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Momentum builds as Birmingham bursts with business opportunities

Business is brisk in Birmingham, and Britain’s second city shows no sign of slacking, says Ellie Evans.

Redevelopment is fizzing right now and includes the vast £700m Paradise scheme, a commercial, retail and leisure complex in the city centre while elsewhere, luxury apartment blocks are shooting up. The Midlands city is preparing for an even busier future as Birmingham is set to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Funding is earmarked for an athletes’ village in north Birmingham, and the first phase of the HS2 high-speed rail line is set to open in December 2026, putting the region just 38 minutes from London.

Birmingham’s hotel revenue, visitor numbers and visitor spend reached a record high in 2017, proof, according to Nicola Hewitt, commercial director at the West Midlands Growth Company, “not only of the popularity of the West Midlands’ leisure tourism offer, but its standing as an important global destination for business and corporate events”.

Faster times through airport
In 2016, Birmingham attracted 594,000 overseas business visits, more than any other regional UK city, and flying to the city has now become even easier: earlier this year, Birmingham Airport opened a new £14.5m security entrance to speed up processing time.

A titan of the event and exhibition scene, the NEC – now home to the £20m Bear Grylls Adventure – recently revealed the first phase of its extensive £4.5m three-year transformation. The revamp of the exterior of Halls 1 and 5, dubbed ‘Project Facelift’, is part of a scheme to change the look and feel of the iconic venue.

Between them, the NEC, Genting Arena, Vox conference centre and Resorts World Birmingham draw more than seven million visitors annually and Kathryn James, managing director for NEC Group Conventions and Exhibitions, says its core audience has changed. “We began our journey as an exhibition venue and are now a thriving 24/7 business and leisure destination,” she says.

On the top floor of Resorts World Birmingham, which includes shopping, restaurants, a casino and the 182-room Genting Hotel, The Vox’s huge foyer and purpose-built suite can house up to 900 delegates. Recent events include the high-profile West Midlands Forum for Growth and the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity’s gala dinner in June, with its helicopters landing on the lawn outside.

 The car’s the star
Hyundai held its annual dealer conference for some 400 delegates at the Vox in February with agency fresh. Laura Lee, director of client delivery at fresh, said: “This was the first event that fresh has delivered in The Vox and we were super impressed with the venue and their in-house event team – they really focused on the attention to detail and worked in partnership with fresh and Hyundai to deliver a seamless experience for the attendees.”

Hyundai’s Events and Dealer Marketing Manager Kate Conway praised the venue for its ease of access, adding: “It’s a great venue with a well laid-out and flexible conference space with high ceilings which means everyone can see the screen.”

Birmingham

Hyundai held its conference at The Vox.

The ICC, also part of the NEC Group, recently hosted the Conservative Party conference for the sixth time and the Tories are booked to return in 2020.

The four-day convention of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) has been returning to the ICC for 29 years: the association also uses IET Birmingham: Austin Court, the REP and the University of Birmingham Medical School, as well as the Arena Birmingham for its exhibition.

“Birmingham has been integral to BSAVA Congress growing: the excellent facilities in the ICC for our scientific content and the Arena offering so much space for our industry exhibition,” said Head of Congress Angharad Belcher of the 8,500-strong event.

A hotel booking service has been added to the centre’s website, as well as for the Vox, and conference organisers can get 25 per cent off Virgin train travel for delegates; further support may be possible for large events.

Next to the ICC, the Library of Birmingham has been a selling point for the city since it opened and its offering lives up to its unique exterior, from quirky dinners in the book rotunda for up to 300 people to the ornate Shakespeare Memorial Room, transported from the city’s Victorian library. Work is underway to revamp Centenary Square outside the library, and the new-look plaza can be used via Unique Venues Birmingham (UVB) for anything from car launches to casual barbecues when it reopens in June 2019.

Also run by UVB, the neighbouring Birmingham Repertory Theatre, or REP, has a range of suites and meeting rooms plus the Studio, which seats 292. The House itself has room for 800, though it can be sectioned off to suit 475. The two venues have played host to Microsoft, LG Communications, the Gambling Commission and the Council for Aluminium in Building among others in recent years.

Creative culture
Work is proposed to redevelop the nearby Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as a new museum for the city and the Birmingham Museums Trust has plans for a heritage centre in Yardley – set to open in 2021 – which will include meeting rooms.

The historic Alexandra Theatre has had a fresh new facelift which was sorely needed, as its formerly drab exterior did little to reflect its Art Deco beauty. The piano bar can be used for board meetings or drinks receptions and the cosy refurbished Ambassador Lounge accommodates 30 seated. The main auditorium seats 1,300 but, for the best use of the space, is ideal for 500 delegates.

The Park Regis Birmingham opened its new 16th-floor conferencing suite in June after a £750,000 refit in addition to its five existing meeting rooms. The Sky Gallery offers stunning views of the city with seating for 300 theatre-style or 250 for dinner, with the adjacent Sky Loft perfect for registration, break-outs or a drinks reception.

The Hyatt Regency joined to the ICC and Symphony Hall by a covered walkway, unveiled a new-look bar in the foyer in time for the Conservative Party Conference.

Birmingham Hippodrome, in up-and-coming Southside, is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions and home to the Circle, the only theatre restaurant in the UK with an AA rosette. Its spaces range from the stunning auditorium with room for 1,800 – used by the Arts Council in March for a one-day conference – to the plush Qdos suite, which seats 16; the team can also deliver themed events at outside venues.

Birmingham

The Birmingham Hippodrome.

Neighbouring Digbeth is home to much of the city’s industrial heritage and the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios offer a number of opulent options, while Vivid Projects has a warehouse space for up to 120 people.

Birmingham’s average hotel occupancy stood at 75 per cent last year, matching the record set in 2016, and new openings include the 180-bedroom Grand Hotel, an iconic Grade 2* listed building on Colmore Row which will offer extensive events space as well as the city’s first rooftop infinity pool when it opens early next year.

At the Paradise development, a 22-storey, 250-room Copthorne hotel is being built to replace the existing Copthorne while on the NEC campus, a new 224-room Moxy hotel is set to open in 2020.

Voted England’s Leading Conference Hotel at the 2018 World Travel Awards, The Belfry has worked with a range of luxury corporate clients in the past six months including Virgin Atlantic, Aston Martin and KPMG.

Further afield, New Hall Hotel & Spa in Sutton Coldfield – said to be the oldest inhabited moated property in England – offers unique meeting spaces for delegates who cross the drawbridge. Its Great Chamber seats 65 or the Garden Pavilion can accommodate 200. And a new Black Country-themed hotel, the ibis Styles Birmingham Oldbury, has opened with 75 bedrooms and a meeting room for 40 people theatre-style.