Emma Cartmell, Chief Executive Officer of the CHS Group, shares with H&E North the highlights of a 10-year show dynasty that’s gone from modest beginnings of 250 attendees to this year’s ‘Rockstar’ juggernaut #CHS19 on 30th April at first direct arena in Leeds.


This year represents a major milestone for the Conference & Hospitality Show (CHS) as it celebrates its 10th anniversary and the CHS Awards celebrate its fifth. Exhibition space sold out in record-breaking time for the 2019 edition, 30% of which were new to CHS.  Registrations were up by 50% from 2018 in launch week, and, with a jam-packed programme of events, keynote speakers, demo zones, sponsors and hosted buyers, #CHS19 is shaping up to be the conferencing event of the year.


When Emma Cartmell took over The Big Wow in 2010 at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, one of her first jobs was to make the name reflect the event and so the ‘Conference & Hospitality Show’ was born. It was also the start of the CHS philosophy of “business first, fun after” and the Hospitality Hour began, allowing visitors and exhibitors to optimise their business opportunities, and enjoy some actual hospitality once the work was done!


Innovation and the desire to do things differently is the golden thread that runs through CHS Group. This drive and ambition to stay current, relevant, and ahead of the curve has led to successive growth and expansion, bringing new fans to the brand, loyalty from repeat customers, and unparalleled success as one of the main events in the UK hospitality calendar.


By CHS11 the brand had doubled in exhibitor and visitor numbers. Aware that she couldn’t do it singlehandedly anymore, Emma launched the Student Volunteer Programme, in conjunction with Leeds University’s event management course. It was an opportunity to give undergraduates valuable ‘hands-on’ volunteering at a genuine event, and support from students actively seeking a career in the hospitality and events industry.


By its third anniversary CHS13 had outgrown its Royal Armouries home and moved to the Leeds United football ground at Elland Road to cater for the swollen numbers of over 70 exhibitors and 500 attendees. National venues started to take notice and by CHS16, the show moved again to first direct arena and the ‘Rockstar’ event was born.


This was a massive leap for Emma and her team which has now grown to nine members. Leeds BID came on board, keen to showcase Leeds as a conferencing city, and a study of the show revealed that it generated an economic impact of £566,925 for the city. Emma Cartmell, explains: “The move to the first direct arena was a huge leap for us. Our costs quadrupled so we had to build a robust three-year sales plan and set tangible profit targets.


“It was a calculated risk, but we lent on our supporters in the city such as Leeds Hotel and Venues Association (LHVA) and Conference Leeds, who helped us to get financial support from Leeds BID.  They bought into our sales plan and helped bridge the gap. It was a calculated risk that paid off and we now deliver over half a million pounds of economic impact to Leeds, far more than we could have at our previous venues.”


By 2018, the Conference & Hospitality Show became recognised as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the hospitality and events world; with a 20% increase in visitor numbers, of whom 57% were enjoying the show for the first time. There’s was a 37% increase in hosted buyers guaranteeing exhibitors that they are showing to quality buyers with real purchasing power.


Scroll forward to CHS19, the fastest selling show on record and the 10th anniversary event is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever. Expect glitz, expect glamour and spectacular talks from keynote speakers and celebrity guests, with more attendees and hosted buyers than ever before. CHS19 is celebrating and it’s in the mood for a party.


Emma commented: “We’re proud to be an important part of the Leeds conferencing calendar and we’re looking forward to welcoming back some old faces, who have been with us from the very beginning. As we have grown and matured, those businesses have grown with us, we’ve shared some of our memories and what we’ve learned over the last decade in our programme.


“What’s been fun, along with some questionable hairstyles that seemed like a good idea at the time, is how we have also shared what we wished we’d known ten years ago when we started the journey. So much has changed, particularly in the world of technology.


“We share our 10th anniversary with the birth of the iPhone and back then, we wouldn’t have believed the impact this would have.  Losing an address book, a diary, a fax machine, a word processor, and however many other gadgets, to be replaced by a smart phone! That said, I wish I’d learned to switch off the notifications a lot sooner! 10 years ago, my phone never stopped buzzing, ringing, flashing with notifications and calls.


“I’ve recently read Tanya Goodwin’s book ‘OFF, Your digital detox for a better life’ and since taking heed of her advice and blocking time out of my diary to focus, my life is much calmer, and my productivity has increased beyond imagination.”


Not one to stand still, Emma and the team are putting the final touches to CHS19, as they get ready for their biggest show to date is this, Emma explains her most important lesson for life: “Never stop learning – I’ve always highly valued developing my skills and that’s why we invest tens of thousands of pounds every year in training and development to make sure we stay at the top of our game.


“From personal coaching and internal training days, to attending events and courses, we’re always keen to learn how we can be better at what we do. I’m also keen to learn from my peers which is why I love being on the council of the AEO and I’m enjoying my tenure as chair of the Live Events Promotion Group so we can share best practice among exhibitors and exhibition organisers.”


The Conference & Hospitality Show takes place at first direct arena, Leeds on Tuesday 30th April 2019. Visit Chs19.co.uk to find out more.