Coventry & Warwickshire targets growth in international business tourism

Coventry and Warwickshire is targeting growth in international business tourism with its core industry sectors and universities key to driving visitors to the destination.

The region’s convention bureau, Conference Coventry and Warwickshire, has spoken with five venues across the region to gain insights into how international business for the conference, exhibition and events sector is rebuilding following the pandemic.

Coventry Cathedral, Warwick Conferences, Coventry Building Society Arena, the Telegraph Hotel and the British Motor Museum all engaged in the initiative.

Venues stressed the importance of key sectors such as automotive, engineering and gaming as the key drivers behind business from abroad for the region, while also highlighting how vital Coventry University and University of Warwick are to the region.

The survey indicated that international business has been slower to return than other areas of the sector, with travel restrictions and the pandemic still impacting confidence, with enquiries for larger scale events only just beginning to return.

Birmingham Airport, the gateway for international tourism to the region, has reported its passenger volumes for February 2023 were more than 84% of February 2020.

The airport is working closely with Conference Coventry and Warwickshire to support the development of its proposition to attract business tourism from overseas, with the convention bureau investing significantly to promote the region on the international stage at events such as IBTM World in Barcelona.

Warwick Conferences were among the partners on stand at IBTM World and generated a range of leads from international clients at the show. Gail Tomlinson-Short, head of business development, says the show proved that Coventry and Warwickshire has a narrative that resonates internationally.

“We are still not back to our pre-pandemic levels with international business, this has been impacted by the introduction of virtual and hybrid events, but we are now starting to see larger scale events begin to return,” she said.

“When speaking with buyers, it’s our creative industries, incubator hubs, pedigree in advanced manufacturing and locations that really appeal.”

The Telegraph Hotel in Coventry city centre is seeing steady growth in international business, with 36 per cent of its rooms business being non-UK, and Amy Windsor, general manager, says the city’s universities and developing cultural offer are helping to re-establish international tourism in the city.

Amy said: “European business is vital for us and having the longer lead-in times of international enquiries really does help. The universities returning to face-to-face work mean we have more travellers coming in and out of the city. As a city we’re enjoying a cultural renaissance following City of Culture and need to shout more about ourselves and raise awareness of our destination.”

The region’s largest conference venue, Coventry Building Society Arena, currently sees international business represent 17 per cent of its work, but commercial director, Paul Michael, says new exhibitions at the venue tend to be more UK national based.

The venue is seeking to develop more international business, but also is looking to help its existing shows break into international markets.

Coventry Cathedral’s head of tourism and engagement, Carla Crawley, says the iconic cathedral attracts international business from Germany, Canada and the US due to the profile of reconciliation work in other countries.

She said: “We have seen a decrease in international travellers since the pandemic,but our location is ideal and particularly the fact we are so easy to access from London is a great selling point. The region needs to look at a collaborative effort to attract more global visitors and I think we are in a great position to do that.”

Toby Batchelor, head of commerce at the British Motor Museum in South Warwickshire, stressed how international business is tied to key sectors.

“I think our international proposition is intrinsically linked to our region’s industry sectors. We see a lot of delegates coming to our region for conferences organised by automotive, engineering and gaming,” he said.

“The automotive industry in particular is interested in holding conferences here because they want to attract delegates from the businesses based in the region.

“We’re starting to see signs of international trade returning, but it is slower than the rest of the conference market. Big extravaganzas for international business aren’t quite back yet, but the green shoots are there.”

Conference Coventry and Warwickshire organises familiarisation trips for international buyers looking to bring meetings and events to the region, with recent events welcoming visitors from India, Canada, Australia and across Europe.

Paul Jones, managing director of Conference Coventry and Warwickshire, said: “International was always going to be the slowest part of the conference and exhibition market to rebuild, but we are certainly starting to see growth return in that area.

“We’re working in partnership with our members, be that venues, hotels or transport providers, to attract more international business to the region as we know we have a strong product with a story that generates international interest.”