We do love to meet beside the seaside

Few can deny that the image of many coastal resorts has changed dramatically over the last decade. No longer are they viewed as the ‘bucket and spade’ style destinations of the past, but more as chic, contemporary and vibrant alternatives to inland city centre destinations, which are proving to be hugely popular contenders in attracting business visitors.
    
Peter Hampson, director of the British Resorts & Destinations Association (BRADA) explains: “According to the United Kingdom Tourism Statistics (2008), the volume of overnight business trips to the UK coast is estimated at around 3.3 million a year, bringing with it an estimated spend of just under half a billion pounds. Of course, coastal resorts have not been immune to recent economic pressures but nonetheless, these figures clearly illustrate the scale and worth of business tourism in seaside resort towns.”

Investment in coastal resorts
This increased popularity of coastal destinations with meeting and convention organisers can be attributed to a number of factors; most notably the continual upgrade of their business tourism product, combined with an improved coordinated marketing effort deployed by the convention bureaus. This has all been made possible by the government’s increased awareness to take the social and economic regeneration of the UK’s seaside resorts ever more seriously. This has been witnessed most recently in England by the Department for Communities and Local Government’s launch of the (government’s), ‘Strategy for Seaside Success.’
    
Peter adds: “The UK coastal resort sector has secured many hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment over the last decade and continues to attract significant public and private sector attention.
    
“The improvement in public realm and private sector product, combined with the inherent pleasant coastal ambiance and the full range of tourism infrastructure encompassing fine dining, entertainment, heritage, retail and culture makes most of the UK’s well established coastal resorts the ideal place for business tourism.”
    
Darren Johnson, Convention Bureau sales manager, Visit Brighton, adds: “Costal destinations are particularly popular with city-wide events, often spanning two or three days. The close proximity of venues, hotels and leisure offerings are a real plus, creating a ‘one stop shop’ style destination focused product for both the business and leisure traveller. This destination package often comes with the mutual cooperation of city stakeholders that give the ability to provide delegates with a real ‘wow’ factor.”

Time to relax
Perhaps a seaside destination’s biggest unique selling point is its connotation with being a relaxing destination, creating a fantastic motivational edge for those looking for team building opportunities and corporate incentives.
    
Costal destinations often work closely with neighbouring city centres to create add-on packages that offer attractive incentives for business extenders. Steve Christian, marketing manager for Southport Conferences, explains: “For us, particularly located so close to Liverpool, we often work together with the city to complement each other’s offering. For those events that do prefer the city centre location, we provide several ‘add on’ options, often in the form of golf and other leisure activities that you cannot do in the city. This is hugely popular for the business extenders crowd.”
    
He continues: “When compared with a city, coastal resorts offer an attractive draw in the form of less traffic, air and noise pollution and better parking and public transport options. Many would argue that they are generally a more pleasant place to be.”

Bournemouth
During 2010, over £100 million is being invested in Bournemouth’s business tourism product, creating improvements in accommodation, transport, entertainment and dining.
    
At the hub of the action is one of the UK’s premier conference and exhibition venues, the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC). A recent £300k refurbishment of its Tregonwell Hall was completed in March 2010, capable of hosting conferences of up to 1,000 delegates.
    
Clive Tyers, head of Conferences, Exhibitions and Events at the BIC, comments: “I was asked recently about seaside resorts being old-fashioned and in need of a little tlc. I’m not talking on behalf of other resorts, just Bournemouth, but the notion that seaside resorts are old fashioned is an old fashioned one. We have moved on from that stereotype and Bournemouth has become a cosmopolitan and vibrant business and leisure resort.”
    
Leading the way in sustainability will be Bournemouth’s first £5.5 million eco-hotel The Green House due to open later this year. The hotel will feature 32 bedrooms, conference and meeting facilities and a 60 cover brasserie.
    
In addition the Park Central Hotel will be Bournemouth’s newest 4-star hotel opening in close proximity to the BIC. The Hermitage Hotel will be undergoing a £2 million complete refurbishment, including a new lounge and restaurant and a fully fitted corporate boardroom.
    
Following a £500,000 investment Bournemouth’s newest restaurant, the Edge Restaurant, will offer panoramic private dining for up to 100 covers on the fifth floor encompassing 360º views.
    
