Putting the welcome signs out

Organisers, venues and bodies associated with the business tourism sector in Leeds discussed the need to create a warm Yorkshire welcome, potentially though an ambassador scheme, to retain conferences year upon year for the good of the economy.

At TheBusinessDesk.com’s gathering of top conference sector professionals in the region, sponsored by Conference Leeds and hosted at Gilbanks, delegates discussed how to maximise the potential for further growth and build on the momentum in conferencing and meetings in Leeds.

Topics around the table included looking at replicating the way visitors to international conferences overseas are greeted on their arrival in the host city and the lessons that could be learned from major sporting events such as the Tour de Yorkshire.

Jamie Ades, senior destination manager (business events) at Visit Britain said that successful ambassador programmes had their part to play in helping places win bids to host major events.

And Claire Steven, general manager of Oulton Hall hotel, related her experience of visiting conferences in cities such as Vancouver, where visitors were met by volunteers as they came through the airport and event branding was everywhere.

She also pointed to the major sporting events being hosted by Leeds, including this summer’s Cricket World Cup and she asked: “How are we actually welcoming those international visitors into the city, because those visitors could then become business travellers.”

Wayne Topley, who chairs the 32-member Leeds Hotels and Venues Association and runs The Queens hotel, declared: “I’m going to push the great stakeholders of the city to move towards creating an ambassador programme based on business tourism.”

He said that he believed there were hundreds of “informed, articulate and proud” Yorkshire people who would volunteer to meet conference delegates and show them around.

Topley said that he was convinced that the city’s stakeholders would support such an ambassador initiative and he added: “It is time and cost and effort, but look at what value this would add.”

Emma Cartmell, chief executive of CHS Group, which connects hotels and venues with conference and event organisers, praised the city’s BID ambassadors and the work they did welcoming people to Leeds, but asked: “Do we need more?”

Megan MacBrairdy, venue manager at Horizon Leeds, spoke of the “Yorkshire welcome” and its importance to visitors. She added: “The hotels do a great job of welcoming people, but there is probably a lot more that we can do.”

Leeds was ranked as the fourth most popular conferencing city in the UK, in a recent British Meetings and Events Industry survey (BMEIS). The average number of delegates in attendance at events has increased significantly, reaching 368 – up from 238 in 2017.

And business visitors are playing a growing part in a tourism industry which contributed £212.7m to the local economy in 2017.