Harrogate International Centre backed with £1.2m council funding for refurbishment work

Harrogate International Centre
Harrogate International Centre

Harrogate International Centre (HIC) has received a £1.2m boost from the borough council in order to complete a number of refurbishment projects.

Renovation work including toilet refurbishment, roof repairs and a transformer replacement will now be carried out in a bid to update the centre's facilities.

Simon Kent

Simon Kent

The works are part of a longer term Sales and Marketing strategy to deliver an "incremental growth in income" after the HIC failed to post a profit this year.

Simon Kent, HIC Director, said that while the work was not "glamorous", it was essential to help the conference centre compete in the market.

He said: "The HIC site is quite old, the main part is 35 years old. Over the years we have added more bits on and clearly there is a need to refurbish elements of the site.

"We are focussing on how we are going to look in ten years time and what we need to do to improve.

"Conferences are getting smaller in terms of attendances but they're also becoming much more specific.

"There's about three or four times as many venues as there were before but the HIC is still an incredibly valuable part of Harrogate.

"We've got a strategy in place to capture the market, we're aiming for smaller conferences but more of them. In the past we have been relying on large events which might not exist any more."

The HIC has calculated that it brought in an estimated £60m economic benefit for Harrogate in 2016/17 with 216 events attended by 316,000.

However, Mr Kent admitted that it has been a difficult three years for the HIC to adapt not only to economic downturns but an increase in competition.

With fresh competition from conference centres in Liverpool and Belfast, with building work also due to begin in Cardiff next year, the HIC has struggled economically.

The HIC was not in profit for the year end April 2016, and a profit is not forecast for April 2017, but Mr Kent believes the new strategy will improve its fortunes.

He said: " We've got a new sales and marketing strategy in place and we are going to rebrand the HIC next year.

"We are still receiving funding from the council and we have received subsidies in the last couple of years although it's relatively small.

"People are still going to exhibitions and conferences but it's just in smaller numbers than before. This means we have to squeeze more events into the diary.

"There's also been a growth in consumer exhibitions which we have not done before. But this is the whole purpose now, to get to a profit."

The HIC is now planning to rebrand as the Harrogate Convention Centre in a bid to take advantage of the town's heritage as well as launching an Ambassador programme.

Mr Kent said that, while the strategy may not return profit in the next two or three years, he expects it to result in the HIC becoming a profitable conference centre.

"We are building a brand around Harrogate being the home of events; the homeliness, the safety and the heritage," he explained.

"With the current security climate as it is, as Harrogate is is a small town we are seen as a safe environment."

"We have been doing events for a long time, Harrogate was created to serve visitors, originally these were spa visitors but now they are conference visitors."