITMA in October.

The exhibition is not only the Birmingham venue's biggest show of the year, it is also the biggest the venue has ever had in terms of space.

ITMA will cover the NEC's entire 200,000 sq m. So far 1,350 exhibitors have been confirmed from 44 countries around the globe.

The show will inject about £250m into the national economy, and local hotels, bars and restaurants are all expected to benefit from a surge in international visitors. A major effort from local government has been a big help.

"Birmingham City Council has really helped us in securing ITMA and in the run-up to the show its offices have been made available to us," says NEC group commercial director Simon Horgan. "Without the council's support we could not have won the bid."

The NEC and its supporters have pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event runs smoothly. In-house organiser Centrex has teamed up with regional development agency Advantage West Midlands to develop a website to allow delegates and exhibitors to source local leisure attractions.

And links to and from the venue and the airport have been improved thanks to the £10m Skyrail shuttle service, which will be able to ferry 1,500 people an hour.

Centre of attention

The De Vere Belfry is used to being the centre of attention having hosted some of the world's biggest golf tournaments including last year's Ryder Cup. Like ITMA, the event required meticulous planning from numerous parties including North Warwickshire Borough Council, Warwickshire County Council, the local police force and even the NEC, which was used as a park and ride centre.

"Local support for the event was very strong," says De Vere Belfry executive director Mike Maloney. "It's great to draw on that and what helps is everyone's expertise and experience."

Last year was the fourth time since 1985 that the Belfry had hosted the event and on each occasion it took the opportunity to invest in its facilities.

The NEC added 30,000 sq m of exhibiition space to accommodate ITMA and Horgan believes more big events are around the corner. "We are at a size to compete with shows that move around Europe and we are in talks to bring similar events here," he says.

If the NEC is successful then investment in the region in areas such as hotels and transport will pay off and there may be a knock-on effect for local venues.

The International Centre, Telford (TIC) managing director Shaun Ormrod believes that supporting the NEC and ITMA will bring more business his way.

"If you fill up the country's largest exhibition venue in October, then there are about 35 events that will need to find alternative dates or relocate," he says. "That's where we can come in and take on those shows. My attitude is to support the NEC, make ITMA a fantastic event and use that to attract similar shows."

But Ormrod sounds a note of caution. "The biggest constraint on business tourism in the region is public transport," he says. "It won't affect delegates in central Birmingham but those out in the sticks will be faced with inadequate rail links."

The fact that the NEC fended off stiff competition from a host of other European venues to stage ITMA suggests the region is ready for the big time. And the onus is on the venue to deliver an exhibition of which the region can be proud.

FIVE BIGGEST NEC FAIRS

ITMA

Type: textile and machinery trade show

Frequency: every four years

Size: 200,000 sq m

Visitor numbers: 150,000

Spring Fair Birmingham

Type: retail and giftware trade show

Frequency: annual

Size: 200,000 sq m

Visitor numbers: 80,000

IPEX Type: print and visual imaging trade show

Frequency: every four years

Size: 140,000 sq m

Visitor numbers: 70,000

British International Motor Show

Type: consumer and trade show Frequency: every two years

Size: 115,000 sq m

Visitor numbers: 500,000

Furniture Show and Furnishing Accessories

Type: trade show

Frequency: annual

Size: 96,000 sq m

Visitor numbers: 50,000


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