Opened in 2000, the giant conference and exhibition centre ExCeL London was designed to provide everything event organisers could desire. It stretches the whole length between two Docklands Light Railway (DLR) stations in East London and on each side of its long central avenue it has huge and flexible spaces.
‘On one side alone’, says James Rees, ‘we sat 50,000 delegates theatre-style for a prayer meeting.’
James is the Executive Director who has been at ExCeL London for 15 years. ‘So much happens here, so much changes, that it’s a continually renewable job’, he told me.
The new developments can be categorised four ways: additional function facilities; constant improvement in access from all over the world; increasing range of nearby accommodation; and major investments in industrial activity around ExCel.
New event facilities
‘We are an unrivalled venue for large conferences and exhibitions’, James continues, ‘but smaller corporate events do not find themselves dwarfed and they are becoming a bigger proportion of our business. The two parallel halls can each divide into smaller spaces, one into 29 separate rooms and the other into 14. We have also added the Platinum Suite with rooms designed for from 20 to 1200 delegates.
‘Then, more recently, we created the CentrEd. This is a facility specially designed for training sessions and meetings for 20 to 400 people. It has its own entrance which is styled so that delegates have the sense of entering a hotel lobby.
‘In fact’, James comments, ‘a sense of human proportions and comfort is constantly being emphasised. We have just spent £1.25m on the refurbishment of delegate lounges and dining areas.’
The reputation of ExCeL London is also spreading internationally. ‘About 50% of our events are now sourced from the UK’, says James, ‘with 25% from mainland Europe and 25% from North America. We began promoting internationally in 2010 and we are still widening our markets globally’.
Rapid access developments
ExCeL London was one of the pioneer projects opening the previously neglected Docklands area opposite the then new Millennium Dome across the River Thames and close to the new London City Airport. A favoured means of access is the driverless DLR (Docklands Light Railway), which is even regarded by some visitors to London as a scenic ride through otherwise unknown areas along the Thames.
‘The Docklands was the setting for the London Olympics in 2012’, James points out, ‘and now we are benefiting from its legacy. Transport for London invested to improve and extend the DLR stations so they could add an extra coach to the previous 2-car trains. Elevators were constructed at Custom House station.
‘Now, of course, one of Europe’s largest rail projects is the Elizabeth Line. Previously known as Crossrail, it will provide a direct link from Reading in Berkshire in the West straight across central London as far as Abbey Wood to the East. Delegates travelling to ExCeL London will be able, for example, to get from Bond Street to the venue within 13 minutes and anyone arriving at London Heathrow will only need 43 minutes to reach our venue.
‘The first stage of the Elizabeth Line will start operating in December 2018 and the whole system should be up and running one year later’.
Additional hotel rooms
James says that hotel chains are well aware of the growing opportunities around ExCeL London. There are several well-established hotels close by, as well as the Sunborn Yacht Hotel on the river. Furthermore, the Emirates Airline is a cable car facility that can bring delegates across the river from the properties at the Dome.
‘There are newly completed projects and others under way, such as at the Doubletree Hilton, Hampton by Hilton, Travelodge, Holiday Inn Express’, lists James, ‘so that delegates to events at ExCeL London have an endless choice to suit their budgets, either close to the venue or in central London.’
James ended the interview on another high note. ‘The district immediately surrounding ExCeL London’, he announced, ‘has been selected for massive investment by a Chinese organisation and we have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them. Their aim is to make the district a hub for Chinese and other Asian businesses who wish to establish themselves in the UK and Europe. ExCeL London will be in the midst of a whole range of new Hi-Tech industries.’