MICE: Liverpool & Manchester

IF THE TORY PARTY AND CHANCELLOR GEORGE OSBORNE are to be believed, the north of England will soon become an all-consuming ‘Powerhouse’. It will help rebalance the economic power away from London, create more jobs and have a multi-billion pound rail system.

But is Osborne’s plan still on track or was he paying lip-service to ‘up north’? In June, manifesto plans to modernise parts of the UK rail network, including the mainline from London to Sheffield and the Transpen­nine route from Manchester to Leeds, have been put on hold. But the government insists its plans are still in place and, in August, outlined a £13 billion blueprint and denied claims it had abandoned the Powerhouse initiative.

However, two of the north of England’s important and famous cities would argue they have plenty to offer already. Liverpool and Manchester share many similarities but are also steeped in rivalry: both would lay claim to having the best of everything – music scene, football team, university… whether it’s debating the 1960s’ beat-groups in Liverpool and the ’90s’ ‘Madches­ter’ scene, or Manchester United versus Liverpool FC, both cities can put forward compelling arguments.

Both also claim to be star players as MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destinations. Paul Bayliss is GM of the Macdonald Manchester Hotel, and chairman of the Manchester Hoteliers Association. He believes the city’s acces­sibility gives it an edge. “Manchester boasts fantastic transport connections from the south and overseas,” he says. “It is extremely successful in attracting conference and events business. It can offer a rich culture, an array of venues and brilliant accessibility, all at a fraction of the cost compared to other big cities across the EU.”

Portman Travel director John Dick says, for both cities to better compete with rival cities for MICE business, then ease of access is crucial. “Rail access is adequate, but there’s little doubt more and faster rail services add to the appeal when competing with overseas destinations or UK destinations.”

He adds that while few cities can take on capitals such as Paris and London, Man­chester and Liverpool are “well equipped” to compete against most European cities as business destinations.

Meanwhile, at Liverpool’s new Aloft hotel, GM Andrew Kendrick says the city’s “thirst for innovation” and landmark venues mean it can compete with major European players in attracting international and local events of all sizes.

With the two north-west giants looking for ever-more opportunities to harness meetings spend, BBT takes a look at what both cities can offer as MICE destinations.

Airports

IN TERMS OF PASSENGER TRAFFIC, MANCHESTER AIRPORT is thriving. In July, the international airport saw 2.5 million passengers pass through: a 6.1 per cent year-on-year increase in traffic. This brought its annual rolling total to a record 22.6 million. These figures followed the announcement that Manchester airport will undergo a £1 billion transformation programme over the next ten years. The scheme will more than double the size of Terminal 2 and link it to an improved Terminal 3 – in total there will be around 60 enhancements at the airport.

These improvements should help the city be more competitive when attracting business and events to the UK, although the airport already serves more than 70 airlines and 210 destinations, bringing £1.8 billion to the regional economy every year and employing 20,000 people.

LIKE MANCHESTER AIRPORT, LIVERPOOL JOHN LENNON AIRPORT (LJLA) is also undergoing a resurgence, with a 6 per cent increase in passenger traffic for the first half of 2015, compared to the same period a year earlier. LJLA carried more than 431,000 passengers in July compared to 403,000 in 2014 – the sixth consecutive month of growth.

New routes, a £2.4 million operating profit and a successful debt reduction plan has put the airport in a strong position for the future over the next few years.

In August, parent company, the Peel Group, guaranteed its financial future with a long-term agreement with lenders that will underpin a major investment programme at the airport over the next five years.

Although the airport cannot compete with Manchester in terms of route network or passenger numbers, its importance to the city cannot be understated. In July it was named Business of the Year at the City of Liverpool Business Awards in recognition of the contribution it makes to the region.

Hotels

MANCHESTER CITY CENTRE MAY BE LACKING IN THE NUMBER OF HOTELS compared to rival European destinations such as London, Berlin and Barcelona, but it can match them for range – from iconic to budget to high-end, the city centre has properties to match most business travel budgets.

