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Rhena Holt looks back at 25 years in Birmingham’s events spotlight

Rhena Holt
One of the city’s longest serving events professionals is bringing her association with the sector to an end this month. Rhena Holt, operations manager for the city’s official event support provider Birmingham Convention Bureau, part of Marketing Birmingham’s business tourism operation, is retiring after a career that has seen her bring some of the world’s most prestigious and profitable events to the city.

From hosting 25 different countries at Europe’s biggest music extravaganza to welcoming a newly-elected Prime Minister at his party’s autumn conference, Birmingham’s events calendar over the past quarter of a century has been as varied as it has been momentous.

Having witnessed the city’s growing international reputation and success in staging important events first hand, Holt commented: “Over the past two decades, I have been proud to see Birmingham establish itself as a popular international meetings destination.

“While our venue range and central location have been key to Birmingham’s achievements in this sector in recent years, it should never be underestimated just how quickly and effectively the city pulls together to provide the very best welcome for our many guests.”

1998 – Birmingham’s time to shine
1998 saw Birmingham’s events sector at the centre of the world’s attention like never before.

The city beat off competition from 13 other UK destinations to host the Eurovision Song Contest at the National Indoor Arena (NIA). Senior organisers viewed Birmingham as the best suited to handle the sheer scale of the event thanks to its transport infrastructure and accommodation offer. Bands, delegates and media from 25 countries descended on the city, with pictures beamed to a TV audience of more than 300 million.

Less than a week later, Birmingham was again in the spotlight, playing host to delegates and journalists from the world’s most powerful countries for the G8 summit. The three-day event brought together eight world leaders, including Tony Blair and Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton. The latter was famously pictured on the balcony of one of the city’s canalside pubs during the event, drawing more attention to the city’s broader welcome to visitors.

Completing a hat-trick of prestigious events, the Lions Club International Convention, the world’s biggest conference of its kind, staged its annual meeting at the city’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and International Convention Centre (ICC). 25,000 delegates from 180 countries boosted the region’s economy by more than £30 million. The city was praised by Lions delegates for its accessible location, leisure offer and partnership approach.

Rotary turned around in record time
The 100th Rotary International Convention took place in Birmingham in June 2009. The city came together to submit a winning bid in just seven days when original hosts Seoul pulled out.

The high-profile event reinforced Birmingham and the wider region’s ability to organise major international events at short notice, with around 20,000 delegates from more than 150 nation states filling the city’s NEC to discuss humanitarian issues. The city was brought to life with its first International Food Fair, street theatre, live music and extended opening hours at its shops and art galleries to leave a positive impression on its international guests.   Birmingham: Bringing more to the party   Birmingham has been a major player on the party conference circuit since 2008, thanks to an unprecedented nine political events – including all three main UK parties, the Green Party and UKIP.   The city’s event expertise was thrust into the world’s gaze in 2010 when it played host to David Cameron’s first autumn conference as newly-elected Prime Minister. Birmingham welcomed more than 14,000 Conservative delegates and hosted a bespoke fringe programme, putting itself at the heart of the news and policy agenda. 

The success of the city’s collaborative approach for party political events, from accommodation providers to policing and security, will see the Tories’ autumn conference return to the ICC in 2014, the last before the following year’s General Election.

Neil Rami, Chief Executive of Marketing Birmingham, the city’s strategic marketing partnership which operates the Birmingham Convention Bureau, said: “Birmingham has proved over the past 25 years that it has the energy, know-how and facilities to deliver conferences better than anywhere else in the UK.

“In an increasingly competitive market, it is crucial that we stay ahead of the pack. Multi-million pound redevelopments to our hotel and event spaces – plus transport hubs such as New Street station and Birmingham Airport – ensure that the city is well positioned to confidently welcome its next wave of high-profile delegates and events.”

On Rhena’s retirement he added: “Rhena has been at the heart of Birmingham’s events industry for 25 years. Her tireless efforts to bring major events, that have not only delivered huge economic benefits to the city but that have helped develop its global profile, have been incredible. The city has much to thank her for and she will be hugely missed by her colleagues at Marketing Birmingham.”

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