Can London reign supreme against rival British cities?

London's hold on the UK's C&I business is under threat as competing British cities build on their infrastructure.

This was the overriding message of the debate between industry experts at Confer, the annual event for the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD), held on 3 November.

In a forum entitled 'London versus the rest - is the capital always the first choice?', the panel of industry figures, including representatives from Visit London, Visit Scotland, Conference Torquay and Visit Britain, scrutinised the capital's strengths over that of the other 45 BACD member destinations.

Marketing Birmingham conference sales manager Ros Wilson was keen to dispute London's top position."We are centrally located in the country and our public transport, motorway links and international air routes are excellent and we have a wealth of accommodation. Times are changing and London won't always have the lion's share of the C&I market,"she said.

The issue of price was also hotly debated with Visit London commercial director David Hornby dismissing the concerns as a misconception, yet Mersey Partnership conference sales manager Ged Janssen was unconvinced.

"London is overrated, overpriced and its day delegate rates are very steep," she said. "With our new Kings Dock development, the tag of European Capital of Culture 2008 and the world heritage status for the waterfront area, Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with."

While the issue of a purpose-built convention centre was an inevitable sore point for London, Hornby argued that facilities in the capital were constantly evolving. "While we do not have a purpose-built centre, we will have the largest arena in Europe at the Dome and the new Battersea auditorium will also help us win more international events," he said.

The BACD estimates that currently London accounts for a fifth of the C&I market in the UK.

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