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June 17, 2007

Destination Deganwy: Inside the BACD annual conference

Although I hadn’t been to Deganwy for 30 years – since I last went on holiday with my parents, in fact – the Conwy valley was as beautiful as I remembered it, and this was certainly one of the highlights of this year’s British Association of Conference Destinations Conference (BACD). Held at the Quay Hotel, it involved two days of presentations, workshops and teambuilding focused on the central theme The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Green.

The event kicked off promisingly enough with an excellent address by futurologist Rohit Talwar. But you had to wonder whether it didn’t go sailing over many delegates’ heads, particularly in light of a comment made by one of the Visit Wales team, who said: “That was a bit pointless as we won’t be here to see the future.” I’m just hoping none of the other BACD members are as short-sighted or the future may not look as bright as the annual conference’s title suggests. Although the fact that few destinations have yet woken up to the promotional potential of EVENTS:review – the future of media – isn’t particularly encouraging.

Talwar touched on some great issues concerning the future development of the world and related them back to venues and destinations. His core message was take time out of your hectic working life to plan ahead. For example, had venues and destinations considered the fact that the UK’s population is ageing? – apparently we’re living an extra five hours every week on average. So improving access to venues and the ease of getting around destinations could serve a growing proportion of the population, particularly as the pensionable age is sure to rise, so we’ll all be working longer.

Can the UK meet the Eastern challenge?

On a more pressing note, Talwar also drew attention to rising population rates, which are particularly concentrated in the developing areas of China and India, not only highlighting the global economic shift eastwards, but also the need to act to protect the environment. He said that the world’s population is set to reach 8 billion by 2020, and that by 2050 humans will need at least two planets’ worth of natural resources to live as they do now, showing the drastic need for all industries, not just events, to work greener.

Talwar had recently prepared a report for Reed Travel Exhibitions on the future of travel and tourism in the Middle East, and this is where the big bombshell was dropped. It was clear from the figures he quoted that this region represents the major area of competition to the UK conference industry for corporate business.

"Across the Middle East, countries, states and cities are embarking on an unparalleled programme of investment and development to increase capacity, improve infrastructures and grow tourist numbers and revenues,” says the report. “Current estimates suggest that over the next 20 years, upwards of $3 trillion is going directly into leisure and tourism and indirectly into the supporting infrastructure. Through projects announced to date, by 2020 the region will add airport capacity for 300 million extra passengers, build over 200 new hotels, add 100,000 additional rooms, grow visitor numbers by 150 million and increase the size of its aircraft fleet by over 150% by 2025.”

To compete, the UK conference industry will need to ensure that its facilities are state-of-the-art and that its service levels are second to none. And an indication of the work that needs to me done was highlighted by the fact that the five-star Quay Hotel in Deganwy didn’t even have a business centre.

Pushing sustainability and development
At least the BACD can see the moral and business reasons for its members to go green and this message was put across forcefully over the two days of the conference from a range of speakers, many of whom were from the conference industry and gave practical examples of the benefits of going green and how to go about it. Lisa Lingard from Manchester City Council and Jacquie Rogers of the Arena and Convention Centre in Liverpool talked about putting sustainable policies in place, while Fiona Pelham of Organise This, Jessica Roberts of the NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau, Jon Proctor of the Green Tourism Business Scheme and Mike Batt from the Carbon Trust formed a green experts panel to address any problems and queries delegates faced. What’s more, Emma Edwards-Jones of the Snowdonia Society clearly set out the effects business tourism is having on the environment and what needs to be done to help. EVENTS:review interviewed Pelham, Proctor and Edwards-Jones for a series of videos on sustainable conferencing to be screened over the next couple of months.

The BACD’s link up with Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) was also very much in evidence and the conference, with representatives from the organisation attending. EVENTS:review interviewed the DMAI’s recently appointed European managing director Titta Rosvall-Puplett – living proof of the organisation’s commitment to global expansion – about the relationship and the benefits that UK destinations will enjoy from it.

Together, this international dimension and the well thought out green presentations and workshops created what must have been one of the most interesting and forward-looking BACD annual conferences for some time.

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