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Capital of the north: a guide to Manchester

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Nick Brooks-Sykes, director of tourism for Marketing Manchester, shares what makes Manchester his UK number one choice for meetings and events outside London.

With an office just outside Manchester, I hear a lot from the teams about how ‘Great’ Manchester is and looking at some of our recent stats I can see that a lot of our customers travel in and out of the city on business. Manchester is a top-ten meetings destination for our customers and I met with Nick Brooks-Sykes to explore some of the reasons why. Here’s my guide: 

What makes Manchester Great?

Known as the ‘capital of the North’, Manchester has a thriving economy. The BBC's 2011 move to Salford Quays' MediaCity, shined a new spotlight on the city. ITV improved the effect when it moved in next door two years later.

As birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester is now home to many financial, research, and manufacturing firms. And as the most successful city for attracting foreign direct investment outside London, it has strengths in science, creative and digital sectors, making it a dynamic destination, indeed.

Between its four universities, two of which are in the centre, the city has the biggest student population in Europe. Students’ visiting friends and relatives are helping to grow it as a leisure destination, while huge conferences are lured by university research.

A free WiFi city

Local residents expect nothing less after several years of free WiFi. Constant connectivity can improve overall visitor experience, too, making it much easier to get around. You can buy tram tickets via Metrolink’s ‘Get Me There’ app or use the Mobike app to rent bikes. Capita Travel and Events customers can download the iris:go app to keep updated on trains, flights, and more.

You can freely visitmanchester.com to discover attractions, follow guided tours via Manchester’s Walking Tour app, and discover restaurants (and discounts!) with the Key For The City app. I love not having to depend on my own data to find things to see and do.

Tackling homelessness

As Greater Manchester’s first Mayor, Andy Burnham pledged 15 per cent of his mayoral salary towards his goal of ending rough sleeping by 2020. He’s also behind a programme being developed with local businesses to help get people back into work.

I’m close to this type of work through my links with HBAA, the trade association for the hotel booking agency, apartment and venue community. The association supports Beyond Food, a charitable organisation which inspires people who are at risk of, or have experienced, homelessness, to gain meaningful employment, through the love of food and hospitality. With various fundraising initiatives, the HBAA has already raised over 75 per cent of its £40k goal for 2016/17.

You’ve read some of the reasons that Manchester is booming, but why is it Nick’s number one choice for meetings and events outside of London?

Getting to and from Manchester

Manchester is where Rolls met Royce, and it was home to the world’s first passenger rail station, now the UK’s Museum of Science and Industry. So it’s hardly a surprise that its infrastructure is comparable to any in Europe. It has a world-class airport and is well-connected to Britain’s motorway and rail networks. Over recent years, huge investment in public transport has perfectly equipped Manchester to provide transport for conference attendees. That helps make it a natural choice for conferences organisers.

Manchester’s airport is just 10 miles from the centre. Connected by a fast and efficient train and tram service, it directly connects the region to over 200 global cities. It offers direct flights from nearly every major European city and with low-cost carriers servicing a number of them, it benefits delegates on a budget. With Virgin Trains providing 60 direct trains from Manchester to London daily (every 20 minutes), the city is well-connected to Europe via the capital’s Eurostar link, too.

With the exception of London, the airport is the only one on the UK with direct flights to China. That’s in addition to other international destinations including Chicago, New York, and Singapore.

Travelling around the city

Manchester has a wide offering of high-quality ‘public realm’ - the term that cities use to describe regenerated public space such as parks, roads, and pavements. Combined with its compact size, this makes Manchester an easy place to navigate on foot.

Otherwise, you can benefit from a free bus service which covers all main city-centre areas via three circular routes. If you fancy another easy form of transport, Manchester’s Metrolink has the largest urban tram network in the UK. With multiple lines bringing people into the heart of the city, the trams give you the chance to travel further if you want to explore. I caught a tram to the train station after meeting Nick and it was just as quick and easy as he’d promised.

In another first, Manchester became the 100th city - the first in Europe and the UK - to have the tech-based, bike-share scheme, Mobikes. These are no Borris bikes, mind. One step on from those, the Mobike is app controlled. You search for the nearest available bike, reserve it, and unlock it with a quick scan of your phone. The bikes don’t need a docking station, so you can leave them anywhere within the boundaries of Manchester and Salford. You just need to scan the bike again to relock it. I’m just imagining the treasure hunts you could do on a Mobike. What a great way to move your delegates around – all for just 50 pence per half-hour!

Hotel infrastructure

In the last five years, Manchester’s hotel industry has blossomed. All you event organisers can access 10,000 hotel rooms, with 23,000 across Greater Manchester. This gives you something to satisfy the requirements of every delegate, employee, speaker, and exhibitor.

There are a further 2,000 beds in the pipeline for the next few years, including a serviced apartment boom. New properties include EasyHotel, Oddfellows in the Park, Hilton Garden Inn Emirates Old Trafford, Holiday Inn Express Trafford City, Staycity Manchester Piccadilly, Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Apartments.

Meetings and events space

Its sheer volume of meeting space supports Manchester’s growing hotel infrastructure. With venues - from small board room facilities to large empty warehouses, sporting stadiums or purpose built conference centres - scattered all over, the place offers something for everyone. Take a look at how we transformed Victoria Warehouse from an empty shell into a sparkling awards ceremony.

Do you want to get delegates out of the meeting room and try something new? Then Manchester has some great team-building experiences on offer. Check out The Crystal Maze ExperienceThree Rivers Gin SchoolJunkyard GolfSightseeing Manchester Bus Tour and Manchester Water Taxis (WAXI).

As a girl from the South who lives an hour outside London, my head has been turned by Manchester. It’s a great UK destination for business meetings, events and more. I think I’ll try a MoBike on my next visit!