Adam Bates has the £1 billion job. That’s how much money tourism and the conference trade generates for the local economy.
Mr Bates has spent ten years as the head of tourism in Brighton and Hove. His job title has changed a few times over those years – he is now the head of tourism and leisure at Brighton and Hove City Council.
And the value generated by visitors probably exceeds the £1 billion estimate produced two years ago by researchers in a report about the economic impact of tourism.
He occupies the Mayor’s office at Brighton Town Hall. He said: “When I started, I was put in here and told it would be temporary. Ten years later, I’m still here.” The Mayor and her team are billeted next door.
Every now and then, there are cheers from just below his window as happy couples emerge from the register office with their wedding parties.
If that’s not enough to lift the spirits, a glance at Brighton’s record as a destination over the past ten years ought to gladden the hearts of those who care about our city by the sea.
Mr Bates said: “The value of tourism grew by about £195 million between 2003 and 2010. So the city has done OK in the face of stiff competition.
“But the last few years have undoubtedly been tough for local businesses.
“The Brighton Centre generates events with a value of around £60 million to the economy each year and the Convention Bureau generates a similar amount of new business each year.”
Next month the Labour Party conference arrives in town, with dozens of hotels full booked. Many more pubs, bars and restaurants can expect to do a good trade.
The Convention Bureau attracts not only the high-profile annual party conferences but year-round bookings from trade unions and a host of academic, medical and religious organisations among others.
The British Red Cross, the Mind, Body and Spirit Festival and the Brighton Marathon exhibition are all booked in over the coming year.
Mr Bates returned to Brighton to start his current job in 2003. He spent four years here as a student. He did a degree in hotel and catering management at the poly – now Brighton University.
Then he went to work for Disneyland Paris as a management trainee. From there he joined the British Tourist Authority which rebranded itself as Visit Britain ten years ago – the same year that Mr Bates came back to Brighton.
It wasn’t long before the new head of tourism was running Visit Brighton. He is proud of setting up Visit Brighton “and its transition from a service with no partners to one with 450 and from a service which relied upon printed brochures to one driven by a digital offering”.
The money contributed by those 450 partners pays for the way Brighton promotes itself to tourists, the conference trade and a host of other visitors.
The value of Visit Brighton and the way that it is funded are even clearer now when the public finances are under increasing pressure.
Mr Bates said that it has played a crucial role in helping new events and attraction come to the city – everything from helping get the Marathon and Brighton Wheel taken through the permissions required.
He has also played a role in the re-establishment of Brighton and Hove’s Commemorative Plaque Panel and is delighted to see blue plaques remembering notable lives and their local links.
He was involved in securing the booking for the Council of Europe conference in Brighton last year. The world’s media reported from the town, generating millions of pounds of free publicity.
Bids for conference business involve the tedium of completing lengthy tender documents. And the competition from rival resorts is fierce.
But Mr Bates said: “All of these (conferences) have been with the aim of securing opportunities for employment for our communities and local people.”
The visitor economy is reckoned to keep more than 18,000 people in work – the equivalent of more than 13,000 full-time jobs.
Brighton’s rivals were once considered to be the likes of Bournemouth and Blackpool. Mr Bates is far too diplomatic to describe somewhere like Blackpool as the last resort.
But he suggests that these days Brighton is more of a global competitor up against the likes of Melbourne, Barcelona and Copenhagen.
On the domestic front, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin are keen contenders for the big conferences – and for the thriving trade in stag and hen parties that underpins another part of the visitor economy.
He doesn’t have the budget to advertise heavily. Instead Visit Brighton courts the media around the world.
Mr Bates said: “It’s about getting new and repeat business to the city. We do that in three ways.
“The Visit Brighton website – it’s gone from 10,000 to 1.8 million unique users a year since it was set up eight years ago and 12 million page impressions.
“We facilitate the press, hosting 100-plus journalists a year, mostly international, getting reach in publications and feeding them with good images and providing stock pictures.
“And the Convention Bureau and conference sales, targeting conference organisers. I used to run the national convention bureau. Melbourne’s got that combination of serious business and events. It’s got a world stage with the tennis and the grand prix.
“Copenhagen closer to home is impressive. They may have newer conference centres and more bed space but there’s not a city like Brighton with the sea and the proximity to London.
“There’s an air of conviviality here. People might come to a serious medical conference but then they want fish and chips on the pier.”
He is mindful of the debate about the Brighton Centre and calls to replace it. He played a key part in the refurbishment since when tens of millions of pounds of bookings have been generated.
He said: “It would be lovely to have a new conference centre but it’s not going to happen any time soon. Not in this economic climate.
“You wouldn’t get a lot of change out of £120 million for a new Brighton Centre.
“The absolute trick to our future success is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about events. It’s about reasons to visit. And it’s about balancing out the seasonal impacts.
“What we don’t need are more events in June, July and August. The marathon is the best example of how events drive business at other times of the year.
“Hotels have 100 per cent occupancy that weekend. In the previous year, before the first marathon, it was 45 per cent.”
The biggest event coming up for Mr Bates, 44, a married father of two, is his departure from the council. He is leaving at the end of the year to set up his own conference business – Venuesadvisor.com.
He said: “It’s a destination comparison website for conference organisers. One of the principle choices a conference organiser makes is about their location.
“There’s a £121 billion spend on travel and tourism in the UK and business tourism accounts for a third of that with conferences accounting for third of that.
“The site is UK-based but international and high end. It’s Trip Advisor for the conference trade.
“I hope to develop a business which can employ talented local people. I hope it will succeed internationally and will be associated with Brighton and Hove.
“I think it will benefit the city – I love the place and will make sure I can support it wherever and whenever I can.”
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