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Conference Aston will be the venue for the launch of a new pro-European group, on 28 March. The European Movement, founded by Winston Churchill in 1946, has selected Aston to bring together representatives of a number of pro-EU bodies who will be leading debates in schools throughout England. The meeting’s convener Lawrence Brewer says ‘The European ambitions of peace, prosperity and justice have never been more important than they are today. We are already leading several debates each week in schools throughout the country, and our aim now is to strengthen our national coverage and make sure we present the benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU fairly, to the upcoming generation’.

The first session of the ‘Debaters Day’ will be led by actor Bruce Alexander best known as Supt Mullett in A Touch of Frost, who will offer training in presentation techniques.

Lawrence Brewer, former Chairman of the British Jewellers’ Association and a well-known figure in the Jewellery Quarter,  says ‘Birmingham’s central location in England and the contemporary and efficient Conference Centre, on the Aston University campus, made Conference Aston the best choice for this exciting convention’.


A Schools MasterChef Challenge has been launched by Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Restaurant at Barnby Moor with budding chefs from local schools competing for the titles.

The first competition was for Years 7-9 students competing in the semi-finals in their respective school kitchens and judges from the hotel.  The three finalists were Charlotte Tasker from the Elizabethan Academy, Amy White from Retford Oaks and James Shuttleworth from Tuxford Academy.  They then went through to the final the following week in the kitchens of Ye Olde Bell, working alongside Richard Allen, Restaurant & Bistro Head Chef.

Richard gave the students an induction into the hotel equipment and safety procedures, then equipped them with Chef's hats, aprons, ingredients and utensils.  Each one showed great passion, enthusiasm and skill to produce a dish from fresh products for under £5 within a tight schedule.  They were judged on a variety of criteria including composition of balanced nutrients, taste, visual presentation, workmanship and time planning. 

The final results were very close with Amy's stuffed salmon en-croute, new potatoes and vegetables, Charlotte's pan-fried turkey escalopes with a citrus honey sauce and vegetables, but the overall MasterChef winner was James Shuttleworth from Tuxford Academy with his dish of herbed pork, creamy apple sauce, potatoes and vegetables.

James was awarded the coveted Ye Olde Bell Hotel MasterChef trophy, a certificate, branded apron, a meal for four guests at the hotel and will also spend a full day working with Chef Richard in the hotel kitchens.  This will be a dream day for 13 year old James, who has been planning a career as a Chef since the age of 10, so this insight will take him one step nearer his goal.

The winning trophy had been designed and made by the schools and each semi-finalist also received certificates and a meal for two guests at the hotel.

A similar MasterChef challenge has now been held for Years 10-11 and the finalists, Valentina Serna Giraldo from Retford Oaks, Sophie Grant from Tuxford Academy and Jared Storey from the Elizabethan Academy will compete for their MasterChef Award in the hotel kitchens on Thursday 23 April.

Conference Care has appointed five new members of staff this month (March), taking its workforce to more than 50 across its two offices.

Following a successful 2014 and "robust growth" in volume and value of events so far in 2015, the venue finding and event management agency has recruited new events consultants Sophie Allen, Aimee Carnwath and Matthew Harris to expand its operations department. 

Krishan Pankhania has joined the sales team as business development executive to strengthen the new business division, while events consultant Joe Wigley has returned to his role following a sabbatical in Australia.

Conference Care is proud of its high staff retention rate: more than 20% of its employees remain with company after ten years. 

Director Andrew Deakin said: "These are exciting times for Conference Care. We have won two Industry awards in the last six months, recognising our commitment to outstanding customer service.

"The appointment of new staff brings further expertise and experience into the mix. I am delighted to welcome them to the team."

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This weekend, 27-28 March, the HBAA hosted its first International Forum at the five-star Huis ter Duin Hotel in the Netherlands.

Recognising its growing international membership, the association partnered with DBF Events and bought together over 50 leading agents with international hoteliers and venues. During the International Forum delegates shared market knowledge, best practices and carried out comprehensive networking that saw more than 600 face to face appointments between suppliers and buyers.

Attendees were drawn far and wide from across Europe with representatives including La Manga Club, Marriott Hotels Paris and Byblos, St Tropez.  

The first day culminated with the presentation of DBF Events noted "All About People Awards". The awards recognise account management excellence of individuals in the meetings and events sector. Using the Forum's bespoke app, designed by Double Dutch, votes were cast by client and suppliers and were presented to:

  • Supplier of the year - Robbert-Jan Meinardi, Huis ter Duin
  • Client of the year - Matt Curran, Chew Events 

Over 3,000 international properties are now signed up to the HBAA's International Charter which fosters best practices and pointedly acknowledges the commercial model by which UK agencies work.

