Editor's Blog

Naughty but nice in Brighton
Well, a Burlesque striptease to launch a convention centre showround – that’s a first for me! Add in ice-creams, Elvis, Marilyn and Frank Sinatra impersonators, sea shanties and some impressive room changes and high-tech tricks, and it was truly an inspection visit to remember.

All this and more took place at the Brighton Centre’s Ultimate Site Visit which, for once, did justice to the hype. As Adam Bates, head of tourism for Brighton & Hove, said in his welcoming introduction, the Brighton Centre has suffered from the negative fall-out surrounding discussions for the past few years about its future – in particular, would it be knocked down and re-built. No wonder event organisers were put off from future bookings and nearby hotels could be forgiven for putting much-needed investment on hold. But, the landmark seafront building which, let’s be honest, needed a little love, is here to stay. And now that the spending of a few judicious millions has vastly improved the building, it was high time it put on a show to woo business back. And did it put on a show!

Incorporating the large covered frontage into the lobby area meant that when we arrived for the site visit, even on a misty grey day it felt light and bright and a very pleasant place to take coffee and pastries while listening to a harp. Similar changes have taken place in the new Restaurant on the top floor, which now offers ravishing views along the coast and was a glamorous place for caterer Kudos to show what it can do. All the old signage has been removed throughout the building – more than 1,000 in all – and replaced by 110 new ones. And it all helps.

The showround really was a treat. Lights, sound, food and drink were all used to great effect and local suppliers such as AVT and Aeon showed that the city has all the local talent an organiser would need. The Centre’s huge main space was transformed from a stylish conference venue to a glamorous gala dinner space as the day went on. Meeting rooms were set up with screens showing footage of Brighton past and present, together with multi-media and effective props that helped to bring the empty rooms alive. I particularly liked the bed with a seaview window projected above it, whose cover was decorated with the number of bedrooms the city can offer, to the soundtrack of seagulls and a gentle snoring. Other spaces were draped to create the atmosphere of a louche Burlesque party room combined with seaside deck and glamorous hosts, while yet another recreated Las Vegas showtime complete with stilt-walkers. The organisers I spoke to were thrilled.

Green issues weren’t ignored either and an interesting talk from a local sustainability consultant, Shelaine Siepel, explained what the Centre has been doing in terms of reducing energy and water – not to mention gaining BS8901 and ISO 14001 certification. Some of the figures quoted were truly impressive and, it has to be said no-brainers – changes to the urinals are saving more than £9,000 on the annual water bills and had a pay-back of just two months; new LED lighting has saved more than £40,000 and pay-back time was just six months…

And, we should remember, the Brighton Centre is also an important historic property. It has played host to every prime minister since it opened in 1977 – including Thatcher’s famous “The lady’s not for turning” quotation – Nelson Mandela and was the venue chosen by both Bing Crosby and The Jam for their last public performances.

Let’s be honest, Brighton is the sort of place you love or hate. And if you love it, as the organisers I met do – largely because they know their delegates love coming to meet (and party) in the city – you could just see they were itching to have a reason to re-book. And the Brighton Centre has given them plenty to think about.

We’re running a destination report on Brighton in the September issue of M&IT so look out for that if you’d like more news on what’s happening in the seaside town that can’t help putting on a show!

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