Evidence that Aviemore in Scotland has finally turned a corner in its attempts to diversify to become a year-round destination for business, as well as leisure, has been revealed.Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort (MAHR) has announced that its conference business has doubled over this winter compared to the same period last year, giving a significant estimated £15m boost to the local economy at a time when there are fears that another season of unpredictable levels of snow could prove costly to the area.
Aviemore has historically been known as a ski centre, however MAHR, the centrepiece of the multi-million pound regeneration of the area, is making its mark in pulling in lucrative conference business that could ensure that Aviemore is always open for business, no matter the weather.
Between November 2004 and March 2005, MAHR played host to 84 conferences, attracting 4245 delegates. But in the period from November 2005 to March 2006, the number of conferences has almost doubled to 153, with numbers of delegates more than tripling to 13,418.
Since the Resort opened 18 months ago, it has hosted a total of 244 conferences, attracting over 33,000 delegates. Events held include those by oil companies (BP, Shell), government and its agencies (The Scottish Executive, DEFRA, NHS Scotland, Visit Scotland), the drinks industry (Pernod Ricard,Chivas, Wm Grant & Sons), BT, Legal & General, Oriflame and Bank of Scotland, as well as conferences organised by three of the main political parties.
There are already almost 100 confirmed conferences planned for the rest of this year, with a number of others in the pipeline. The start of March saw the Aviemore Mountain Film Festival taking place; the Scottish Liberal Democrats gather for their annual conference at the end of March; and Conoco Phillips oil conference is being held in the summer.
Sean Sullivan, MD of MAHR, said:
“Since we opened 18 months ago, we have always stressed that MAHR is the catalyst the area needs to encourage significant numbers of visitors, irrespective of season. It would appear that our hopes have been realised with over 33,000 people attending conferences here, when previously they would have gone elsewhere, not just in Scotland or the UK but in Europe.
“We have seen some of the UK’s biggest conferences being held in Aviemore for the first time, culminating in the Labour Party’s conference last weekend, but with yet more to come. In the last week alone, over 3,000 delegates have passed through our doors. The evidence is that they’re not just staying in the Resort but venturing out into local shops and restaurants, spending money.
“Location and facilities are everything in attracting conference business. People are realising just how accessible Aviemore is and, once they are here, they are experiencing world-class conferences against a stunning backdrop that is unique. From the level of interest we continue to receive from around the world, this trend of 365 days of conferences is here to stay.”
It’s a view supported by Jonathan Gatenby, Chairman of the Aviemore Business Association:
“Since the regeneration of the Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort, Aviemore has seen a substantial increase in business as a consequence of new conference trade, as well as from the additional numbers of leisure tourists. This has undoubtedly levelled out the variations in trading throughout the year that the village has traditionally experienced in the past, especially when the skiing season has been poor.
“Tourism businesses locally have reported substantial year-on-year growth in January, much of which can be attributed to the heightened profile of the village and the new facilities. We see delegates from conferences around the village, using local facilities and services, and we are delighted that businesses of all descriptions are now sharing in the benefits of year-round trading.”
Professor Terry Stevens, International Tourism Consultant, agrees that the current £128m generated by tourism in the area still has potential to grow and praised the Resort for being at the heart of this:
“MAHR is now a major contributor to the Aviemore and Cairngorm economy. It provides significant community benefit through jobs and leisure for local people and direct economic benefit to other local businesses. If this is sustained throughout the year, it can only augur well for Aviemore achieving its aspiration to be a year-round destination, not just for leisure tourism but for business too.”