H&E North charts the conferences and events scene in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The West Midlands has long been a favourite for event organisers thanks to its central UK location, large number of bed spaces and the breadth and depth of its venues. These are unprecedented times for the region, with domestic and international visitor numbers at record levels, and the highest proportion of business visits of all UK areas.
Birmingham recently rose five places to 15th – the highest jump of all cities – to maintain its status as the top UK regional destination for events in Cvent’s annual top 25 European meetings destinations. Over the past decade, Birmingham has also consistently been voted one of the best locations outside London to host an association or corporate event by respondents to the British Meetings & Events Industry Survey (BMEIS).
Investing for the Future
This is the West Midlands’ time to shine. The region is experiencing one of the most exciting periods of regeneration and development in recent times. Projects including Birmingham Smithfield; the integrated transport hub at Wolverhampton Interchange; the revamped Cathedral Lanes restaurant quarter in Coventry and the £1.6 billion investment to develop the UK Central site in Solihull to welcome the new HS2 Interchange Station are set to further cement the West Midlands’ reputation as a dynamic, thriving and creative region.
Birmingham Airport – which flies directly to more than 150 destinations – recently launched a masterplan to outline how it will invest £500 million over the next 15 years to redevelop its site, increase capacity and improve the passenger experience.
The cultural spotlight will be on Coventry in 2021, as it follows Derry (2013) and Hull (2017) to become UK City of Culture, promising to transform the area’s reputation forever. Visitors will enjoy a thriving programme of events, including a 2.2-mile Ring Road poem and the screening of the entire works of Shakespeare in iconic locations.
Today, the West Midlands has plenty of choice for event organisers who like an arty backdrop. Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – widely regarded as the jewel in the city’s crown – celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. The venue offers an impressive setting for meetings and events, with its main auditorium seating almost 1,200 across three tiers and a new 200-seat performance space currently known as ‘The Green Room’ set to be developed next door.
One of the UK’s busiest theatres, Birmingham Hippodrome marks 120 years of live performance in 2019. Alongside its 1,850-seat auditorium and its spacious foyers, the theatre has several well-appointed suites, including a 200-seat studio.
Celebrating its second birthday in the autumn, Unique Venues Birmingham is a venture between Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Library of Birmingham. Its portfolio includes three theatrical auditoria, a roof terrace with stunning panoramic views across the city plus the historic Shakespeare Memorial Room.
In a League of its Own
The biggest multi-sport event in the world outside the Olympics comes to Birmingham in 2022, when the city hosts the Commonwealth Games, representing a fantastic opportunity to showcase the very best of the region.
For event organisers wishing to host a meeting at one of the West Midlands’ existing sporting venues, there are plenty of stadia and arenas to ensure it’s a match made in heaven.
Molineux Stadium – home of Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers FC – is now firmly established as one of the largest conference venues in the Black Country. Event spaces include the stunning WV1, offering a capacity of 550 people, and Wolves Museum, one of the few dedicated football club museums in the country, with a breakout room suitable for up to 20 people.
At the Ricoh Arena in Coventry – which will host netball at the 2022 Commonwealth Games – a variety of halls and lounges can cater for events as small as seven delegates, up to as many as 7,000.
Edgbaston Stadium – scene of England’s semi-final success against Australia, which led to ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 glory in the final three days later – can host up to 800 in its Exhibition Hall. Other meeting rooms include the 1882 Suite and the Chairman’s Lounge.
The West Midlands currently has 103 hotel developments – comprising more than 8,000 rooms – in the pipeline, 19 of which are currently under construction.
The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel officially opened its new bedrooms this year, following a multimillion-pound investment, bringing the total number of bedrooms to 20. Since launching five years ago, the venue boasts one of the most recognised cocktail bars in the country and is renowned nationally for its afternoon tea.
Opening in 2020, the former Royal Angus hotel in Birmingham’s Snow Hill district will be refurbished into a DoubleTree by Hilton, following a £25 million investment.
A 224-bedroom Moxy Hotel is also due to open in the second half of 2019. Based at the NEC campus in Solihull, the eight-storey hotel will give delegates a new choice when coming to the region for events and exhibitions, and to sample the area’s leisure offer, which includes the nearby Bear Grylls Adventure and Resorts World Birmingham.
Among the new accommodation launches in 2020 is the eagerly awaited reopening of Birmingham’s Grand Hotel. The Grade II listed building, occupying a prominent position on the city’s prestigious Colmore Row, will include a destination restaurant and bars, gym facilities and an external feature terrace.
Interstate is developing a new 195-bedroom Aloft Hotel, featuring a restaurant, cocktail bar, gym and purpose-built conference venue ‘the eastside rooms’ – which will be the city’s largest pillar-free banqueting space, capable of seating 1,200 delegates.
A Quality Lifestyle Offer
More than three-quarters of the West Midlands is rural. Its waterways are popular for recreational activities. Nicola Hewitt, Commercial Director for the West Midlands Growth Company – which aims to attract business tourism events to the region – said:
“From getting behind the wheel of one of the region’s most recognisable vehicles at the Land Rover Experience in Solihull to fabulous street food at Digbeth Dining Club or at one of our seven Michelin-starred restaurants, the West Midlands’ lifestyle offer lends itself to a host of incentive travel opportunities for event delegates.
“People are drawn to the area’s culinary reputation, retail offering, global sporting events and an arts and heritage scene, which includes Shakespeare’s Birthplace. We encourage event organisers to get in touch with us to discover how the West Midlands’ visitor offer can complement their conference experience.”