The 2014 Commonwealth Games might seem a long way off, but investment in infrastructure for them has already helped the host city of Glasgow to battle the recession.
That is the view of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, which has returned from an industry gathering in Frankfurt with 12 serious inquiries about business conferences that could be worth £35m to the city.
Scott Taylor, chief executive of the bureau, said that although market conditions were tough, investors were showing great confidence in the city.
“One of Glasgow’s great market advantages is that a number of key transport and infrastructure developments must go ahead because of the Commonwealth Games,” he said.
More than 200 developments, worth £5.5bn, are planned along the rejuvenated River Clyde waterfront over the next 15 to 20 years. Inevitably, the economic downturn has raised questions over the timing of some projects.
But in addition, more than £500m is planned on venues and infrastructure for the games, and more than 2,400 hotel rooms – many of them five-star with adjoining conference facilities – will be built in the next two years.
Mr Taylor said: “Investors know that Glasgow is going places, which is why they are pressing ahead with plans to open some new hotels that will be a major addition to our offer for conferences.”
Among the developments scheduled are:
?The five-star Blythswood Square hotel, which is aiming to be Scotland’s greenest hotel, and is opening in September.
?The five-star, £120m Jumeirah Glasgow, a 25- storey hotel with 160 rooms and suites, 85 serviced apartments and extensive conference amenities in the heart of the financial services district. It opens in 2011.
? The five-star Bothwell Plaza, with 320 bedrooms, conference facilities and 320,000 sq ft of office space. It opens in 2011.
The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre is also forging ahead with plans for Scotland’s new National Arena, which will be built within the SECC campus to designs by Foster and Partners. The 12,000-seat venue will be an integral part of Glasgow’s provision for the games.
The futuristic £70m Riverside Museum, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, which is being built on the banks of the Clyde to house the city’s transport collection, will open in 2011.
A £207m rail link between the city centre and Glasgow Airport should also open in 2014, in time for the games.
Glasgow attracts more than 3.2m UK and overseas visitors each year, who spend £800m in the local economy. Tourism at present supports 31,000 jobs in Glasgow, and the city council’s action plan aims to increase this number to 40,000 by 2016.
In the year to March, conference sales booked through Glasgow City Marketing Bureau were worth £131m, the equivalent of 494,150 delegate days.
The bureau claims there has never been a better time to book a conference in Glasgow, with the weakness of the pound against the euro and the dollar, meaning it is effectively 20 per cent cheaper to book a meeting in Glasgow than two years ago.
Clients booking the SECC from the eurozone or America can also take advantage of the weakness of sterling because they will be given a guaranteed price at today’s favourable exchange rates.
Ben Goedegebuure, director of sales at the SECC, said: “We are remaining sympathetic to economic fluctuation, to ensure parity with international visitors to the SECC, and we are running a number of initiatives targeted towards our clients across Europe and North America.”
Attracting overseas visitors is a priority for the Scottish tourism industry, which brings in more than £4bn annually for the economy. The Scottish government hopes a strong season will help offset the impact of the recession and it is backing the Homecoming 2009 celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet Robert Burns.
It hopes an investment of £5.5m in the Homecoming will lead to a return of more than £44m. The aim is to attract at least 100,000 additional overseas visitors to Scotland.
Marketing is targeted at domestic visitors and in 40 countries. North America, Australasia and Europe are the main markets, but the campaign is reaching emerging nations, including India and Russia.
The US is Scotland’s biggest overseas market, representing 15 per cent of total overseas tourists. But the second biggest source of overseas tourists is Ireland, which accounts for 11 per cent of the total.
Scotland is aware of the importance of the home market, in a year when the combination of recession and the strength of the euro has led to predictions that up to 50 per cent of Britons will take holidays in the UK.
Tourism officials said it was too early to judge the success of the Homecoming celebrations, but booking levels at visitor attractions were encouraging.