The pull of seaside resorts

The promise of fresh sea air and a relaxed ambiance has always been a natural draw for visitors to the British coast and over the past decade, seaside resorts have made great strides in reinventing and diversifying their offering to extend this appeal even further.  
    
According to recent research by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, the tourism sector is deemed one of the healthiest in the country. The study found that the industry directly supports 210,000 individuals, “an impressive figure by any standard,” comments Peter Hampson, chief executive, British Destinations. “But all the more so when it is viewed against the UK figure for the telecommunications industry at 224,000, the motor industry at 165,000  publishing at 154,000 and old traditional like fishing and coal mining at 14,000 and 7,000 respectively.”
    
He adds: “In all, the wider employment impact, including supply chain and multiplier effect, gives a total employment figure attributed to the additional tourism jobs of some 600,000 – this makes it a really significant UK industry.”

BUSINESS TOURISM
Within the business tourism sector specifically, through increased investment in infrastructure and the introduction of a wide mix of dining, accommodation, entertainment and cultural offerings, seaside towns today rival even the most popular of conferencing cities.
     
Janet Deacon, area tourism director for Welcome to Yorkshire explains: “Coastal resorts have always been extremely popular for destination conferences as they offer business clients a complete destination experience. We are seeing a considerable uplift in conferences returning to Scarborough, which I believe is due to the affordability and the complete conference solution the coast is able to offer.”
    
However, despite its popularity, the UK coastal resort has not been immune to the impact of budgetary constraints and cuts which have been felt widely across both public and private sectors.
    
Peter adds: “Many resorts tend to be favoured by association and public sector conferencing and business tourism which held up relatively better in 2009/10 than the private sector. However, as private sector business tourism starts to recover, there are considerable concerns for the fate of public, and to a lesser degree, the association sectors.”
    
“2011 will certainly be a challenging year for business tourism in traditional resorts,” he continues. “In a complex multifaceted industry, added or sustained volume does not always equal sustained or increased values. There is no such thing as a perfect day for every one of the diverse range of businesses that makes up a ‘typical’ resort. No two towns are truly alike in character, let alone in terms of their markets and the factors that influence them.”

BRIGHTON UPDATE
Brighton continues to invest heavily in its offering to continually enhance the delegate and organisers’ experience.  
    
This year, the Brighton Dome completed a £200,000 refurbishment of its Foyer and Mezzanine Bars in its main concert hall, providing better accessibility and a more efficient service for its customers.
    
In addition, the multi-purpose Brighton Centre announced in January a further £1m investment to its facilities, following the successful completion of its phase one refurbishment in 2010. It will now undergo a significant redevelopment of its main entrance including the exterior space, signage and state of the art lighting, resulting in a complete transformation of its outside façade. Also its restaurant, which is regularly used as a breakout space for larger conferences, will be redesigned to include floor-to-ceiling windows with seafront views, while its interior will be completely modernised.
    
Brighton also welcomed the addition of the University of Sussex’s new Fulton Building last June. Situated at the heart of its campus, it’s offered to event planners between July and September. Boasting 3,000sq m of space across three floors, including two 160 seat lecture theatres and 26 seminar rooms (each accommodating 20-60 pax), it echoes the core campus building’s original architecture with additional contemporary features designed to meet the highest environmental standards.

EASTBOURNE
Those delegates choosing to visit Eastbourne this year will be amongst the first to use the newly installed Wi-Fi at the resort’s main conference venue, Devonshire Park Centre. Coupled with its facilities for up to 1,700 delegates, 3,100sq m exhibition space, recent refurbishment of the Gold Room and the opening of state of the art gallery last year, the Wi-Fi is just another significant addition to what’s available in Eastbourne as a business destination.

Offering thousands of bed spaces at a wide range of accommodation including England’s only five-star coastal hotel, a celebrity owned designer budget hotel and smaller, friendly guesthouses, Eastbourne is also well positioned to offer an attractive destination for delegates and organisers on all budgets.
    
Eastbourne Conference Bureau has just won three significant bookings for dates over the next two years, which will bring more than 1,800 delegates into town. The agent Creative Realisation is bringing a client with 1,000 delegates for a three day conference for 2012 in Eastbourne, while a Southern Rail event and a booking made through agent Principle Promotions will bring a further 800 delegates into town.
    
