VisitEngland, the country’s national tourist board, revealed what will shape England’s meetings and incentives industry in 2014.
Increasingly, event planners are looking for unique spaces to hold conferences, meetings and events. This year has seen even religious buildings diversify by opening their doors to corporates – St. Mary’s church in Nottingham underwent a refurbishment and is now available for event hire. Historic houses are branching out too: Carlton Towers stately home in Yorkshire launched Downton Dinners allowing corporates to dine in the style of Downton Abbey while Leeds Castle in Kent launched Knights Glamping in its grounds for away days with a difference.
Next year, more religious buildings are set to enter the conference scene. To celebrate its centenary, Sheffield Cathedral is embarking on a complete renovation project, which will see the city’s only medieval building transformed for events catering up to 400 with state-of-the-art technology. Continuing with the religious theme, Manchester’s Albert Hall, a chapel that dates back to 1910, will be transformed into a live music and conference venue. Former convent, Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire, which has been transformed into a stunning conference venue, will see a further 50 bedrooms and additional event space added in summer 2014.
The £5million project to revamp Brighton’s main rail station was unveiled this month. Improvements to the station include a remodeled concourse providing more space with twice as many automatic ticket gates, a new travel center and ticket office, a new passenger lounge and café and a wider selection of retail units.
From March 2014, there will also be a new cycle hub. 2014 will see key destinations become more accessible than ever before, paving the way for an influx of visitors. Heathrow Airport will open Terminal 2 in June, a £2.5 billion facility that will eventually serve 20 million passengers each year. In other airport news, Birmingham’s runway extension is set for completion in spring 2014. The £200 million program will place Los Angeles, Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore in direct access.
Back to nature
More than ever event organizers are looking for venues that take delegates outside of the boardroom and into a more natural environment to stimulate creative thinking. 2013 saw corporates brainstorming alongside a troop of baboons at the Monkey Playhouse in Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Tipis on Brighton beach and Bear Grylls’ new survival academy offering the ultimate teambuilding courses to the corporate market.
The nature theme is set to continue next year with London’s newest skyscraper, 20 Fenchurch St., opening the Sky Garden. This upside down garden in the sky concept will span three floors, host up to 540 guests, and house a Champagne bar, Brasserie and Seafood Bar & Grill. Also opening next year is The Blackburn Wing at Bowcliffe Hall in Leeds; the treehouse-inspired wooden hangar offering unusual views through the trees to parkland through its floor to ceiling windows will offer seating for up to 80 theatre-style and 140 for drinks receptions. Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery will reopen with a state-of-the-art extension further into the park, housing a first floor ‘café in the trees’ and a ground floor learning studio that will open on to the art garden.
Budget accommodation newcomers: Poshtels and space-age hubs
Poshtels, meaning posh hostels, are new on the accommodation scene and offer the business traveler wallet-friendly accommodation in surprisingly comfortable surroundings. The YHA has recently spent over £10million on refurbishments, creating not just private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, but bridal suites with roll-top baths, four-poster beds and even on-site art galleries. YHA York now boasts a 6 foot art installation and also has private meeting rooms available for hire.
Elsewhere on the poshtel scene, Hoax is a new luxury hostel brand that launched in Liverpool in July to rave reviews. Hoax is a choice for meetings and events on a budget: Hatch, the live music space on-site, comes complete with an art exhibition and bar all available for private hire for up to 250, and Hopskotch, the hostel’s street kitchen and bar, popular with local businesses, offers a relaxed atmosphere with floor-to-ceiling windows, so plenty of natural daylight for meetings over lunch. Finally, the new Safestay Hostel in London’s Elephant & Castle, awarded 4 stars in VisitEngland’s accommodation quality assurance scheme, is situated in an18th Century Georgian building, formerly the Labour Party Headquarters. Safestay, one of a series to open across London over the next three years, features private twin rooms, heated garden terrace, library and bar to unwind in.
Other 2014 budget accommodation contenders are Qbic and Hub by Premier Inn, which both offer design over space. Qbic is a new kind of hotel that offers a futuristic take on the budget hotel; designed in tune with their location, rooms are basic consisting of the ‘cubi’ – a bed, bathroom, toilet and TV, which come as a modular unit. There’s also a power shower, free Wi-Fi, space to conduct business meetings in the lounge, and food is sourced from a local organization that also provides food for the needy and homeless.
Qbic London City opens next week with rooms starting at £59; the brand plans to roll out nationally over the next few years. Also on the budget scene and new for next year is the Hub by Premier Inn. At 11.4 sq.m, the Hub is tipped to be the most space efficient hotel and will be the country’s first hotel where the rooms can be remote controlled using a smart phone app. Guests will be able to check in online and control the room’s lighting and temperature as well as what is on the radio/TV when they arrive. The Hub St Martins Lane will open in summer 2014 with other major city center locations to follow.
A recent survey by VisitEngland revealed that nearly 76 percent of Englanders want to dine at restaurants serving local dishes. Locally sourced food is becoming increasingly popular in the corporate world too, and it ticks the corporate social responsibility (CSR) box. There are new openings on the hyper-local gastro scene next year, many of which fall into the ‘gastrotel’ (gastronomic hotels) category, which is handy for meetings bookers looking for accommodation close-by.
The Pig, currently consisting of two “restaurants with rooms” in the New Forest and Southampton, will expand with new properties in Bath (February 2014) and Studland, Dorset (May 2014), both of which will offer the renowned 25-mile menu. Heckfield Place, a manor house hotel in Hampshire, has been reunited with its 330 acre farm, which means its restaurant – overseen by Skye Gyngell, of Petersham Nurseries fame – will be stocked with hyperlocal produce when it opens in spring next year. And drink connoisseurs will be pleased to know that a whisky distillery will open in Cumbria next year. The Lakes Distillery, housed in a secluded former Victorian model farm in the Lake District, will produce the first ever British blended Cumbrian malt whisky.
Following last year’s Olympic success, 2014 sees a huge number of major sports tournaments to consider when planning conferences, corporate hospitality and incentives. The Tour de France returns to the UK in July for three stages. The Yorkshire Grand Depart comprises two stages – Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield – before the Tour moves south for a third stage from Cambridge to London. In the same month, the Royal Liverpool Golf Club will host The Open Championship, often referred to as The British Open. The event is the oldest of the four major championships in professional golf and is the only major held outside the U.S. Returning events included Wimbledon, Royal Ascot and Henley Royal Regatta.
2014 sees a spate of sports venue developments too. The Lee Valley VeloPark opens in March, allowing access to its four cycling disciplines (track, BMX, road and mountain biking) and offering a great incentive or team-building opportunity. The Belfry – host to more Ryder Cup matches than any other venue in the world – will complete £26m resort enhancements; the extensive works will see improvements to its 318 bedrooms and 22 conference and meeting rooms. Finally, Hotel Football opens on the doorstep of Old Trafford next year. The concept by GG Hospitality (Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs) is designed to be a fresh, contemporary venue using subtle references to football throughout, with a functioning rooftop pitch and conference and banqueting facilities.