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Friday, November 11, 2011

Scotland Means Business, Part 2 by Robin McKelvie

The latest edition of Scotland Means Business is at an end and it’s clear to see that Scotland really does mean business.


As a travel and C&I writer I’ve written about hundreds of Scotland’s hotels, resorts and venues over the last decade and our MICE offering really is excellent. Don’t just take my word for it. Even though the Scottish population is only around 10% of the UK as a whole, 23% of all International Association conferences held in the UK in 2010 were hosted in Scotland. Edinburgh and Glasgow are now also second only to London in the UK in terms of International Association conferences. Satisfaction levels are high too with VisitScotland’s Business Tourism Unit reporting a 98% satisfaction rate amongst meeting planners, with 86% saying they would consider Scotland for future events.


Over the last few days our guests have witnessed the reasons behind this success.  The Scotland Means Business programme is a real combination of business and pleasure, with the Scottish hospitality and food and drink offering throughout superb. A swathe of fresh Scottish produce was on the menu, as well as a few surprises with influences from further afield, indicative of a country that loves to innovate.


Day one was the serious business with no time wasted at the stately Grand Central Hotel, one of Glasgow’s newest and grandest abodes. Meeting planners, buyers and journalists got to meet face to face with the top Scottish business tourism industry movers and shakers; the partners there to tell meeting and event organisers all about their hotels, resorts, conference centres, destination management companies, regions and much, much more. The fifteen minute intense sessions at this power workshop allowed buyers to make valuable connections, connections that will be essential when choosing to come back to Scotland for an event.


After a lunch break it was back on to the remaining 7 of 12 meeting slots before all attendees at the event got the chance to really let their hair down after all the hard work and enjoy Scotland’s famed hospitality. The evening’s proceedings kicked off at the brand new £74m Riverside Museum for a drinks reception in a reconstructed Glasgow street setting. Only opened in June this year it is a fantastically futuristic structure that was inspired by Glasgow’s maritime history and designed by internationally acclaimed Iraqi born architect Zaha Hadid. The whole museum can also be hired on an exclusive basis and caters for up to 800 guests.  The Tall Ship Glenlee, built on the Clyde way back in 1896, is berthed alongside and is an ideal floating venue offering a deck drinks reception before private dinners for up to 150.


Then it was on to theKelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the Gala Dinner. This is one of my favourite museums in the world and it is safe to say it is the most visited museum in the UK outside London with good reason. Guests got in to the swing of things with a ceilidh accompanied by the Reel Time Ceilidh Band, and were treated to entertainment by Spinal Chord, an aerial acrobatic troupe dancing overhead on silk ropes in a stunning setting.


Day two saw a fast and furious taxi treasure hunt which introduced a competitive element, with teams whisked off to find clues and solve puzzles all over the city.  Venues visited included the Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre, the Lighthouse and the Old Fruitmarket, culminating in a closing lunch at the Glasgow Science Centre. The centre is a superb modern MICE venue down by the river with myriad meetings spaces. Its largest, the First Floor Science Mall, can hold 1,000 for receptions.


All too soon sadly, it was time for guests to leave Glasgow and head off to explore other corners of the country.  I’ve spent over a decade travelling around Scotland and there were some great venues on attendees itineraries. These fam trips really showcase the diversity of the MICE offer in Scotland 2011-style.


Travelling around Scotland they could witness that this is not a country resting on its MICE laurels. There has been a massive £2 billion investment in business tourism facilities over the last few years. In Edinburgh the palatial 18th-century Assembly Rooms are in the midst of a £9.3m refurbishment project with a M&E overhaul, acoustic improvements, enhanced lighting and the introduction of fully flexible staging and seating for a variety of events in the Music Hall.

The capital’s biggest C&I offering, the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, is currently undergoing a major £85 million expansion that will add a 1,600 sq m multi-purpose hall and breakout rooms.  The new hall features moving floor technology and can be reconfigured from flat exhibition flooring in to tiered banqueting, raked-style auditorium and arena set-ups. It will boast a banqueting area catering for 1,400 delegates and a 2,000-seater auditorium. Then there is the National Museum of Scotland. Re-opened this summer after a £46.4 million transformation, the largest museum in the UK outside London displays 20,000 items across 36 galleries. MICE facilities include the Grand Gallery accommodating up to 850 dinner guests and a 200-seat auditorium.


Business tourism investment has spread right across the country. In Aberdeen a Hotel du Vin is on the drawing board, while the Park Inn by Radisson opened this year with 185 bedrooms and eight modern meeting rooms, which hold from 12 to 200. Then, of course, there is the Trump International Golf Links nearby. Work has started on Donald Trump’s £1billion golf resort, which will feature two golf courses, a 450-room 5-star hotel and a conference centre. A 1,000ft extension has also just been added to the runway at the city’s airport to enable larger jets to land.

In Inverness the Dunain Park Hotel has just added a new function suite for up to 150 delegates. Ackergill Tower in Caithness is an exclusive-use venue perched on a clifftop that has just added five rooms as well as a new function suite to cater for 150. One of the most ambitions projects is the Waterfront Development in Dundee, a transformation that will include a Scottish branch of the V&A Museum.


So as you can see a lot was learned about what Scotland offers business tourism at the moment over these two days in Glasgow, but there are a myriad of other things going on in these exciting times.


That is it from me. I hope guests had a brilliant time and I have a funny feeling you did. I look forward to you coming back with your own event. As we say here in Scotland, haste ye back.