Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is a senior partner in a high profile UK company. He was lamenting the fact that to get staff to the firm’s annual conference it is cheaper to fly them from their regional airports to somewhere like Dublin or Paris than it is to send them by second class rail to, say, Birmingham. He is desperate to run the event in the UK but the cost involved just doesn’t stack.
I now have the pleasure of informing him that should he wish to run his conference in Nottingham he will be able to take advantage of special rates that the city has agreed with Midland Mainline.
This agreement is symbolic of a number of initiatives that the Nottingham convention bureau has introduced over the last couple of years as part of a reasonably aggressive campaign aimed at getting the city positioned in the minds of organisers and visitors as a first class and first choice events destination.
It seems to be working for in the last couple of years the city has seen an extraordinary rise in visitors to events with the Nottingham Arena alone seeing a 55 per cent increase in visitors in the last year.
John Healy, chief executive of Experience Nottingham, says the growth has been due to what he describes as a ‘vigorous’ marketing campaign that has seen the city promote itself both as a business and leisure destination.
As with many successful destinations, in Nottingham there is significant involvement from the stakeholders.
“We have 253 commercial members and whether it’s a small B&B or a large conference venue they are eager to see a good return on their investment,” he says. “It makes you very disciplined, you’re certainly not going to do anything daft when you have 253 people watching you, it makes you very focused on the sort of exposure you’re giving them.”
Healy is clear about why this is happening.
“We are wanting to become a leading UK destination for both conferences and short breaks,” he says. “We want to climb up the league table of cities hosting national and international events and make a significant impact on the national scene.”
One of the venues that will play a key roll in this development is Nottingham Arena. Sales and marketing director, Julie Warren, thinks the venue is well positioned, both physically and commercially to take advantage of the city’s continuing rise in popularity.
“We’re in a unique position,” she says. “The arena is in the centre of Nottingham which is itself in the middle of the country, it’s a real USP for us when we are marketing the venue.”
Warren has had a long career in events, most recently at the Wembley Conference Centre where, naturally enough, she spent time persuading clients that London was the place in which to hold their events.
Now that she has moved 120-odd miles north, Warren is now selling the virtues of Nottingham. Is this, I wonder, something that comes easily or does she do it simply because the job demands it?
“Not in the slightest,” she replies. “I have to admit that as a typical southerner I didn’t really know too much about the place but as I have got to know Nottingham I have to say that it is an absolutely brilliant city. We have a superb events infrastructure and this is supported by great bars, restaurants and shopping and other entertainment, all in the centre of the city within a few minutes walk of each other.”
Warren points out that it is precisely the sort of unawareness that she had about Nottingham that she now has to deal with among many of her potential clients. Along with so many destination and venue bosses around the UK, Warren finds that once people come to the city and have a look around it is then relatively easy to do the deal. The major challenge is to get them there in the first place.
“Yes, it is a challenge but a very exciting one at that,” she says. “At the moment we are telling people how we are the best kept secret in the UK and it’s very thrilling to see the reaction when people come here and realise that Nottingham would be ideal for their events.”
In my introduction to this UK tour I said that I was hoping to meet people who were passionate about what they were doing. I’m delighted to find that my friends in Nottingham seem to be highly motivated about what they’re doing and where they want to be in a few years time.
If enthusiasm were everything they will achieve their goals. However, there are plenty of other destinations around the UK that have similar desires and we’ll be paying them a call over the next few months. For now, it seems that my first, negative, impression of Nottingham was misguided and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to going there again.