Conference plans to get city on the right track
TALKS are under way to bring thousands of expo delegates to Plymouth generating millions of pounds in revenue and putting the city on a par with leading conference centres across the UK.
Conference Plymouth, the organisation charged with encouraging events to visit the city, has confirmed national conferences run by the GMB union and the huge woman's organisation Inner Wheel are both expected to return next year, bringing up to 2,000 delegates each.
And talks are ongoing with other international events including the European Brass Band Association's conductors' championship, due to be held in Oslo next year, and the British Chess Championships, which would mean 2,000 chess masters staying for a fortnight.
Conference Plymouth is also planning on attending major trade shows to attract further business too.
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It comes as a deal was finalised between Conference Plymouth, which represents a group of city businesses including hotels and tourist attractions, and rail franchise holder First Great Western (FGW) which will see Plymouth added to its Conference Fares destinations.
The arrangement means the city joins Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter and Torquay in a scheme which offers special fares to delegates attending pre-approved conferences.
James Deacon, Conference Plymouth board member and conference and events manager at Plymouth Pavilions, said the idea is to position the city as an ideal conference attraction ahead of planned upgrades to the Pavilions.
"I am in talks about events in 2015/16, some of which are international," he said. "We are talking £4million to £5million potential earnings for the city.
"Plymouth has not been a corporate conference city historically," he added. "But with support from everyone, business wise, we want to put together a package to offer conference delegates, and a rail link is a key part of that."
The deal is the first link with outside businesses and provides a sweetener to attract events which would previously steered clear of Plymouth.
And it is available for delegates to large events organised by other Conference Plymouth members such as Plymouth University, the National Marine Aquarium and key hotels.
Mr Deacon said large conferences can bring in £185 per person per day to the city economy, for example.
"It has an impact on restaurants, taxis, shops, bars and hotels," he said. "A massive impact. The more we win the more will come into the city."
David Gardner, account manager at FGW with a brief to generate business, said: "We want to grow conference traffic because it tends to happen outside normal peaks, like in spring and autumn.
"And FGW is positioned for an international audience coming from Heathrow and Paddington.
"But most conferences are located in London and its a challenge to get them to think outside the capital.
"But there are good reasons to do so, like value for money and the environment. So we have created special fares for conference organisations to use. James can offer these to delegates."
He explained the scheme provided standard flexible returns from London for £59 and first class at £109, open for one month.
It is not as cheap as off-peak leisure fares, but cheaper than other open returns.
And there is only a £10 additional fee for people connecting onto the FGW grid from the Home Counties.
Delegates book tickets themselves, providing conference documentation in the way they would show a rail card.
Mr Gardner said attracting conferences would then "drive the city forward".
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