Excel heads up bid to lure business tourists


Six months after world leaders converged on Docklands, the Excel is launching its campaign to be the world's biggest and best convention centre.

City Hall has thrown its backing behind the bid and last week the Mayor's Office announced it would be pivotal to a strategy aimed at boosting business tourism in the capital.

A big draw for the Business Tourism Working Group, set up by Boris Johnson's team, was the £165million extension of Excel due to be opened in May next year.

It will see the venue grow by 50 per cent and, with a new auditorium capable of hosting 5,000 delegates, will be officially recognised as an international conference centre.

For Excel chief executive Kevin Murphy, it is a major boost during a recession.

Speaking at the launch of the business strategy at Visit London's City offices last Thursday, he said: "This year has been tough and next year is going to be tougher but when the markets recover we will be ready with superb facilities.

"We update the five year plan every six months and 2011, 12, 13 and 14 are already looking really strong."

The venue, owned by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, has long been comfortable financially, and believes it is in a good position to spearhead the capital's strategy.

The Business Tourism Working Group, which includes leading City businesses and Visit London, was set up in September tasked putting on more high profile events in the capital.

It has already had an initial meeting looking at helping to raise London's position in the International Congress and Convention Association from a lowly 19th.

Recently launched twice daily flights between London City and New York have also boosted the campaign with visitors from the US landing minutes from the centre.

And, looking back, Murphy believes a huge step was successfully hosting London's G20 meeting in April.

He said: "When we first looked at the G20, we had to think long and hard about whether we really wanted it.

"We had to take into account the potential protests, whether it would diminish our brand and can we contain the security aspects.

"In the public sector it raised our profile immensely and we are now securing more public sector events."

City Hall director of marketing Dan Ritterband said: "There is a requirement for video conferencing but conventions will happen and we need a piece of that business."

- Excel has been voted the top conference centre and London the best place in the world to host a conference, in a poll of corporate travel planners.

The Conference & Incentive Travel Magazine, which carried out the survey, said it believed the capital's positioning, and Excel's performance in recent high-profile events, such as the G20, won them most votes from 400 event planners.

C&IT editor Yasmin Arrigo said: "With just over 1,000 days to go until the 2012 Olympics rolls into the capital, corporate event planners have placed London top of the conference league.

"And on the eve of Excel London becoming the capital's first international convention centre, London can be justifiably proud."