Michiel Fortuin, partner, DBF Events Ltd said, "We have built a strong series of events that bring together key agents and suppliers throughout the year. We were delighted to widen the scope by partnering with the HBAA for the event at the stunning Huis ter Duin. Our awards are always highly coveted as they are based on personality and voted for by their peers; we are therefore delighted for both Robbert and Matt who really do personify that it is the people who make this industry."

Steve Ockerby, Chair of the HBAA International Committee commented on the success of the International Forum: "This has been a landmark event for us and underlines how significant the UK outbound market is to the international hotel and venues. Those that have signed up to the International Charter understand the UK agency business model, consequently they benefit from HBAA agents’ buying power on outbound meetings, conferences and events. I think I can confidently say the International Forum will be an annual event, so put it in the diary for next year!”  

Marriott has announced plans to create 20,000 career opportunities for young people by the year 2020.

The hotel group said the positions would be a range of placements, apprenticeships, training and development courses.

Working with charities such as the Prince's Trust and SOS Children’s Villages it has provided almost 4,000 job opportunities to young people since 2012. It now plans to increase that number five fold by 2020.

The target will run alongside its stated aim of reaching 150,000 signed or opened bedrooms across Europe by 2020.

Amy McPherson, president and managing director of Marriott International Europe, said: "Hotels are a people business, and although technology and mobile connectivity have enhanced the industry, it will, at its heart, always remain a people business.  It has been extraordinary to watch the progress and commitment of these young people rise up through the ranks of our company, and seeing them enjoy a huge sense of pride and ambition. It also makes a significant difference to the success of the company."

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Latest data from HotStats suggests regional hotels are performing better than their London counterparts, with Manchester recording a rise in gross operating profit per available room (GOPPAR) of 30.3% for February compared with the previous year.

Despite overheads per available room climbing by 4.7% in the city, GOPPAR increased to £35.81 last month.

There was a 12.9% uplift in total revenue per available room (TRevPAR) to £112.17, while revenue per available room (RevPAR) grew by 16%. The average room rate (ARR) in Manchester rose by 9.4% to £82.58, with occupancy climbing by 4.7 percentage points to 81.6%.

The growth in UK regions is outshining that of London, which posted a general decline aside from ARR. 

The North East was among the best performing regions, registering a 20.7% increase in GOPPAR. A combined surge in occupancy of 2.6 percentage points and 5.6% in ARR prompted a 9.3% uplift in RevPAR to £53.28. With non-rooms revenues also climbing, TRevPAR rose by 6.4% to £93.74, compared to the same period last year.

In the South, Heathrow hotels demonstrated that RevPAR alone can be a misleading indicator of hotel health by recording a rise of 1.5%, while TRevPAR and GOPPAR levels fell by 0.5% and 0.6% respectively over the same period.

A surge in demand of 0.9 percentage points, combined with a 0.3% increase in ARR, delivered the RevPAR growth. In addition, travel agency commission per occupied room reduced by 4.3% to £4.72. 

However, a general decrease in non-rooms revenue per available room from food and drink led TRevPAR levels to decline to £82.84.

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The government has failed to make a “convincing case” to justify the £50 billion cost of building the HS2 high-speed rail line, according to a House of Lords report.

Members of the Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee say they are not convinced by the government’s two main arguments for HS2, which are to increase capacity on the route from London’s Euston station and to “rebalance the economy” in the Midlands and northern England.

The committee argues in its report that there are “less expensive options to remedy these problems than HS2 but these have not been properly reviewed”.

HS2 is initially planned to operate between Euston and Birmingham from 2026, and then will be extended in a “Y-shaped” route to Manchester and Leeds by 2032 or 2033, although this second phase may be brought forward.

“The committee is supportive of investment in rail infrastructure, but are not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment,” said committee chairman Lord Hollick.  

“The government is basing the justification for HS2 on two factors – increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy; we have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.”

The report said that long-distance trains to and from Euston were 43 per cent full on average and only ran at 50-60 per cent capacity at peak travel times.

“Overcrowding on the West Coast mainline is largely a problem on commuter trains and on long-distance trains immediately after peak time on Friday evenings and at some weekends,” added Hollick.

“The government has not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2.”

The committee also disputed the government’s claim that HS2 would “rebalance” the UK economy with evidence from countries such as France suggesting that the capital city benefited most from new high-speed rail links.

Peers said it would be better to improve trans-Pennine rail links or build the northern sections of HS2 first, instead of starting the development from London.

“In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the north of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost of HS2,” said Hollick.
“We have set out a number of important questions on HS2 that the government must now provide detailed answers to. Parliament should not approve the enabling legislation that will allow HS2 work to begin until we have satisfactory answers to these key questions.”

The Department for Transport has responded by saying that HS2 remains a “vital part of the government's long-term economic plan” as demand for long-distance rail travel is set to continue growing rapidly.

“It is crucial we press ahead with delivering HS2 on time and budget and we remain on track to start construction in 2017,” said a DFT spokesman.