Also celebrating the revamp of the official Conference Eastbourne website, the Conference Bureau is seeing an increase in enquiries being received.

SCARBOROUGH
The vibrant resort of Scarborough on the east coast of North Yorkshire offers beautiful architecture, an array of shops, hotels and restaurants and three superb golf courses. Scarborough is the UK’s first resort to offer free Wi-Fi on the seafront and harbour and the town’s assortment of conference venues range from hotels and academic institutions to beautiful buildings such as the 1930s Grade II listed Stephen Joseph Theatre.
    
The Spa, one of the largest multi purpose conference and entertainments venues on the North East coast has recently undergone a £6.5 million refurbishment. This extensive project has seen significant redevelopment of the Grade II listed Victorian concert hall, reception areas and offices as well as the communication systems, air conditioning and technical equipment.
    
The refurbishment will give the ability to reconfigure the Grand Hall in a significant shorter time, meaning the venue will be able to provide a flexible, cost effective conference solution to meet client requirements.  
    
In March this year UKIP held its spring conference at the Spa, bringing with it over 400 delegates travelling from around the country. In total, Scarborough will welcome over 60,000 delegate visits during 2011, which will bring a significant economic benefit to the town and wider area.

SOUTHEND-ON-SEA

Southend-on-Sea in Essex is rapidly developing its credentials as an outstanding place to hold business events and conferences. Mostly known for its great leisure and cultural offer more and more businesses are turning on to the proposition for corporate opportunity.
    
New investment in the town over the last two years has been transformational, whether at the airport, new hotels or the road infrastructure and seafront. The area offers a good mix of major venues, capable of hosting exhibitions and product launches such as the Cliffs Pavilion, Park Inn Palace Hotel, and the state of the art college or more intimate venues in iconic locations such as the Kursaal function suite or at the Westcliff Hotel.
    
On the famous Southend Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world, there is soon to be a new flexible exhibition space, a mile and third out to sea. This can be used for conferences and events for up to 250 people and promises to capture new imagination about the special space on this historic building.
    
Last year saw the opening of the Park Inn Place Hotel which has already brought in new conference business including a product launch by Southend based Hi-Tec sportswear. This month there will be a major environmental two day conference in the town which will be of national significance to local government sector and should be an ongoing event in the sustainable calendar.

SOUTHPORT
Southport is unquestionably recognised as one of the premier conference destinations in the North West. In recent years, it has seen a multi-million pound investment in its business tourism product and has also successfully rebranded itself as ‘England’s Classic Resort’.
    
At the forefront of the area’s investment has been the £40 million redevelopment of the Southport Theatre & Convention Centre (STCC), one of Merseyside’s largest and most versatile venues.
    
All of the area’s venues fall under the banner of its convention bureau – Southport Conferences, which works hard to provide conference support to visiting delegates and to promote the area’s ever growing credentials. In 2010, this entire portfolio achieved the Meeting Industry Association’s AIM accreditation, in recognition of its high standard of conference and events provision.
    
In addition, Southport Conferences recently launched a delegate bike loan service, designed to not only utilise the accessibility of the town, but also to help reduce the number of cars used by business visitors to the resort. This was first trialled by the Labour North West party during its regional conference in November 2010 and has since gone on to be very well received with other visitors.
    
Perhaps Southport’s greenest attribute however, is its world class golfing facilities, boasting the biggest concentration of championship links courses in the world along the Sefton Coast. Southport Conferences works closely with golf club secretaries to put together bespoke packages that offer anything from a full tournament to golf clinics.
    
In 2011, Southport Conferences will be rolling out a series of new initiatives designed to not only increase awareness of what the resort can offer to visiting delegates, but to also increase its profile on a much wider scale in the business tourism market.
    
This includes a campaign designed to maximise awareness of the conferences and events that are taking place in the town; the launch of the Southport Members Club, designed to reward and encourage its regular bookers through added value and special offers; several environmental projects; and ‘Meetings on the Move’ – a targeted focus on its incentive market.

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