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VENUES30 www.exhibitionnews.co.ukA NortherN IrIsh perspectIveAs a province of the UK, Northern Ireland holds a unique position in the Irish exhibition landscape. King's Hall Complex Belfast finance and commercial director Theresa Morrissey told EN recent years have been particularly challenging given the economic climate."The nature of the booking cycle within the exhibition and events industry means that venues go into a decline later and are therefore likely to come out of a downturn later than other industries," she claimed. "This fact, together with the lack of clear consensus on recovery prospects for the local economy, means that we need to continue to monitor the related challenges and opportunities in each of our target markets."Northern Ireland's exposure to the Government's budget cuts was extreme given the high level of public sector employment in the region, Morrissey explained. The public sector also plays a significant role in purchasing across industries and regions. "This has delayed the return of confidence to the exhibition sector within the region and has made it difficult to attract established event organisers from Great Britain to the region," Morrissey said. Not surprisingly, exhibitions focusing on luxury items and property suffered enormously. Despite this, King's Hall reported 7.5 per cent growth in turnover in 2010 (adjusted for the impact of biennial exhibition IFEX). Visitor numbers have also held steady. Most of its exhibition business is consumer and includes Holiday World Show, The Adelaide Motorcycle Festival, SelfBuild Extend and Renovate Show, Wedding Journal Show, Stitch and Creative Craft Show and Belfast Championship Dog Show. The venue sits on 32-acres and has three halls."In general, exhibition and event organisers have been much more cost conscious and have sought to cut their costs by reducing length of tenancy, number of halls and services consumed," Morrissey continued. Using King's Hall's outdoor space was one way of getting better bang for their buck. The challenge for this Northern Ireland venue is the same as other UK exhibition venues: Remaining competitive and meeting clients' expectations. "We are constantly reviewing our business model to ensure that it meets the needs of exhibition and event organisers," Morrissey said. "This has brought into focus a number of changes which are now established and beginning to bring real benefit to the business. "In particular, the restructuring of contractor arrangements including the provisions of electrical supplies, catering and bar facilitation and security services has enabled the venue to attract new business and improve services delivered." Contraction across the exhibition industry also offers a silver lining for those with the determination and spirit to move forward and develop successful new exhibitions or expand existing ventures."We have a range of flexible business models in place to encourage organisers who have concerns regarding the level of risk involved," Morrissey added.Competing in partnershipGriffin said the combination of new venues and redevelopment of existing facilities is putting the country on a par with other international exhibition destinations. The CCD's launch for instance, has brought a new buyer group to Dublin. To keep up, RDS has upgraded its floor and aesthetic appearance, acoustics, lighting systems, amenities and seating. "The fact that we are a venue in Ireland is not a challenge but the biggest challenge is competition from other venues," Griffin said. "Ireland has invested enormously in supporting this industry with the development of new venues and transport facilities in the capital city. The quality of venues on offer in Ireland is excellent, which is attracting more interest from international event organisers. "The increase in competition has come as a challenge, however it is also bringing more business to the city which can only be seen as a positive." The CCD is the newest kid on the block, launching with fanfare last September. Its director of sales Catherine Newhall-Caiger claimed overall marketing and meetings budgets were slashed during the economic downturn, but said the market is beginning to turn. The CCD is largely focused on attracting international conference and corporate events business and has secured a range of international confex-style events. "The economic impact to us from the Ireland situation is hard to measure, but it hasn't really affected our business too much," she said. "Domestically, corporate events have been impacted as they had to make some tough financial decisions but we are seeing more confidence in the domestic market and inquiry levels are on the up."By investing in the CCD, Ireland can now host meetings, conferences and events that it couldn't access before and proactively go after that marketplace."making things happenDespite the differences in offering, Irish venues are eager to broadcast their accessibility and events capabilities to both the local and international markets. All point out Ireland's collective investment into event venues as proof that it wants exhibition business. "There are some concerns about the stability of the Irish economy and there was a wobble in the past 18 months because people were unsure if Dublin was open but we are open for business, receptive to business and secure," Citywest's Browne said. RDS's Griffin added that of all marketing channels, face-to-face and exhibitions have suffered the least in the recession. "The difference is people today are looking to meet and generate leads. Before business was buoyant and we only had to react - now, it's all about being proactive," she said. "Ireland isn't being packaged in the best light, but the events industry is very positive and proactive. We can make things happen." Left: The CCD in Dublin by the River LiffeyBelow left:It's showtime at the RDS

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