Q&A: London and Manchester

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London and Manchester highlight what's best about the MICE industry in England in this exclusive MEI Q&A with Chloe Couchman, major events & business senior communications manager, Visit London (CC), and Leo Platt, business tourism marketing & subvention manager, Visit Manchester (LP).

What size/value is the MICE sector in your city? CC: "The MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) sector is a huge economic driver for the UK and for London. In 2009 over 6. 6m people came to the UK to hold business events and meetings that accounts for 22% of the UK's overall tourism figures. Business visitors in 2009 spent a total of £3. 7bn. Looking at just the capital, in 2009 2. 5m business visitors came to meet and hold events in London. Those business visitors spent a record £3. 6bn, so it's an important and very valued sector for the UK's capital. "LP: "Manchester's profile as a leading MICE destination has experienced a meteoric rise in recent years and contributes significantly to the local economy. Recent research indicates that in 2009, conferences and business tourism generated £573m for the city. This figure represents the income to businesses from the 4. 2m delegates attending 56, 900 business events held at over 250 conference venues. Of those delegates, 2m stayed overnight, providing a valuable source of revenue for the city's hotel industry. High profile events like the Labour and Conservative political party conferences and Soccerex European Forum have become a regular feature of the city's calendar and we hope to increase the value of the sector as new events are secured for the city year–round. "What is your city (or country) doing to grow the sector further? CC: "Business tourism is incredibly important for the UK and in particular for London. At Visit London (the official tourist body for the city) our role as the Convention Bureau is to ensure that we do as much as possible to support the MICE sector coming in to London. Visit London offers business visitors free and impartial advice on planning any type of event in the capital from 10 people up to 10, 000. The team at Visit London offers a whole business tourism offer that can mean anything from advice and venue searching to liasing with suppliers and offering a full event solution–so making it easy to bring a business event to London. With the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy spurring on more regeneration and development in the capital, London now has the opportunity to make its mark as the world's leading centre for business tourism. The city is investing huge amounts of money into Business Tourism to improve our overall global offering. This year saw the launch of London's first ICC (International Convention Centre) at ExCeL London and this adds to the thousands of established conference and business facilities London already has. In a recent piece of Visit London research it was found that there is over £11bn worth of investment taking place across the city in the lead up to 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The investment being driven into the capital includes new business venues, new hotels, improved and new travel and transport and numerous regeneration programmes. The amount of investment really does reflect a long–term confidence in a city that can be experienced by business visitors and events organisers in the run up to, during and after the 2012 Olympic Games. "LP: "Manchester is very proactive in its approach and we utilise several channels to grow this sector. One of the greatest areas for potential growth exists within the European, international and national association markets so a lot of the work that our business tourism team do is geared towards growing these markets. Our Conference Ambassador Programme, which is a partnership between Visit Manchester, the city's four universities and the academic, medical and professional communities, is also central to the further development of this sector. Our ambassadors play a crucial role in promoting Manchester as a world–class conference destination to the associations, societies and professional bodies with which they are affiliated. We work closely with them offering free practical support in bidding to host a conference in Manchester. This year we have also worked closely with our member venues and the Meetings Industry Association to ensure that all venues featured in Manchester's 2011 Conference and Exhibition Guide are AIM Accredited (Accredited in Meetings). This reinforces Manchester's commitment to delivering meetings and events that are of an exceptional quality. We also attend trade events such as IMEX, EIBTM and International Confex, hold familiarisation trips and showcase events which enable conference buyers and events organisers to meet with Manchester's hotels, conference venues and event suppliers. "Why should a convention come to you and what would they expect if they do? CC: "London's strength with the MICE sector is its world–class variety, when business travellers choose London they are choosing a world–class city which delivers on experience and on value for money, offering an array of unique and unusual venues and activities. The choice and diversity in London is unsurpassed, nowhere else offers such