First published in Buying Business Travel

By Simon Hughes - I don't know about you but, if the debate about the television debates is anything to go by, I think we're in for a fantastic time in the run up to the general election.

It's rather like all these stories popping up in the media where either hopeful or fully fledged politicians have been caught out – from far right plots to falsifying invoices, promises of lobbying services to cash contributions that break the rules. What a coincidence! At least the PM hasn't got carried away over some ad hoc salad preparation in his kitchen and promised to serve only two terms and a scotch egg.

You may feel that I sound a little jaundiced already and of course you'd be right. Naturally I will remain apolitical when it comes to the politics of the election itself, with one major exception – the use of events to drive the agenda and help politicians from across the spectrum get some desperately needed media coverage. We've seen so many cunning events and stunts over the years that it's always interesting to see what the bright young things that dream this kind of stuff up have to offer that's new and fresh. Or at least new and fresh in their minds.

After all how do you compete with our general election events legacy? A white scarf wearing Maggie Thatcher roaring around in a tank? Neil Kinnock going nuts so convincingly at a rally that the electorate abandoned Labour in droves? John Major breaking out his soapbox? Gordon Brown very cleverly leaving a Sky News microphone clipped to his jacket while he compared notes about a voter he'd just had the pleasure of conversing with? Of course the day to day battle plans are all laid down – the run of the mill briefings, daily press conferences, launches, photo-ops etc. It's the unplanned stuff at the edges, the mistakes, fluffs and mishaps that the media pack love to pounce on.

The tendency of the major parties to move away from traditional venues and camp out on factory shop floors, in the gloom of retail warehouses and booming glass atrium reception spaces in hi-tech business parks makes the opportunity for really engaging with the audiences that have been marshalled into listen to them rather remote. Take the 'town hall' style meetings that were such a feature last time around – is there a training camp where audience members are schooled in staying awake, looking enthusiastic and applauding at the right point? You can be certain that if someone in the background does nod off, starts miming a song or even dribbling it will be picked up and have gone global before you can shout "Pinterest!" Life is now like that.

Which I think is a shame. As the SoS at the DCMS promises the events industry more support it is sobering for all of us in the industry to see where events fit in the campaigns. Non-traditional venues tend to play well for the media coverage, not the experience. The absolute control that the spin doctors from all parties insist on makes genuine debate, participation and interaction less and less available. Social media replaces the hustings, while campaign leaflets shoved through your letterbox (and then straight into the recycling) replace the election poster that once might have proclaimed your intentions. So it all comes back to what ends up on the screen – whatever kind of screen that is. Of course the very worst thing about all this? Despite ourselves, we'll all be watching.

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has once again showed the business visits and events sector performing ahead of the wider tourism industry. The latest report, issued last week shows business visits grew by a record breaking 33% during January 2015, reaching new heights of 680,000 visits.

This figure shows the sector tracking as 11% higher in November 2014 up to January 2015, compared to the same 3-month period recorded in 2013. Equally, since 2014, business visits have increased by 8% to reach 8.54 million up to January 2015.

“Business visits in Britain continue to show strong growth, and continue to underpin the wider tourism economy,” comments Richard Foulkes, Vice Chair of the BVEP. “It’s positive to report this sector demonstrating how robust it is and how it can continue to be a key driver of the tourism economy for Britain.“

“Last year was a very strong for UK tourism and this year’s IPS figures indicate another positive year for the industry, with business visits a crucial part of it,” continues Foulkes. “Whilst it is hard to create a picture of how successful 2015 could be at this stage, its encouraging to see VisitBritain predict a 2.5% growth in volume and 4.5% growth in value of UK tourism. 

Ashfield Meetings & Events has announced its results for the financial year ending September 2014.

EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Tax) for the period was £3.580m compared to £3.860m in the previous 12 month period. The numbers have been consolidated from accounts covering the company’s operations in the UK, US and mainland Europe.

Commenting on the performance Nicola Burns (Global Managing Director) said:
“We have made a number of investments in the financial year such as our move into new office space in the UK. We have also developed and stregthened our fast-growing global engagement offering and launched our new consultancy brand SPARK THINKING. These  investments are already delivering against their strategic intentions. We are offering more services to our clients than ever before whilst at the same time moulding our business to ensure it is fit for the future needs of all our stakeholders. With these investments these are very encouraging numbers, particularly with the backdrop of regulatory changes in the healthcare meetings and events sector.”

Burns concluded by saying: “We have a solid pipeline of both new business opportunities and existing business development. This should help to ensure steady growth over the next 12 month period. The recent appointment of Jo Brook as Engagement Director will ensure a continued focus on growth and revenue across these exciting services. The combination and collaborative working across the engagement team and SPARK THINKING has already provided a number of new client wins; we should be in a position to share more news in the coming weeks.”


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