A new conference fund and £2bn of investment in tourism infrastructure is helping Scotland punch above its weight as an international conferencing and events destination. The £2m 'Conference Bid Fund', unveiled by the Scottish Government earlier this year, will help Scottish cities and destinations compete for international conferences linked to key sectors including life sciences, food and drink, creative industries and energy
A new conference fund and £2bn of investment in tourism infrastructure is helping Scotland punch above its weight as an international conferencing and events destination.
The £2m 'Conference Bid Fund', unveiled by the Scottish Government earlier this year, will help Scottish cities and destinations compete for international conferences linked to key sectors including life sciences, food and drink, creative industries and energy.
"We join the likes of Hong Kong, Vienna, Vancouver and Washington in supporting our business tourism industry in this way," said Scottish Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing when the fund was announced. "The fund will help attract high-yield, high-spend international conferences linked to Scotland's areas of expertise in industry, commerce or science and medicine. It will build on the great success that Scotland already has in this area and boost our economy in the process."
Lindsay Brown, UK marketing manager for VisitScotland's Business Tourism Unit, adds that the 'staggering' level of capital investment in new tourism product currently is helping to put Scotland on the map internationally.
Highlights include the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum at Dundee, which will be an international centre of design for Scotland when it opens in 2015, and the opening in 2014 of the Scottish Hydro Arena in Glasgow, the UK's second biggest after the O2 in London. Other developments include the extension of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre - adding a further 2000 sq m of function space - and the refurbishment of Edinburgh's 18th century, Grade A-listed Assembly Rooms, due to reopen this summer. This follows the opening last year of another three flagship venues: Glasgow's Riverside Museum and the National Museum of Scotland and Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
"Over the next three years Scotland has a series of themed years and world-class events - the 'Winning Years' - which will provide an unrivalled opportunity to capitalise on some of the biggest events in the world coming to or impacting on Scotland," says Brown. "This year will see the launch of the new Disney-Pixar animation, Brave, which will bring to life Scotland's dynamic landscapes and inspire people to visit. The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is not only stimulating increased infrastructure investment, but will also put Scotland on the global map. The return to Scotland for the first time since 1973 of the Ryder Cup in 2014, which will be hosted at Gleneagles, further underlines Scotland's credentials as the true home of golf with over 550 golf courses to choose from."
Minutes from Gleneagles and some of Scotland's most famous golf courses is the five-star Cairn Lodge & Hotel at Auchterarder, part of the Aurora Hotel Collection, an exclusive portfolio of luxury hotels across central Scotland. Opening this month, the Cairn is a Victorian hunting lodge that has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment. The hotel has ten luxury bedrooms and the lodge house, which has four bedrooms, can be hired on an exclusive use basis. Set in acres of landscaped grounds, the Cairn will appeal to those organising corporate golf days or team-building and away days - with a wide range of outdoor activities available nearby.
"It's an ideal place to stay if you're organising any corporate away days or a golf package at Gleneagles," says Aurora chief executive Steven McLeod. "The Grill Room restaurant is one of the few venues in the UK to feature a Josper Grill, the latest oven to take the culinary world by storm and acclaimed by world renowned chefs including Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver. Or at the lodge house, you can take advantage of our five-star hotel services, or cater for yourself in the state-of-the art kitchen."
Aurora's other hotels include Airth Castle Hotel near Falkirk; Glenbervie House & e Coach House, Larbert; Solsgirth House by Dollar; the vestar Hotel Colessio in Stirling which is due to open this autumn; and The Kenmore Hotel & Kenmore Luxury Lodges - a traditional hotel and ve luxury lodges on the banks of the River Tay.
For a taste of Scotland's history, The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh combines Victorian and Georgian splendour with the pioneering spirit of e Enlightenment. Its meeting spaces include the 1870s New Library, where a vast number of books - some hundreds of years old - ll oor-to-ceiling wooden cabinets. ere is also the lavish Great Hall, with its stately grand pillars and impressive Greek statues, and the Georgian Cullen Suite, part of one of the earliest New Town houses in Edinburgh.
Alongside these historic spaces is the Queen Mother Conference Centre, one of the largest purpose-built lecture theatres in Edinburgh, with room for 300 delegates in tiered seating and a range of modern audiovisual facilities supported by the venue's AV team. is mix of old and new helped it secure a finalist ranking in the Best Unusual Venue category at last year's Scottish Event Awards.
"We're a hidden gem in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, offering a unique venue for all kinds of occasions," explains the venue's marketing adviser Fiona Melvin-Farr. "We have an unusual combination of breathtaking historic spaces and modern conferencing and meeting facilities, providing a backdrop that lends itself superbly to film productions, fashion shoots, media launches and other events."
