Exhibition World Issue 2 — 2019 - Page 14

Big Interview Unleashing the NEC’s potential Group CEO of the UK’s Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, Paul Thandi, speaks to EW as he leads the Blackstone-backed group in delivering a new end-to-end event ‘resort’ experience. The venue will also show off its Vox Centre as host of UFI’s European Conference, 15-17 May ow has the acquisition of the NEC Group by Blackstone last October impacted your strategy? Blackstone have invested into our people strategy and, importantly, our vision to become Europe’s most successful live events business. We have ambitious plans which can now be realised across our existing businesses, real estate opportunities and possible extensions to our current model. How is the exhibition business performing and what are your targets? We have seen double digit growth across our business consistently for the last few years and have similar levels dialled into our plans going forward. 2019 has got good growth in our arenas, catering, ticketing conference and exhibition businesses. Exhibitions are at the heart of our growth. As a predominately UK-based organisation we continue to be confident in the general landscape, albeit we know that the backdrop of Brexit can present short term headwinds to some sectors our customers operate within. The NEC is hosting the UFI European Conference in May, a great opportunity to showcase your facilities to global peers. We’re thrilled to be the first ever UK hosts of the UFI European Conference and we’ll be greeting our international delegates at the Vox, our newest and most technically capable conferencing space. We have seen significant growth at the Vox, since it opened in October 2015. How can exhibitions be even better drivers of economic growth and how are you working with organisers to achieve results? We have invested heavily into the visitor and exhibitor offer, particularly in technology and customer service. This is not only our own 14 Issue 2 2019 investment, but we are bringing on third party investment and will be at the forefront of once in a generation infrastructure investment that is now beginning to be made to the communication links in and around the NEC campus and the city centre sites, with the preparation for Commonwealth Games in 2022 and High Speed 2 in 2026. Our organisers benefit from our knowledge and experience of the ever-changing range of events we’ve hosted over the past 43 years. Data insights on past behaviours, customer segmentation and market categorisation demographic profiling allow us to help our organisers develop their content. Our ticketing agent, The Ticket Factory, recently launched a new dedicated B2B registration product called Expoware, designed to help customers capture essential insight and data on their audience and behaviours. We have a flexibility within our business to offer models that encompass tenancy, data and ticketing and hospitality to meet best the customers’ needs. You have experience of different types of venue ownership, wherein lie the strengths and weaknesses of the main public versus private models? We were owned by Birmingham City Council until 2015 and developed the NEC site considerably whilst under their ownership, growing from just five exhibition halls when we first opened in 1976. We now have 182,000sqm of covered exhibition space, in 18 interconnecting halls, in addition to 34 conference suites, an arena and a new conference centre together with fully invested existing halls. In the later years under Birmingham City Council’s ownership, however, we had to turn down several opportunities because they fell outside the Council’s governance funding and investment remit. Paul Thandi has 20 years’ experience in the media and events industry. He was previously an Executive Director at CMP Information, an operating company of UBM. He has been responsible for transformational change at the NEC Group, developing the Group’s venues into leisure destinations, with visitor numbers to the NEC campus doubling in the last three years. This strategy has included introducing and partnering with the £150m entertainment complex, Resorts World Birmingham. He also signed up Merlin Entertainments to open their LEGOLAND Discovery Centre at Arena Birmingham and launched the first Bear Grylls Adventure at the NEC. The NEC Group operates the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Resorts World Arena and the Vox Conference Centre in Solihull. The Group also operates the International Convention Centre (ICC) and Arena Birmingham in Birmingham city centre. It also manages support services, including a national ticketing agency, The Ticket Factory; hospitality brand, Amplify; and caterer, Amadeus. w w w.exhibitionworld.co.uk