Top role in ensuring all runs smoothly
Geoparks (GGN2016). Being held in Great Britain for the first time, the conference, under the patronage of international environmental organisation UNESCO, will welcome delegates from 32 countries. The conference is expected to pump more than £1.4million into Torbay’s economy.The event is being held at Torquay’s Riviera International Centre. Nicky Harding is the Conference English Riviera Manager. here she talks to Herald Express business editor JAN WOOSTER
QUESTION: What is your position?
ANSWER: Conference English Riviera Manager. I manage a conference and event bureau on behalf of the destination based at the Riviera International Centre, responsible for carrying out marketing and sales activities relating to business tourism.
QUESTION: How did you join RICC?
ANSWER: I joined the RICC in 1987 as reception manager having previously worked as a receptionist at Torbay Leisure Centre. My role then was to manage a reception team over seven days a week. I also ran a box office for events with several outlets across the Bay. I was also responsible for the promotion of our leisure and entertainment. Organising leaflet drops to all holiday establishments around the Bay and, at Christmas, to all the local businesses and Industrial Estates.
QUESTION: What is your background?
ANSWER: I was born in Brixham and attended Churston Ferrers Grammar School. My working career started as an air stewardess with British Island Airways and subsequently Air UK, and quickly moved upwards to senior stewardess. It was the most invaluable experience and one which I will always have the fondest memories of. Since first joining the RICC I have run an in-house exhibition team, worked in event sales under Gardner Merchant before taking up the role of Conference English Riviera Manager.
QUESTION: How did you get the 7th International Conference on Global Geoparks (GGN2016)?
ANSWER: Nick Powe, chairman of the English Riviera Global Geopark organisation, first contacted me in May 2013 and I was subsequently invited on to the Bid Team Working Group, responsible for putting together the conference bid. My role was to represent the conference venue and delegates' accommodation. The bid was managed by the Torbay Development Agency and Torbay Council.
The team met regularly to discuss the assorted elements of the conference. We were fortunate that Nick and Mel (Melanie Border) had copies of previous bids which gave us a template to work with and in turn gave us a better understanding of what would be required of us as a resort, to generate a conference as complex as this one. Our Bid was up against strong competition from China and another European Destinations.
QUESTION: How will it benefit South Devon?
ANSWER: The GGN2016 will attract a worldwide audience to Torbay and South Devon. It is an opportunity for the area to be showcased as not only a conference destination but also as a top tourist resort. It is widely acknowledged that delegates return to conference destinations for holidays, bringing with them their families and telling others about their experience. The conference offers a massive opportunity to build on our business market and further develop tourism to the region as a whole.
QUESTION: What challenges are you facing?
ANSWER: Attracting conferences will always be a challenge we live in a wonderful location but it is still perceived as a long way from anywhere. Many people I speak to remember their journey on the old A303 when they were going on their holidays as kids! However, it is very exciting to be able to inform prospective clients of the recent new link road improvements. There is obviously increased competition with new venues popping up all over the country with many of them closer to International airports which makes them very accessible.
Getting an organiser to visit the Bay is my biggest challenge however when they do get here they are bowled over by the area and its natural beauty.
Our immediate challenge with GGN2016 fast approaching, will be maximising on this opportunity as Torbay is put under an international spotlight, especially now that we have also officially been awarded UNESCO status. The anticipated media coverage will raise the profile of Torbay as a serious business destination and should ultimately result in more interest from International Associations, who perhaps had not considered Torbay in the past.
QUESTION: What has been you most significant achievement?
ANSWER: Securing such a high profile event as the National Union of Teachers was a major accomplishment, bringing with it unprecedented media coverage. Securing other major conferences such us the British Medical Association Conference and the National Federation of Young Farmers both contributed to raising the profile of Torbay, the latter who return in 2017, and will generate an estimated £3 million alone into our local economy. Also, most recently The National Federation of Retail Newsagents have committed to a three year contract between 2016 and 2018, generating an expected income of three quarters of a million over this period.
QUESTION: Who has been your most significant mentor?
ANSWER: I was fortunate enough to work with Barry Cole for 13 years. In my various roles during that time Barry made me analyse everything and always played "Devil's Advocate" by challenging decisions and giving an unbiased point of view.
QUESTION: How would you describe your management style?
ANSWER: I consider myself democratic but with a leaning to be persuasive when quick decisions are needed. I believe that working together and sharing ideas is the key to 'buy in' and a much happier workforce. When recruiting for sales I believe it is much better to recruit for attitude rather than aptitude because there are certain traits that are essential in a sales role and these cannot always be taught.
QUESTION: How do you keep enthused and keep things fresh?
ANSWER: I am lucky that I am so passionate about the product I sell, it never fails to keep me enthused. I have visited many fantastic places during my career but it is this region that I love above all others. As a conference destination we have so much to offer; a superb collection of hotels, a conference centre with an enviable reputation within the national conference community and a stunning seaside location which offers endless ideas for out of conference activities. I am passionate about what I do and the place in which I live; this keeps me enthused.
QUESTION: What awards have you (or the company) won?
ANSWER: In 2010 Conference English Riviera (then Conference Torquay) was nominated as one of the top conference teams in the UK, as voted for by many of our customers in a Meetings and Incentive Travel magazine poll.
I was one of the top three nominated finalists in the MIA AIM Special Contribution list in 2011 as Manager of Conference English Riviera: celebrating incredible People making a special contribution to the Conference Industry.
MIA is the UK meeting industry recognised body and since 2014 I have been honoured to act as Chair for the Destination Group. This group is made up of other key conference resort reps and meets bi-monthly. We are responsible for driving up meeting standards and lobbying new legislation
QUESTION: What other organisations are you involved with?
ANSWER: The Meetings Industry Association (MIA) – one of the leading associations for the meetings and events industry founded by a proactive group of hotel and conference centre operators and booking agent colleagues with the sole objective of making a difference within a sector that, aiming for excellence and providing networking opportunities.
The Association of British Professional Conference Organisers – an association representing conference and event organisers, widely acknowledged as facilitators of industry events and knowledge sharing across the conference industry.
Visit England and Visit Britain – both of which offer a support role in the marketing of business and conference tourism to this region.
QUESTION: What other projects are you involved with?
ANSWER: We have just secured the 125 year celebration conference for the British Deaf Association which is likely to bring approximately 1,000 delegates to Torbay in July 2016.
Securing conferences and events such as this and UNESCO is time consuming and very rewarding. I am currently working with a number of conference organisers on bringing their annual events to the Bay for 2016 and beyond. In many cases I can spend one to two whole days with a client and their team on site in Torquay looking at not only the RICC but all the add-ons and extras that are customary to large events such as these.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about yourself that not many people know?
ANSWER: I once got a hole in one at Broadsands Pitch and Putt!
CV SNAPSHOT:Born: PaigntonEducated: Gramercy Hall Private School / Churston Ferrers Grammar SchoolCareer track: Conference English Riviera (formerly Conference Torquay) Manager – May 2002 to present Riviera International Conference Centre Sales Executive – September 1993-May 2002 Riviera International Conference Centre New Business Development Manager – May 1991-September 1993 Riviera International Conference Centre Conference and Exhibition Manager – November 1989-May 1991Riviera International Conference Centre Leisure Sales Manager – November 1988-November 1989 Riviera International Conference Centre Reception Manager – November 1987-November 1988 Torbay Leisure Centre Receptionist – May 1987-November 1987 British Island Airways/Air UK Senior Stewardess –March 1979-May 1987
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