Listed number 6 in the top 10 UK cities for meetings and events in the British Meetings and events industry survey 2020, this river-front city boasts easy access by plane and by the eco-friendlier train, with mostly walkable distances once in the city. Adding the waterways to this, gives us a clear perspective of the importance of trade heritage in the city. “Bristol has long been associated with trade, which makes it likely that many associations will find some relevant connection in and around the Bristol area. National conferences find Bristol a successful destination because of a combination of prices and access via air and rail,” says PCO Rob Eveleigh, Managing Director of Brightelm.
Innovative Spirit, High Technology
Nowadays, Bristol has enriched its key sectors focusing mainly on tech industry and innovation. Named the UK’s most productive tech cluster in the Tech Nation Report 2018, the city has partnered up with Boeing, Hewlett Packard and Toshiba as well as many start-ups and fast-growing companies like Ultrahaptics, which specialises in touchless technology. The Bristol Technology Showcase (BTS), which was held in 2019 and will return this year, was evidence of the city’s focus on emerging technologies and the themes encompassed in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The spirit of innovation is supported by the city’s two major universities, the University of Bristol (UoB) and the University of the West of England (UWE). In fact, the University of Bristol, one of the top 50 universities in the world, runs special Innovation Programmes allowing students to face and change the future by pursuing their academic specialism and applying it in a multi-disciplinary, real-life context. The University is also home to the Smart Internet Lab, with 200 experts on 5G radio/wireless, optical communications and networks, which in 2018 staged the world’s first public trial of 5G.
The University offers conference spaces for up to people, making it attractive for associations to find a connection between diverse academic and conferencing facilities. Neil James, Head of Venues & Events at the University of Bristol, highlights this connection: “The University has a global position among the world’s leading research-intensive universities, making it the top destination for students and staff internationally. Bristol’s strength and depth in key specialisms include institutes such as Bristol BioDesign Institute, Bristol Heart Institute, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research and Cabot Institute for the Environment. The University welcomes a range of association events each year, most recently the Solar Trade Association and the British Association for Crystal Growth.”
What is more, is at the core of events held at the University, as Mr James explains: “Bristol was the first UK city with European Green Capital status in 2015 and our community played a large role in helping the city deliver this. Sustainability remains one of the central strands shaping the University’s vision of the future. For events, the University offers sustainable options in terms of responsibly sourced catering with local suppliers, plastic-free environments and buildings that have been purposefully designed to embody the University’s philosophy towards the reduction in our carbon footprint. Our older, historic buildings are being upgraded to include energy efficient and alternative heating and lighting sources.”
Historically Strong Aerospace Cluster
Based just outside the central city area, lies one of the largest capable clusters of aerospace and firms in Europe. The South West Aerospace Cluster, the largest of its kind in the UK, sustains 14 of the top 15 global aerospace companies plus a diverse and innovative supply chain of approximately 800 companies. It combines aerospace and advanced engineering with a robust and dynamic digital and high-tech sector. Historically, the pre-existing British Aerospace and Bristol Aero Engines were purchased by Rolls Royce, which still holds a base in the north of the city along with Airbus.
These days there is a strong focus on aeronautical research and robotics through specialised centres like the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the Bristol & Bath Science Park and the National Composites Centre. The University of the West of England provides aerospace and advanced engineering courses linked to major companies and to the Ministry of Defence. Home to the last Concorde to ever fly, which was built in Bristol, Aerospace Bristol proves to be a unique facility for relevant associations, combining history and advanced engineering with event spaces right under the Concorde itself, among others.
Presence in the Artistic World
But it is not just technology that has made Bristol a known destination; its artistic and creative scene is just as important. A UNESCO creative city of film, Bristol is also home to Europe’s largest street art festival ‘Upfest’ and birthplace to the mysterious street artist Banksy as well as multi-award winning Aardman Animations. The diverse local talent is represented by Bristol Media, a large organisation with a mission to put Bristol on the map as a world-leading centre of creativity and innovation. The whole ecosystem is supported by innovative centres, like the Global Number 1 University Incubator SETsquared.
John Hirst, Chief Executive of Destination Bristol, says that the events industry reaps the seeds of these successful sectors in order to attract conferences and promote growth for the city. “At the end of last year, we set up a conference ambassador programme, to facilitate collaborations with the talented people within our key industries in order to attract conference business. Our organisation has also recently become a member of ICCA, which gives us a more prominent presence in this area and allows us to grow as part of a global community.”