Jennifer Young, Head of ConferenceLeeds writes for H&E North about why it has become a top conference destination for the north.
ConferenceLeeds is celebrating yet another positive year for Leeds, with the city being named one of the top two conferencing destinations in the north of England in the recent British Meetings and Events Industry survey (BMEIS) 2017. Leeds also hosted a record number of international association meetings in 2016 according to the International Convention and Congress Association (ICCA) statistics report, with the city improving its position in the rankings by 149 places to now be in the top 10 cities in the UK.
ConferenceLeeds’ ability to supply a truly bespoke and tailored experience is attributed to Leeds’ continued popularity as a conferencing destination. Through working collaboratively with multiple venues, no two conferences are the same in Leeds, meaning each event is individual and memorable. Not only this, but with an easily accessible location, it is no wonder that the city is attractive to both national and international delegates.
The northern hub is only a two-hour train journey from London or one hour by air, making the city incredibly well connected to the capital. Leeds Bradford Airport also offers excellent transport links with national and international flights to over 75 international destinations and eight UK destinations.
Data from the recent STEAM survey, which measures the economic impact of the tourism industry in the UK, recorded that Leeds welcomed 27.29 million tourism visits in 2016, a 4.2% increase from 2015. These figures support the overall upward trend for visitor numbers, which has shown a notable 9.7% increase between 2013 and 2016. Leeds’ visitor economy sector is growing at an impressive rate with day visitors up by 4% and overnight stays increasing by 5.4 %.
Leeds boasts 3,500 digital and technology companies, the UK’s largest manufacturing centre, four out of five of the NHS body headquarters and is the UK’s second centre for banking after London, so it is no wonder conference organisers are drawn to this leading city.
The city maintains an exciting venue portfolio, from world-class academic universities, historic civic venues such as Leeds Town Hall and unique experiences as at Headingley Stadium and Cricket Ground. It has welcomed a number of new venue openings including the luxury hotel Dakota Deluxe, a 90-room, 10-storey property located on Greek Street and the first Dakota in England, as well as Cloth Hall Court, a refurbishment of a classic historic building, housing a standalone conference centre purpose-built for corporate events, worth £4.5 million. The future continues to look bright for venue investment as Hilton Hotels has signed a franchise agreement for a new Hampton by Hilton in the city centre. Construction work has just begun and it is expected to open in late 2019, adding 200 beds to the 8,000 already available citywide.
These new openings come alongside investments within Leeds’ current venues, to ensure facilities are of the highest standard. Thestudio in Leeds has recently completed an expansion of its Riverside West Home costing £170,000, adding four new state-of-the-art event spaces and doubling its capacity. Malmaison recently invested £600,000 in its new meetings and events space, Work + Play, providing four meeting rooms and two soundproof glass pods, which can be used individually or merged to host larger events. The Holiday Inn Express has also recently refurbished its bedrooms and Rudding Park, a few miles north in Harrogate, has invested in its new spa and has been awarded by being recognised as the Best New Spa in the UK by the Good Spa Guide 2017.
Leeds’ rich heritage means delegate experiences are world class, offering a wealth of museums and galleries such as Harewood House and the Henry Moore Institute. Furthermore, the Royal Armouries, which is one of Leeds’ largest conference venues, has one of the world’s oldest museum collections. There are more listed buildings than anywhere else outside of London, many of which provide unique conferencing venues, including a medieval Cistercian abbey, Kirkstall Abbey.
The delegate experience in Leeds is anything but ordinary, with a vast list of activities available. The city has a vibrant and diverse cultural scene, home to Opera North and Northern Ballet. It also enjoys the success of the award-winning first direct arena which, since its development in 2013, is now one of the largest conference venues in the city. It has also recently been ranked as fourth in the UK for event ticket sales and 13th in the world, according to Pollstar Magazine’s 2017 Year End Worldwide Ticket Sales Top 200 Arena Venues.
The nearby market town of Wetherby is home to The Engine Shed, a Grade II listed building, ideal for business meetings, conferences and corporate social events. With private parking and also centrally located to Harrogate and York, this unique event space has become a destination for event planners looking for a venue with versatility and personality. One of its main attractions is the mezzanine, an air-conditioned area with high ceilings and exposed beams, located on the first floor.
After hours, delegates can experience some of the best shopping in the UK, including in Trinity Leeds, a centre which opened in 2013 and is home to over 120 shops, café bars and restaurants. The city’s luxury retail offering has also developed with the opening of the new Victoria Gate at the end of 2016 – its award-winning design is based on the Victorian arcades for which Leeds is renowned.