a mix of leading venues, hospitality, culture, high–quality service and events knowledge. More than 50 major international communities have made London their home and the fact that more than 300 different languages are spoken in the capital just highlights why so many businesses choose London to bring their meeting or event to. London is consistently voted as the leading business destination. It's a city that has business in its DNA; it has long provided inspiration to some of history's most eminent scientists, mathematicians, engineers, artist and athletes. More than half of the UK's top 100 listed companies (the FTSE 100) and over 100 of Europe's 500 largest companies are headquartered in central London–so it's also a globally recognised hub of business. London is also one of the most accessible cities on the planet. Five international airports handle a steady stream of flights and have fast, direct train services linking them to the city centre. "LP: "Manchester has a proven track record of staging world–class events, from sporting to cultural, and is firmly established on the worldwide convention and events stage as a leading business destination. The city's beguiling mix of historical importance, architecture, culture, an unrivalled range of meeting and incentive options provides delegates with an experience that never fails to exceed expectations. It is a city that has roots in ancient history, but is one of the most progressive cities in the UK. Manchester is wonderfully cosmopolitan and yet retains its own unique character. Award–winning Manchester is an outstanding destination that can accommodate all events from the most simple to the most demanding. The city offers an abundance of quality venues and accommodation for up to 19, 000 delegates. Modern, purpose–built meeting and exhibition facilities contrast with elegant refurbished Victorian buildings and dramatic out of the ordinary venues; whatever your requirements Manchester will provide the ideal back–drop for your event. At the heart of the city you'll find a dedicated conference quarter which houses a Convention Complex offering 12, 250 sq m of exhibition space and meeting facilities for up to 9, 000 delegates. The Convention Complex is surrounded by an array of hotels and venues providing 2500 bedrooms and additional conference and meeting facilities. Situated centrally in mainland Britain, Manchester has a population of 2. 5m and is one of the largest economic regions outside London. Its central location makes it one of most accessible cities in the UK. Manchester Airport serves over 200 worldwide destinations and is only 20 minutes from the city centre and Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station has fast, frequent services across the country. Getting around the city–region could not be easier thanks to an excellent transport infrastructure. Manchester's compact size makes it a great walking city; a stroll across the city takes little over 20 minutes allowing delegates to experience all that Manchester has to offer with ease. Friendliness, quality and service are central to the city's approach and visitors are guaranteed to be welcomed, inspired and assured of a exceptional convention in Manchester. "How much accommodation is available to convention visitors? CC: "London is a city which is able to offer a vast array of accommodation which will suit any size of group. From the uber cool and luxurious to the decedent and historical hotels which have been welcoming celebrities and royalty for many years; stylish and quirky hotels with an English boutique–air about them, to state–of–the–art, London's hotels are able to combine luxurious accommodation with contemporary meeting and conference spaces. By 2012, there will also be 13, 300 new hotel rooms available, giving the UK capital a total of 123, 000 bedrooms. Visit London also launched the first ever London Accommodation Charter for large conventions. The charter has been signed by over 12 major hotel groups. The hotel groups represent over 39, 598 bedrooms hotel rooms in London, which is approximately 39% of the overall bedrooms available in the capital (there are approximately 100, 000 hotel bedrooms in London at the moment). The charter has been created to simplify the process of sourcing London hotel rooms for events that require 1, 000 beds or more. "LP: "There are over 6, 500 hotel rooms in the city centre–with 6, 000 being within a 10 minute walk from the Convention Complex–and over 20, 000 across the Manchester city–region. Whether delegates prefer five–star luxury, country house hospitality, boutique chic, the convenience of a serviced apartment, or an airport hotel, Manchester can accommodate. "What is your technology infrastructure relating to the MICE sector? CC: "London is luckily enough to be home for some of the biggest technology companies and providers in the world. Our conference venues and hotels are equipped with the latest technology and as the next Olympic host city of course there is a real drive to make London the most innovative and multimedia rich city in the world. "LP: "Manchester holds the UK's second internet exchange and has a number of data centres connected to the rest of the world. As a result the city boasts super–fast broadband which can be accessed in hotels, conference centres and meeting venues. Wi–Fi