Forty five per cent of business is from returning clients, with recent and forthcoming events including the Publishing Scotland Annual Conference, an annual Breast Cancer Institute event, Law Society of Scotland dinner and 'World Cycle Challenge' talk by the renowned adventurer Mark Beaumont.
On the south side of the capital, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh offers three distinct venues plus a 78-bedroom hotel. The Playfair building, dating back to 1832, is home to the famous surgical museums and library, housing collections of international importance, and is available for meetings, private dining and gala dinners. The Symposium Hall, formerly St Michael's Church, is a 158-seat tiered auditorium used for conferences, AGMs and lectures, while the Quincentenary Hall is a modern purpose-built conference centre, with a plenary space for up to 250 delegates, three breakout rooms and a multi-functional reception area. Conferences for up to 1900 can also be housed in Edinburgh's Festival Theatre auditorium across the road.
The Royal College's on-site Edinburgh hotel, Ten Hill Place Hotel, was awarded the Gold Award in Green Business Tourism and Eco Hotel of the Year 2010.
"We can offer conference facilities, private dining and accommodation all in the one venue, reducing the need for delegate transportation," explains marketing manager Moira Walker. "Pro ts from the hotel and from events and functions held on the college's premises are invested back into supporting the activities of the college and its fellows and members around the world. Surgeons trained and assessed through the college here in Edinburgh bring life-saving and life-changing skills to all corners of the globe."
Recent events included a conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Lord Joseph Lister, the inventor of antiseptic. Other key markets for the college include government, corporate, European incentives and leisure including weddings.
With clients seeking optimum value for money, the Society has reviewed its 'Good Company' corporate membership, introducing .
At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh, UK sales manager Mark van der Vijver identifes three unique selling points for event planners: "Firstly, there's our rare and exclusive single cask, single malt whiskies; then our entertaining and engaging Society Whisky Ambassadors - connoisseurs and advocates of the Society who have an immense knowledge and experience of whisky; and thirdly, our pretty unique whisky themed events.
"It might be a paranormal-themed whisky dinner hosted by a character in full 1800s dress telling you about the spirited history of the underground vaults during a candlelit whisky tasting, followed by a private dinner upstairs, through to whisky and golf packages. We can wrap our whisky and ambassadors into pretty much anything, and everything is tailored and bespoke to what the client needs."
Additional savings on corporate entertaining rates and a company 'share card' that can be passed around anyone in the member business looking to use the society's venues. Van der Vijver says this has resulted in 30 per cent growth in corporate membership.
More than 65 people can be seated in the society's exclusive Members' Room lounge in The Vaults, or 90 for a standing reception.
Crie Hydro caters for corporate events from six to 600 and has 12 different meeting rooms, 215 bedrooms, 38 five-star lodges, a spa and over 60 on-site activities. These range from giant chess, croquet and mini Highland games to orienteering, archery and air rifles.
Recent events include Miss World 2011, with 120 contestants competing in the hotel's Highland Games challenge last October, and the International Tug of War Championships, with 790 competitors and trainers representing more than 20 di erent nations.
Around s40m of investment over the last ten years has included the development of eight new boutique-style 'Signature' bedrooms and two flexible meeting spaces with state of the art technology.
"We offer a full event service," explains marketing manager Geo Morrison. "From the minute an organiser picks up the phone they have a dedicated event co-ordinator working with them over the lead up to their meeting or function. There's then a seamless handover to a dedicated event manager who will go through final details, meet on arrival and provide a direct dial mobile phone so help is on hand should they require it at any point during their stay. Should an organiser not be able to visit the hotel to see facilities for themselves, we'll also happily come to their office beforehand to discuss requirements."
Companies are increasingly looking for added value when booking venues, whether it's free upgrades, the addition of team building packages or pre-dinner cocktail making, Morrison adds. While public sector business and national annual conferences are shrinking in delegate numbers, the hotel has seen an increase in private sector team building events.
The Roxburghe Hotel in Kelso has the only championship golf course in the Borders - the fifth top inland course in Scotland and home to the Scottish Senior Open for five years. Other activities on the estate include salmon fishing, mountain-biking, riding and shooting for pheasant, partridge and grouse.
Owned by the Duke of Roxburghe, the hotel sits on the banks of the River Teviot and has 22 bedrooms, some of them individually designed by the Duchess of Roxburghe and featuring four-poster beds and log fires. Other personal touches include wines hand-picked by the Duke and furnishings and paintings from the family home.
"We pride ourselves that nothing is 'off the shelf' and everything is unique and personal," says manager Duncan Evans. "The championship golf course is naturally a very popular draw for corporate golf days and corporate entertaining, but the hotel itself is increasingly attractive to groups who need somewhere unique but are unwilling to go down the five-star route."
The hotel can host up to 60 theatre style in the conservatory and 52 in the clubhouse, with the capacity for marquees for larger events in partnership with local providers. Land Rover recently booked the hotel exclusively for 11 days to showcase its new Defender model, hosting around 200 visitors.
