SOUTHERN VENUES: Allure of the South - Jane Stanbridge looks at how exhibition venues in the South are working alongside local tourist authorities to woo business to the region that will benefit the whole economy

For ten days in September, the Southampton Boat Show takes over the

south coast town spreading a carnival atmosphere. Each year a

purpose-built marina is constructed, 350 boats are displayed on the

water, and an infrastructure is created which includes the building of

two bridges.



It seems a lot of effort compared with staging the London Boat Show in

the purpose-made venue of Earls Court, but James Gower, marketing

director at show organiser National Boat Shows, says it's worth it. "The

two events are very different. A lot of serious enthusiasts go to London

whereas in Southampton the boats are in their natural environment by the

sea and all sorts of people visit, with many families attending."



Southampton has no doubt benefited enormously from more than 30 years of

hosting the Boat Show, which is expected this year to attract 120,000

visitors.



Wider impact



Southampton City Council marketing officer Steve Potter confirms that

not only does the show benefit the immediate economy through direct

spend in hotels, restaurants, cafes and local attractions, but that the

impact is felt further afield. "All accommodation stock is full, with

visitors staying in Portsmouth, Eastleigh and even as far away as

Newbury," says Potter. "Many millions of pounds-worth of business is

generated for exhibiting companies many of which are based along the

Solent coastline. Some secure orders that last the whole year."



Other venues in the South of England have also found ways to benefit

from their dual status as holiday destination and exhibition and

conference centre. This strong link between the two industries means

many venues are either council-owned and run or at least have a close

relationship with local authorities.



Westpoint Centre in Exeter, whose parent company is the Devon County

Agricultural Association, hosts more than 30 exhibitions each year in

its 4,590 sq m hall, three outdoor arenas and 150 acres of grounds. The

facility is supported by Conference Devon, a local authority business

and tourism partnership which not only acts as a venue finding service,

but also aims to raise training standards and encourage business to the

area.



Westpoint events coordinator Lisa Vanstone sees a strong link between

tourism and the centre. "The two businesses feed each other and cannot

be separated," she says.



Janet Parson of Brighton and Hove Visitor and Convention Bureau also

sees a symbiotic relationship between tourism and exhibitions. "Visitors

to exhibitions often extend their stay because of the many attractions

in the area."



Hundreds of millions of pounds are being invested in Brighton to ensure

that the resort continues to attract business tourism, which accounts

for about half of the city's £175m annual tourism revenue. The

exhibition complex at the Brighton Dome, part of the historic pavilion

estate, is undergoing a £30m overhaul to make the facilities more

flexible.



Local attractions



The Riviera Centre in Torquay has a straightforward objective of

attracting as many exhibitions as possible but is often perceived as

being too far away. Torquay's reputation as a tourist destination,

however, helps to attract organisers who are aware of the range and

quality of accommodation, the local facilities and the attractions of

both the coast and neighbouring Dartmoor. Riviera Centre marketing

manager Lisa Ward says: "The destination is very high quality, pricing

is very competitive and the hotels benefit from income in off-peak

times."



Destinations which are home to large exhibition facilities have fared

better than most in the face of the foot-and-mouth crisis, with the vast

majority of events going ahead as planned. But Ward is clear about the

benefits of this dual economy during the crisis. "We can bring in

revenue through the whole economy from restaurants to taxi drivers," she

says.



CASE STUDY: BOURNEMOUTH INTERNATIONAL CENTRE



Bournemouth is reaping the benefits of investing in the late 1970s and

early 1980s to build Bournemouth International Centre (BIC). Exhibitions

at the venue pull in about 90,000 visitors annually and in the financial

year to March 2001 they generated an estimated revenue of £10m for

the region.



Bournemouth wants to maintain it's position as one of the UK's premier

resorts and to this end has launched a £40m private finance

initiative to develop the BIC, Pavilion Theatre, pier and Lower Gardens.

At the BIC, this will mean expansion of the exhibition and conference

facilities.



BIC head of conferences and exhibitions Clive Tyers says: "The PFI

proposal is a bold and important step in keeping Bournemouth at the

forefront of the business and leisure tourism industry." The commitment

behind the initiative is understandable given the revenue that

conferences and exhibitions brings in to Bournemouth - 517,000 bed

nights in 1999/2000 with an average nightly spend of between £130

and £190 per delegate.




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