hotspots are available, so visitors can connect to the internet at the airport, in restaurants, coffee shops and public spaces across the city. The city's technology infrastructure of is set to become more cutting–edge with the arrival of MediaCityUK, the UK's first purpose–built 'city within in a city' dedicated to the media. MediaCityUK will be connected to one of the most advanced communications networks in the world, with super–fast high–capacity bandwidth delivering some of the UK's fastest data and file transfer speeds and its benefits will reach far beyond the site's boundaries. "What can your city offer business travellers when they want to unwind from the actual conference/exhibitions? CC: "For most business visitors, part of the attraction of London is the almost endless list of fantastic downtime activities, from sight–seeing to shopping to eating out. Around every corner of London visitors will find new and exciting options–it's a city of choice, with music, theatre and museums. One evening business visitors could be listening to the latest opera at the Royal Opera House and the next they could be sitting in the legendary Dover Street Jazz cafÉ€€, listening to the hushed sounds of a mellow saxophone player. In terms of theatre, guests can become a 'groundling' and watch one of Shakespeare's plays just as in olden days at the famous Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Or they can be dazzled by the glitz and glamour of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's show–stopping musicals. Visitors are also spoilt for choice when it comes to art, exhibitions and museums; there is a range of exhibits to view, from the contemporary at places like Tate Modern, to the stunning and historical with world–renowned exhibitions at the beautifully curated V&A Museum. The city also boasts more than 40, 000 shops including Europe's largest retail complex Westfield London and the soon to be open Westfield Stratford, 48 Michelin–starred restaurants, more than 6, 000 restaurants offering menus from 70 major country cuisines, 300 museums and galleries (17 of which offer free entry), 150 theatres, 147 parks, more than 10, 000 bars and clubs and four World Heritage sites (Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Maritime Greenwich and the Houses of Parliament). "LP: "Unwinding in Manchester has never been difficult, although choosing what to do could pose a challenge! The city offers an endless choice of entertainment and leisure options. With a calendar of city festivals and events covering everything from literature, poetry, comedy to gay culture and jazz there's always something to do in Manchester. The city's theatre and arts venues play host to West End shows and world–premier performances of ballet, opera and much more. Meanwhile entrance to the majority of Manchester's museums and galleries is free. This includes the Imperial War Museum North, Museum of Science and Industry, The People's History Museum, The Lowry, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery. . Adding to Manchester's rich cultural offering, the 2011 Manchester International Festival will present original new performances across the spectrum of popular culture, performing arts, music and visual arts to culture–hungry delegates. Manchester's sporting heritage is legendary. Delegates can watch one the of the city four premiership football teams, which include Manchester United and Manchester City and cricket fans can take in a match at Lancashire County Cricket Club. Adrenaline seekers can make a lap at the Manchester Velodrome, home of the British Olympic cycling team, zip–line through the tree–tops, enjoy the thrills of the slopes at an indoor real snow venue or play golf at one of the city–region's indoor driving ranges and outdoor courses. For those who prefer to take things at a more relaxed pace the city–region offers beautiful countryside, picturesque towns, stately homes and scenic waterways. "Are you excited about the future of the MICE sector in your city? CC: "We're extremely excited. There is no doubt that the 2012 Olympic Games have created a sense of excitement and ambition not seen in London for generations. Even for a majestic city like London that rarely stands still, the number of new openings, refurbishments and regeneration projects are truly astounding – there really has never been a better time to consider bringing conference and business events into the UK's capital. "LP: "Absolutely! Manchester's offer is forever evolving. This has never been more evident than in the number of hotel, conference and leisure developments opening across the city–region in the next year, which will help the city to hold an increased number of conferences and events. This includes EventCity, a new 25, 000 sq m events and exhibition space, the National Football Museum, MediaCity and a 192 bed Holiday Inn Express. Manchester will be hosting high–profile events that will be watched by the world such as the 2012 Olympic Games football matches and some of the Rugby World Cup 2015 games, all of which will help to strengthen Manchester's position as one of the world's most dynamic MICE destinations. "For further information please visit:http://www. visitlondon. com/businesshttp://www. visitmanchester. com/conference

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