The landmark Hilton Manchester Deansgate, which opened in 2006, is a 47-storey mixed-use building. It dominates the skyline and is home to the Cloud 23 bar, the highest venue in the city, which can host private events accommodating up to 100 guests.

The Midland, Lowry and Radisson Blu Edwardian make up the city’s high-end offering, all with ample meetings space, while four-star properties Hotel Football Old Trafford – aptly situated on Sir Matt Busby Way – and Macdonald Manchester Piccadilly run them close for quality.

At the budget end of the spectrum, there is a Premier Inn, Ibis and Travelodge, all within a ten-minute walk of Piccadilly railway station.

IT’S HARD TO TALK ABOUT LIVERPOOL without mentioning the Beatles, and the Fab Four-themed Hard Day’s Night Hotel is a luxury property which can cater for up to 150 people in three event rooms inspired by the iconic group. The Live Lounge hosts some of the city’s best live performers every Friday and Saturday night. For similar iconic/boutique hotels, see the Sir Thomas Hotel, Hope Street Hotel and Titanic Hotel.

The city also boasts a Hilton, Malmai­son and new-kid-on-the-block Aloft Liverpool, which caters for the younger business traveller.

Venues/Events

VENUES HOSTING BUSINESS EVENTS include Manchester Central (formerly known as G-Mex), Manchester University, Bridge­water Hall and Manchester Town Hall.

The city proved it can host large events, with the successful 2002 Commonwealth Games. Many of the buildings built for the event, such as the National Cycling Centre, the City of Manchester Stadium and the Belle Vue Leisure Centre, can be hired for exhibitions and conferences.

IN JULY, GEORGE OSBORNE ANNOUNCED THE GOVERNMENT WOULD HELP FUND a return in 2016 of the 50-day International Festival for Business, after the city successfully held the event in 2014. Liverpool will also host Venue Expo in September, as well as the Business and Technology Show North West, and the Liverpool Business Exhibition in October. The city has many interesting meetings venues, including the Royal Liver Building, Tate Liverpool and Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club.

Rail

MANCHESTER HAS FOUR MAIN RAILWAY STATIONS IN THE CITY CENTRE, with Piccadilly and Victoria handling national services. Virgin Trains offers regular links to London in just over 2 hours, Birmingham in 1 hour 30 minutes, and Leeds in 55 minutes. There are four trains an hour from Piccadilly to the airport. Investment has also been agreed to link Victoria to Piccadilly, which is expected to trigger millions of pounds-worth of regeneration and ease congestion on the region’s railways.

LIVERPOOL LIME STREET offers local and national services. There are two peak-time trains an hour running from Liverpool to London, taking around 2 hours 30 minutes on Virgin Trains. Leeds can be reached in 1 hour 45 minutes, as can Birmingham. Many of the city’s large hotels can be reached within walking distance of Lime Street station. The city’s other termini are Liverpool Central, which can be used to access the Merseyrail link, and Liverpool Parkway, which runs regular buses to LJLA.

Free time

OUTSIDE OF MEETING ROOMS, Manchester has plenty to offer. The city’s trendy Northern Quarter, located ten minutes from Piccadilly station, offers late-night bars, shopping and a variety of restaurants. Manchester’s art gallery, located on Mosley Street in the city centre, has regular exhibitions showcasing local and national artists. There’s also an extensive choice of boutique shops and theatres, all within walking distance from city centre hotels.

IF YOU’RE PLANNING AN EVENT IN LIVERPOOL, the city offers an array of things to keep travellers happy during downtime. Liverpool’s Albert Dock comprises the largest single collection of Grade I-listed buildings in England, and is home to Tate Liv­erpool, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Beatles Story. Liverpool One is a shopping and leisure complex that opened in 2008 as part of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture.

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