EN takes a look at five exhibition venues looking to attract more organisers to Scotland with a combination of flexible and new-look spaces, technology, services and support.
The Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. The venue is best known for its focus on energy exhibitions, as the local economy is strongly focused on oil production.
The venue is home to the annual All-Energy show and in September hosts The World Heavy Oil Congress, which is coming to Europe for the first time. The venue was chosen to help bring an offshore technology dimension to the show’s technical programme.
“The AECC and Aberdeen in general focus very heavily not only on the traditional oil and gas markets, but also on the emerging renewable energy market, which is key to the north-east of Scotland’s economy,” said the AECC’s MD Brian Horbsurgh.
“As the national energy exhibition centre, the AECC has a key role to play in bringing educational and varied exhibitions to the area.”
The AECC consists of The Arena and four large halls. The Arena has 7,320sqm of space, followed by the Boyd Orr (1,496sqm), which can be partitioned into two separate halls, (720sqm and 777sqm respectively), the Gordon Suite (559sqm), Crombie Suite (471sqm) and Forbes Suite (252sqm).
The AECC is home to a large variety of exhibitions, ranging from The Skipper Expo for the fishing industry and Subsea UK, to The Scottish Home Show launching in September this year and the annual Your Wedding Exhibition. According to Horbsurgh, the emergence of an increasing number of lifestyle shows throughout the exhibition industry in general has seen the growth of consumer-focused brands throughout the UK.
The venue has also picked up a number of awards including Investors in People, Green Tourism Business Scheme Silver Award, Healthy Eating Award and the Northern Star 2011 Sustainability Award.
Edinburgh Corn Exchange
The Edinburgh Corn Exchange (ECE) sees new events at the venue as partnerships, potentially offering reduced rates in the first year or agreeing to hold rates for a three-year period. Its main space, the Exchange, offers 1,400sqm.
Sales and marketing manager Amanda Wrathall said the venue hosts a variety of exhibitions, although potentially not as many as a traditional exhibition centre. “We believe this point of difference can attract organisers to us, as a more unique venue,” she said.
In the last 12 months, ECE has hosted exhibitions for the snow sports industry, social trade sector, careers expos as well as niche events including the Edinburgh Bead Fair and The Scottish Tattoo Convention. The venue also does a lot of business with specialist exhibitors.
“There seems to be more small exhibition organisers emerging,” Wrathall claimed. “We have been increasingly dealing with individuals who have a particular interest in a field and who decide to use their expertise to start a show or exhibition.
“This is creating a new group of exhibition organisers who are full of enthusiasm and energy, yet perhaps don’t have the traditional experience of arranging successful exhibitions and shows.”
Among recent initiatives to improve its profile was the ECE’s website relaunch, with more consideration given to how exhibition organisers use the site, as well as the public when trying to find out about possible events to attend, Wrathall said.
The venue has also added a ticket purchase option on offer to organisers, allowing for pre-paid web sales via the venue that can include promotional codes and exhibition branding. This is aimed at smaller companies that may not have this facility on their own websites.
Royal Highland Centre
The Royal Highland Centre received planning permission in April for the first stage of a £30m masterplan to redevelop the event complex. Work on the project is expected to start later this year.
Currently, the venue has four halls offering 18,000sqm along with 45 hectares of serviced parkland event space and parking capacity for 20,000 vehicles.
Venue director Archie Glendinning said its indoor and outdoor offering allows for a dynamic mix of exhibition platforms. Recent events include the Scottish Golf Show, Girls Day Out and its latest signing, Edinburgh International Festival.
Glendinning said the venue is working on a number of initiatives to assist organisers holding exhibitions. “We know that to attract business we need to invest to ensure we provide a robust platform for successful events,” he said. “Having hosted one of the most successful VisitScotland expos in April, we have had the chance to review not just our new 60MB Wi-Fi system, but also our catering suppliers, and the feedback has been universally positive.
“The right technology solution is a must, which is why we invested so heavily in ensuring we have a system that can be adapted and upgraded as new technology is developed.”
In addition, the Royal Highland Centre underwent a comprehensive review of exhibition facilities and Glendinning was confident it measures up well against competitors. He noted organisers are relying more on the expertise of people on the ground to stage events as budgets continue to be squeezed.
“Whereas event organisers previously had teams of people who could take control and deliver the event, now they see the event host as playing a vital role in making it happen,” Glendinning said. “We have responded by recruiting more staff, investing in training and having a full package of third-party suppliers on-hand.”
The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) gets a wide range of exhibition business from both trade and consumer organisers, according to sales director Ben Goedegebuure.
The Glasgow venue is looking to develop its events portfolio from the local industry expertise it has on its doorstep including renewables, financial and pharmaceutical, which already brings strong conference business.
“Growing exhibition business in these industries is a big opportunity for us,” said Goedegebuure. “Because of the way the venue is laid out, a lot of exhibition business works with existing conferences and vice versa for those looking to create more of a hybrid experience.”
In terms of consumer business, shows at the venue are broadly split between large brands looking to target the whole of Scotland, such as the Scottish Ideal Home Show and BBC Good Food Show Scotland, or smaller exhibitions hoping to grow in the region. “These are particularly successful as we work with them to target the local population and beyond, an audience with a particular affinity with events,” said Goedegebuure.
“These events are usually niche such as Girls Day Out and The Scottish Golf Show; they have a very specific market they can target with a show that speaks to them.
“This is also not dissimilar in the business environment, where exhibitions target a clear audience on behalf of an industry with particular expertise in Glasgow or Scotland.”
Another key growth opportunity is the SECC’s new Hydro Arena, due to be completed in 2013 at an estimated cost of £125m. The additional facility will host live entertainment and is billed as the biggest development at the venue.
“This is a reaction to the need for exhibitions to build content around education, entertainment or both, offering a complete experience to delegates and more value for visitors,” said Goedegebuure.
Overall, the SECC provides 22,355sqm of exhibition space across five halls. These range in size from 775sqm to 10,065sqm.
Perth Racecourse offers 750sqm of exhibition space in its Nelson Stand. The facility is large enough to hold car launches inside the building and has two floors of exhibition space.
Each floor can hold approximately 25 stands depending on size and the set-up required. Wide access doors in the Betting Hall can facilitate loading for indoor product launches and there is also the facility to run parallel workshops in some of the venue’s other suites.
Among Perth Racecourse’s other selling points are 2,000 free car parking spaces, and separate suites for workshops and seminars, as well as a large outdoor area for additional displays.
The venue recently hosted exhibitions on agriculture, education and leisure including a knitting show and event focused on renewable energy such as electric cars.
In order to get business and assist organisers holding exhibitions at the venue, the venue uses social media and big screen ads on race days to advertise non-race day events.
With the racing fixtures at Perth only accounting for 14 days per year, the venue claims it can offer exhibitors plenty of opportunities to make use of its facilities.
Perth has focused recently on roadshow exhibitions and claims it has the facilities to accommodate such events with its car parking spaces and energy provision for exhibitors.
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