The absence of a large purpose-built convention centre should not deter organisers of major events from considering the West Country. In Bath, the Georgian Assembly Rooms can cater for 500 people in its Ballroom and the University of Bath's main lecture room seats 386 people. It also has seminar rooms for groups of 10 to 200.
Center Parcs Longleat can accommodate up to 350 delegates and hosted an event for drinks brand Innocent in June 2010. Charlie Heavey, environment manager at Innocent Drinks, says: "Having such flexible venue space is a huge bonus to ensure any format can be accommodated. The village itself provides loads of natural breakout areas which really complemented our company meeting requirements."
Bristol's Marriott City Centre Hotel can seat up to 600 delegates and the Ashton Gate Stadium can hold up to 900. The University of the West of England's Exhibition and Conference Centre opened at the end of 2009 and is a 4,000m2 space that can seat up to 165 delegates.
The Spa at Homewood Park Hotel opened in July. It includes a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room, Champagne nail bar and heated outdoor swimming pool with relaxation pods and views of the Bath countryside. Among its treatments is the Serenity Garden Cocoon, which has been inspired by the hotel's flower gardens. The hotel offers three function spaces for up to 40 delegates theatre-style and 21 rooms.
Delegates can also put their feet up at the spas in both The Mercure Holland House and Aztec Hotel and Spa in Bristol, which offers meeting room hire for up to eight delegates from £50 or a day-delegate rate of £35 per person. Thermae Bath Spa, the only spa in the UK with naturally warm spring waters, offers a choice of more than 50 treatments. It also has a dedicated meeting room for up to 12 delegates. Rates for a half-day meeting and use of the spa start at £65 per person.
Groups can visit Bath Aqua Glass and observe a private glassblowing demonstration then have a go at blowing a glass bubble themselves. Prices start from £300 for a group of 20 people and the maximum group size is 45.
For more daring delegates, Woolley Grange Hotel offers extreme tree-climbing, where delegates can scale a 100ft Cedar of Lebanon tree, surf its branches and then abseil down. Bristol also offers a number of venues with extensive grounds for group activities, such as Tortworth Court, Eastwood Park and Ashton Court Mansion.
Bristol Zoo Gardens' Zooropia, an aerial course that winds its way through sections inspired by the zoo's tree-dwelling animals, can be booked for groups. The corporate team at the zoo can also organise a number of different challenges. In August, 20 Aviva staff located and removed sycamore trees at the National Wildlife Conservation Park at Cribbs Causeway. The branches were then frozen to provide winter feed for the zoo animals.
Mike Kemp, corporate development manager at the zoo, explains: "The pride and satisfaction gained by the challenge groups when they understand the bigger picture is absolutely priceless and means we engender dozens of unpaid ambassadors for the zoo."
Lucknam Park Hotel near Bath offers a distraction-free setting for business brainstorms. It has four meeting rooms including the eight-person boardroom and the Music Room, which can seat up to 50. The 42-room hotel can also be hired exclusively.
Mercure Bristol Brigstow Hotel is a four-star property with 116 rooms and function space for up to 60 delegates. Also in Bristol, The Grand Hotel by Thistle is well suited to executive meetings, as is the Hotel du Vin, which is housed in the Grade II-listed former Sugar House and has three meeting rooms.
Priston Mill is a stone-walled barn dating back to 1720, with vaulted ceilings and an exposed pitched roof. It has been preserved to create an elegant venue for events. Its Watermill can seat 90, while the Tythe Barn can seat 180 for dinner. It is located six minutes from Bath and 10 minutes from Bristol.
The SS Great Britain, which is moored in Bristol, can seat 140 for dinner and Brunel's Old Station can accommodate 700 guests. Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, which has previously been hired by groups from Aerobus and consultancy firm Jelf Group, can host a reception for 600 and 120 for a private dinner. At present the museum can only host events in Winterstoke Hall or Wills Hall outside of its opening hours, but from spring 2011 a new venue, M Shed, will also be available for daytime events. Located on the harbourside, the museum will tell the city's story from prehistoric times to the 21st century.
Bath Tourism Plus
Contact: Amy Harding, conference sales and marketing executive
Tel: 01225 477229
Contact: Shelley Bishop, conference manager
Tel: 0117 946 2200