A hidden gem for British business

s it stands, more than 90 per cent of the UK population now lives (and works) in one of the country’s cities with big hitters like London, Manchester and Glasgow seeming to hog much of the limelight. But it’s time to look beyond the big guys, writes Richard Trenchard.

Pictured: Leeds Castle, Kent

Looking outside these key urban regions you’ll soon find an abundance of unique destinations crammed with personality. Many offer the same accessibility and technological infrastructure you’d expect from a major metropolis, which means they’re capable of meeting even the highest conference and expo demands.

South East England is arguably top of this list, so it’s easy to understand why this area is fast becoming one of the most popular choices in the country for meetings and corporate gatherings. In addition, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership has seen a rapid grown in the creative economy – there are more than 15,000 creative businesses but the region is also popular with high-tech companies.

Getting in and around
For international visitors, South East England couldn’t be easier to reach. Heathrow and Gatwick airports both serve the region and are the busiest in the UK – amongst the busiest in the world, too. For internal flights, Southampton Regional Airport connects South East England with much of the UK.

Those arriving from other parts of the country may find it more difficult, in fact, with fewer internal flights than in the past at the aforementioned airports. Having said that, the country’s rail network – while notoriously expensive for long distance, short notice trips – is amongst the world’s most comprehensive. Bear in mind though, the majority of passengers will need to arrive into one of the London terminals before transferring for their onward journey.

Taxis for longer distances are unlikely to be the most cost-effective mode of transport, although for more remote venues it may be necessary to consider some form of private car. Most destinations will be within one hour, or 90 minutes maximum, from the capital. It’s also worth checking whether your boss’ destination venue offers a free shuttle service – often those which double up as a tourist attraction.

An abundance of options
Larger than any single county, there’s no official start and end to this area. With that in mind, we’ve attempted to focus down on the most popular choices for business destinations.

Brighton & Hove is high on the list for conferences and expos. Neighbouring towns that form one city, the seaside resort is known for nightlife and its alternative spirit but, nevertheless, there are many possibilities here for work trips, from huge exhibition centres to heritage hotels packing state-of-the-art kit.

Guildford, located in Surrey, is another big hitter in the business market, thanks to its proximity to Heathrow Airport and good links to London. The area isn’t as well known for its leisure offering, but has plenty of historic sites to wow delegates.

The Royal Borough of Windsor (just 15 minutes from Heathrow) offers more intimate options for doing business so it’s unlikely you’ll be organising anything larger than a board or general meeting.

Kent is a county in its own right, directly bordering Greater London, with towns like Canterbury, Maidstone, and Gillingham located here.

Southampton, which is further away from the London sprawl, is a city, too, and offers the benefits and facilities you would expect of a city. It’s also one of the busiest seaports in Europe.

Essential education
England is the largest country in the United Kingdom, which should not be confused with the British Isles (an unofficial region that also includes the Republic of Ireland).

The government is a constitutional monarchy and is regarded as extremely stable, although current politics are a bone of contention for many, with widespread uncertainties about the upcoming departure from the European Union. Even so, the economy has maintained an upward trajectory, and the South East is second richest part of the country.

The currency is British Pound Sterling and, despite taking a knock due to the EU referendum last year, many visitors arriving from other countries will find prices relatively high – although this will depend on which town your employer is visiting. For the South East, Brighton is likely the most expensive destination for living costs.

The South East of England has one of the more pleasant climates of the UK and is the country’s sunniest region – the entire section of coastline averages more than 1600 sunshine hours per year, and more than seven hours each day at the height of summer. But, the unpredictable British weather does reign supreme so out the local restaurant offering and book your boss somewhere special – and dry! – to impress clients.

Elaine Colley is destination partnerships and business development manager at Tourism South East, which manages the new MEET Beyond London website, showcasing the array of venues in the region. She says: “The extensive road and rail networks across the South East really do make the region so accessible – it can often even be less hassle and cheaper that getting into London! And there’s something different around every corner – Windsor offers some very lavish event space, just 15 minutes from Heathrow and without the London price tag whilst Guildford and Maidstone have an array of modern and heritage-style venues, accessible by train in just 35 minutes from the city.”
Like in the rest of the country, meetings in South East England tend to be formal with an emphasis on presentation and delivery. And Britons, in general, are known for their sense of humour – dry and bordering on sarcastic; something your boss may understand more at the often-obligatory post-conference drinks.