California dreamin’

Bournemouth may not quite offer the climate of the last stop on Route 66, but it certainly has that California vibe.

Whenever you visit Bournemouth you instantly get the feeling that this is a pretty extraordinary place.

It is a major centre of business innovation in a dream location, among the fastest growing economies in the UK with no sign of slowing. Micro breweries, trendy little bars, cosmopolitan eating and quirky boutiques busy themselves alongside a brand new multi-screen cinema complex and the usual suspects in branded shopping. A short distance away is a seven-mile stretch of golden sands and the thrill of the UK’s first pier to shore zip wire. Mostly the sun is shining – and by night the place comes alive with music, dancing and pop up events.

So what’s going on here?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what spurred the revitalisation of Bournemouth, once considered as little more than a charming old-fashioned seaside resort. But from 2010, major investments in infrastructure, facilities and restoration projects have created, and continue to build, the perfect setting for businesses and special interest groups to launch, promote and showcase new ideas and thinking across the industrial spectrum. It makes sense for organisations to host events in a place that is ‘happening’ and which has an affinity with their subject.

Bournemouth Borough Council has got behind bold and imaginative regeneration strategies, investing heavily in infrastructure and a creative strategy for promoting and delivering healthy and fulfilling lifestyle choices that work for all sectors of the community. In 2016, the beach and surrounding buildings provided the setting for the UK’s first fitness festival. FitLiving UK attracted 5,000 over a weekend and hopes to repeat or better its performance this summer. Twice yearly, BH Live Active holds its own Les Mills fitness festival, providing free sessions for local people to sample the many fitness choices on offer in the area. And in 2015, Bournemouth became an active, five-star member of the Sustainable Food Cities Partnership, making healthy eating a defining characteristic of the town.

Bournemouth has become a breeding ground for innovative start-ups in the tech and creative industries, thanks to its two vibrant, modern and pioneering universities. And a magnet for a high calibre workforce, hence the enduring presence of major businesses such as LV, JP Morgan, Nationwide, Sunseeker and Lush. Bournemouth also has strong scientific and medical credentials in academic research, such as the centre for orthopaedic research at Bournemouth University, encouraging major medical and scientific associations to include Bournemouth on their conference rosters. The contribution of both Bournemouth University and the Arts University of Bournemouth towards the tech and creative scene is legendary, with powerful contributions to the making of Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2; Kong, Skull Island, Star wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, Gravity, Slumdog Millionaire and Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Many young people who arrive as under-graduates, leave as millennials to join start-ups and corporate giants on the doorstep or to pioneer new technologies further afield.

All this is creating an irresistible vibe that has attracted  125,000 delegates and 2,700 business events in the past 6-months alone (Oct 17 – Mar 18), contributing around £38.1m to the local economy. What’s extraordinary is that it happens all year round, whatever the weather. And with a new owner at Bournemouth International Airport expanding domestic and international routes, things can only get better.

Boomtown stats

Bournemouth has been officially declared a ‘boomtown’ and continues to raise its profile through 2018, with significant developments in accommodation, transport, venues and the tech and creative industries. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • £45 million – to fund transport and infrastructure to improve access into and around Bournemouth Airport as well as unlocking nearby employment land
  • £40 million – new 131-bedroom Malmaison Hotel du Vin opening 2020
  • £12 million ­– new 215-bed Wessex hotel opening 2020
  • £90 million – seafront strategy to create unique leisure zones along the seven-mile coastline
  • £150 million – proposed mixed use development on the old Winter Gardens site above the Hilton Hotel, to include residential, restaurant, leisure and retail space
  • £25 million – creation of a new cultural quarter around Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre, to include multi-use performance space, hotel and restaurants and links to the beaches, town centre and forthcoming Winter Gardens scheme via a new Grand Garden Walk
  • £352 million digital gross value added (GVA) to the local economy in 2017
  • £44.2 million generated for the local economy from events at BH Live operated venues


Hundreds of amazing possibilities for events large and small

Whatever your event, Bournemouth certainly has the place for it, starting with the largest conference venue on the south coast.

Bournemouth International Centre hosts the best in musical entertainment and a continuous stream of major business and association events across four main halls, catering and breakout spaces. Just across the road, the delightful Art Deco Pavilion stages touring comedy, theatre shows and food and drink festivals throughout the year. Its ballroom offers a splendid setting for those big occasions and corporate hospitality.

Scores of traditional and boutique hotels and unique venues complete the picture in catering for smaller events. The now-established Hilton hotel offers classy accommodation, great hospitality and a range of stylish spaces for small and mid-sized business events.  With an uninterrupted vista to the sea and beyond, the Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Musuem provides a unique setting for small and high-end receptions. Fabulous business and hospitality facilities are also on offer at the nearby Bournemouth AFC stadium.

With so many things to do and places to stay, it’s easy for event organisers to build a package of incentives that give their event unique delegate appeal, whether they be doctors, nurses, software engineers, politicians or aspiring young students. How about beach yoga to refresh and revitalise tired delegates or a quick zip from the pier to the beach? Cocktails, perhaps, followed by a show? Take your pick of watersports, from gentle paddleboarding to jetski safaris and bay cruises; food safaris, bushcraft and high ropes. Or a leisurely tour of local distilleries and breweries.

Come on down. The water’s lovely.

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