Finally, the £45 million redevelopment of Bournemouth Airport will put Bournemouth on par with other major UK airports and in a good position to attract more operators in the future. Due to be completed in the late spring, the work will include a new departures terminal, twice the size of the old building and with triple the amount of retail and catering space.

Blackpool
Home to a number of high capacity venues, Blackpool is fortunate to benefit from a range of traditional conference hotels as well as a great number of unique and wonderful venues.
    
The trend in reinventing the UK coast as a place for leisure, pleasure and for business continues with the recent announcement of a £39 million pound package in Blackpool, which amongst other things, will see its major conference and exhibition venue, The Winter Garden revamped.

Brighton
Brighton continues to evolve its business tourism product; new hotels and venues have added more choice and diversity to its hotel room stock and venue choice. In the last three years myhotel, Jury’s Inn, Radisson Blu and Park Inn have all opened in the city and existing hotels including the Thistle, Brighton Hilton Metropole and The Grand have all invested significantly in improvements to their properties recently.
    
2010 has seen £1 million of additional funding being invested in The Brighton Centre to better the visitor experience. The redevelopment plans will focus on improving the public areas of the venue, which will include an upgrade to the existing breakout areas and the addition of alfresco coffee shops. The conference centre’s Skyline restaurant will also benefit from the funding as well as new signage throughout and significant investment in the furniture and furnishings.
    
The largest banquet and conference facility to be built in Brighton & Hove since 1992 is also planned. This comes as part of the Sussex County Cricket Club’s £8 million development, designed to drive the club’s non-match day facilities. The development will be phased over two years, with Phase One due to be completed in April 2010 including a new banqueting and conference facility. Phase Two will see new builds of the South and South West stands and redevelopment of the member’s pavilion increasing the capacity of the two current rooms and creating a new cafe/bar/private reception room in the old stables.
    
VisitBrighton recently announced a new marketing campaign ‘Seeing Brighton Through Business Eyes’ aimed at underlining the city’s outstanding business product as well as its famous leisure offering.

Eastbourne
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, 3,100sqm exhibition space, recent refurbishment of the Gold Room and opening of state of the art gallery last year, the Wi-Fi is 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 5-star coastal hotel, a celebrity owned designer budget hotel, and smaller, friendly guesthouses, Eastbourne is well positioned to offer an attractive destination for delegates and organisers on all budgets.
    
An Eastbourne Borough Council spokesperson comments: “As a major event town hosting several large events every year including Eastbourne Airshow and the AEGON International Tennis Championships, Eastbourne is well suited to large events with a great reputation for delivering successful events while giving personalised service at the same time.”

Scarborough
Scarborough is a long established conference town, recently winning the title of ‘Europe’s Most Enterprising Place’ in this year’s European Enterprise Awards. This year again will see some exciting developments for the area, with a £6 million refurbishment to its leading conference venue The Spa, the opening of the new 6,500 seater open air theatre in July and the continuing success of the Regeneration Programme.

Southport
In recent years, Southport has successfully rebranded itself as ‘England’s Classic Resort’, combining the traditional aspects of a seaside town which visitors, both business and leisure, still expect to see, with boutique hotels, high quality restaurants and world class golf facilities.
    
In the last five years, the area has seen massive investment in its business tourism product, principally in the £40 million refurbishment and extension of its flagship venue, the Southport Theatre & Convention Centre. This combined with the introduction of new hotels and other major infrastructure improvements has led to a wave of new restaurants and shops.
    
Other facilities include the resort’s newest hotel the Ramada Plaza situated on the recent waterfront development, the contemporary Vincent Hotel, luxurious Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa and Aintree Racecourse, home to the world famous John Smith’s Grand National, situated just outside the resort and offering conference facilities for up to 600.
    
In addition, Southport’s reputation as England’s Golfing Capital is well and truly justified with 15 top courses just 30 minutes drive from the resort centre and six of them within Southport itself.
    
For the future, Southport will see a £12 million redevelopment of the Southport Arts Centre, which will create a new Cultural Centre for Southport. Due to be completed in 2012, it will encompass an art gallery, theatre/performance space, library, tourist information and several meeting spaces.

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