The four-star Landmark Hotel in Dundee was named Dundee Hotel of the Year 2011 and was awarded an AA Rosette for culinary excellence in the same year. A modernised and extended nineteenth century mansion house, it is set in four acres of woodland which includes a walled garden.
Meeting facilities include the Landmark Suite - a purpose-built conference centre with a capacity of up to 100 and three separate meeting rooms - and the Dargie Suite, a traditional room with high ceilings and natural lighting based in the Old Mansion House. This also houses the Greystanes Suite, a smaller room that was the original chapel of the family home. The hotel has free WiFi in all public areas and complimentary parking.
General manager Richard Ellison describes the venue's key selling points as location - on Scotland's major A90 arterial route - space, quality of food and presentation, plus complimentary mod cons such as air-conditioned meeting rooms and wifi. "Our customers are looking for efficiency of planning and service with an end result being a very professional meeting that was painless to facilitate," he says. "The special events are looking for inspiration but more importantly a high level of confidence in both the venue and team that their event will be delivered successfully. The trends are definitely geared towards efficiency. Less cluttered meeting rooms and refreshment breakouts also offer something a little different."
Edinburgh's George Hotel, dating back to 1775, recently completed a s20m refurbishment and describes its offering as 'nineteenth-century grandeur with WiFi'. Its nine flexible event spaces include the new fifth floor 'Panorama' meeting room with stunning Forth and Edinburgh Castle views from the outdoor terrace, and the Kings Hall, which can host events ranging in capacity from 100 to 300 delegates. Designed in 1879, it features grand classical pillars and a 'wedding cake' corniced ceiling.
The George was recently named the UK's number one hotel for conferences, banquets and weddings in a poll of 24,000 customers across 350 UK venues by online customer survey VenueVerdict. "Only 18 venues out of 350 were given Gold Standard Accreditation this year and we are extremely pleased to be one of them," says general manager David Welch.
"We have hosted everything from high level government seminars to prestigious banquets. This year we'll host more than 60 weddings along with events as diverse as a major accountancy conference from Ireland and a major European meeting for bedding manufacturers. We also host a large number of functions and parties around the Christmas period with 200 guests at our annual Kings Hall Hogmanay Ball."
Set in the heart of Royal Deeside in the Cairngorms National Park 40 minutes from Aberdeen, the Glen Tanar Estate extends to more than 25,000 acres and offers some of Scotland's most stunning scenery. The Manchester merchant banker and MP, Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, helped shape the estate in the nineteenth century, building a tower, chapel, houses, landscaped gardens and the Victorian Ballroom, which is a focal point for conferences and events.
It has 600 stag antlers mounted on the ceiling and can accommodate up to 170 guests, but can also be adapted for more intimate events. A marquee can be set up on the lawn in front of the ballroom for larger groups. Outdoor activities on offer include walks, cycling, riding and trout and salmon fishing.
"Many of our clients tell us about the difficulty they have in finding a venue that is unusual enough to attract delegates while still managing to meet the requirements of the event," says Glen Tanar Estate event manager Jane Lees. "We're extremely fortunate to have the fantastic scenery, outdoor pursuits, ballroom and accommodation all in one stunning venue. The scenery also has an added benefit in that it is very inspiring - perfect for seminars, training sessions and conferences where some creativity is required.
"We have an excellent events team here, and they are truly passionate about what they do. They don't just work here, they also live in the glen so they take a lot of pride in showing off their home and making visitors feel welcome."
IN FOCUS: EICC International Conference Centre (EICC)
EDINBURGH International Conference Centre (EICC) is less than a year away from unveiling its £30m expansion.
The new 2000 sq m, multi-purpose hall is entering its internal t-out phase with the installation of a unique hall-wide moving floor system well advanced. The main advantage of the new space is that it can be transformed from at floored exhibition space to tiered theatre and arena set-ups in a fraction of the time required in conventional halls.
"Key International Association customers have already completed 'hard hat' tours of the space they have booked for next year and we will be hosting many more prospective corporate and association visitors in the months ahead", says EICC head of sales and marketing Louise Andrew.
EICC's expansion will extend the venue's current capacity from 2000 to 3000 delegates and feature new breakout areas, a café, office accommodation and a new front atrium.
In focus: Factfile
Key information about business tourism in Scotland
2.8 million business trips were made to Scotland in 2010 (up 13 per cent on 2009).
Business tourism is worth s809m to Scotland, a fifth of total tourism expenditure.
Spend per night by business visitors is 1.5 times higher than that of leisure.
Enquiry levels are up 34 per cent and value by 20 per cent over the year.
USA, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland account for the largest volumes of business tourism to Scotland.
23 per cent of all International Association conferences held in the UK are hosted by Scotland.