Rajesh Agrawal, London Deputy Mayor for Business, declared recently, “After two years of insecurity, it’s very clear the events industry in London is roaring back to life. London is a world-class and sustainably focused destination for events and there has never been a better time to host your meeting or congress here.”
Suzanne Singleton, head of associations at London Convention Bureau, backs this up: “London’s events industry has got its energy back again and we are seeing a strong appetite for hosting international congresses in the city. London is always looking to reinvent itself and innovate and we’ve welcomed a number of major congresses and tens of thousands of delegates to the city this year.”
She emphasises that London’s strengths in sectors such as healthcare, largely led by its world-class universities, technology and sustainability have helped attract more bookings. In particular, she’s pleased that, following all the work London is doing to become more sustainable, the Barbican performing arts and convention centre in the City of London business district has been selected for next year’s Ecocity World Summit.
In Westminster, central London, the Queen Elizabeth II Centre (QEII) is seeing many former events returning and a host of new clients. “The thirst for events in London is showing no sign of being quenched,” says chief executive Mark Taylor. “The centre has been incredibly busy with large-scale events so far this year, including the Education World Forum, QCon software development conference and the Climate Innovation Forum.”
Improvements carried out at the QEII in the last year include the installation of AirSterile air purification and infection control units and building-wide 5Gbps reliable superfast wired bandwidth to ensure flawless live-streaming to remote and onsite audiences.
At ExCeL, the exhibition and international convention centre in London’s Docklands, executive director conferences and events James Rees says, “Market confidence has returned to pre-pandemic levels with congresses so far experiencing a 20 per cent increase in expected delegate numbers and international delegates representing 80 per cent of total attendance.” The centre is hosting more than 350 events this year.
For many, 2022 marks the first time these communities have met in person since the pandemic, even if many events were hybrid. They include major medical congresses such as EASL, the International Liver Congress, attended by 7,000 delegates in person and online, the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis Congress with 5,000 in-person attendees and the 27th WONCA Europe Conference for family doctors, held in conjunction with the Royal College of General Practitioners Annual Conference, with 3,000 onsite and remote participants.
The Royal College celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and WONCA European president Professor Shlomo Vinker was keen to welcome as many physical attendees as possible. “London’s global connections and geographic accessibility, including six airports, were key factors for London getting the successful bid,” he says.
London City is the closest airport to ExCeL but the opening this year of the Elizabeth Line, the new high-speed train line crossing the capital, is a game changer for the centre. It has its own dedicated station and from 6 November the journey from Heathrow Airport to ExceL will be cut from up to three hours to a mere 43 minutes without changing.
In the meantime, ExCeL has become the first UK venue of its kind to be certified carbon neutral on its way to achieving net zero. It has put the finishing touches to its extensive digital signage transformation project and created an outdoor seating area with plants and foliage at its west entrance.
The centre’s expansion programme is also well underway, destined to add 25,000 sqm to its convention and exhibition facilities and more outdoor spaces by 2024.
The constant stream of new and redeveloped venues and hotels enhances London’s delegate offer. Among them, the Grade II listed Battersea Power Station will reopen soon as a multi-faceted events centre. Olympia London is to reopen in 2024 as a world-leading cultural destination with a cinema, theatre, restaurants, shops, two hotels and office space. The Mandarin Oriental Mayfair and Park Hyatt London River Thames are set to open and the IHG InterContinental 02, by the Thames on the Greenwich Peninsula, will open a new ballroom next year and has plans to build a new pier.