Channel islands: Jersey - Off-shore investment

Funding is flowing to maximise the C&I potential of the UK's French quarter. Over the past few years Jersey has undergone a transformation.

A younger population has taken over; restaurants, which hitherto paid homage only to France, serve dishes from across the globe and the range of activities on offer now include plenty for those in need of an adrenalin fix.

In the ten years or more since John Nettles left the island to solve the mysteries in Midsommer, the Jersey tourist board has come to rely less on the Bergerac connection and more on promoting its revitalised image as it sets its sights on attracting a younger clientele than it has been associated with traditionally.

"Never has Jersey been more vibrant than it is today," says Hamish Reid, general manager of the Jersey Conference Bureau (JCB). "It's maintained its distinct charm but with it comes a more cosmopolitan feel. As the demographics of the island have changed, so too have the range of activities."

While the tourist board has done wonders to bolster the visitor profile to include younger clientele, it's the job of the JCB to promote the the island as a business destination as well.

"Jersey is renowned for offering off-shore financial services and it receives around 100,000 business visitors each year," says Reid. "To cater for this core market the hotels need to offer high-quality business facilities. Even the 13th-century Longueville Manor now offers wi-fi."

Business injection

And, with millions of pounds worth of investment being ploughed into venues and hotels across the island, Reid is confident that Jersey is on the brink of enjoying a significant boost in C&I business. "Conference revenues currently stand at around £10m a year and by 2007 we expect that to have doubled," he says.

Over the past five years, the island has attracted an annual average of 163 conferences and 13,000 delegates, occupying a total of 33,000 bed nights. Around 35 per cent of conference revenues are derived from the association market, with the remaining 65 per cent coming from corporate clients.

"Most of those are the large pharmaceutical companies, legal and financial services firms," says Reid. "Microsoft has been over recently. HSBC is based on the island and held its international sales conference here and a lot of overseas delegates came over for that."

Jersey's tax-haven status means its domestic corporate trade is remarkably intense for an island measuring only five miles by nine. Natwest, Barclays and Lloyds TSB are among almost 70 banks that base their offshore operations there, and the island's finance industry alone is enough to draw regular international events. By their own admission, up until now many hotels have thrived on the business directly on their doorstep without feeling the need to look elsewhere for C&I bookings. "Business tourism is something we have neglected because we are surrounded by it," says Jason Adams, general manager of the Atlantic Hotel in St Brelade.

However, with an annual budget of £315,000 to promote the island in UK and Europe, and with plans to bring around 100 buyers and venue finders on fam trips each year, Reid is confident that hotels will start to reap the rewards of more overseas business. "There have been so many developments on the island of late that Jersey offers an even more attractive proposition to C&I groups," he says.

The primary beneficiary of this C&I business will undoubtedly be the Hotel de France, which has now completed its £13m rebuild. With 300 rooms it is now back to its original capacity with an additional five new conference rooms, 21 extra bedrooms and five new master suites, plus a state-of-the-art spa development due to open in January. Already the bigger pieces of business are coming back fast to the property. Between September and December, the hotel is due to welcome nine conferences of more than 250 people.

Quality offering

Lynne Hanley, account manager at TFI Group, admits to being surprised at the quality when she scouted the island on behalf of Deluxe, a division of the Rank Group.

"The client suggested Jersey because the meeting was for high-level managers from around the world and they wanted somewhere most of them had never been to before," says Hanley. "I was concerned that Jersey wasn't going to come up to scratch and there wouldn't be enough to do, but I was wrong."

The 20-strong group stayed at Longueville Manor, a five-star country hotel just outside St Helier, and mixed their own wine at the La Mare Vineyards.

"They loved it," says Hanley.

The Federation of Small Businesses has taken its 200-strong sales conference to Jersey for the past six years, staying at L'Horizon at St Brelade each time. "The hotel can't be faulted and, since we come from all over the UK, Jersey works out very well for us logistically," says national chairman John Emmins.

With more flights from British regional airports than any other destination, access was also a deciding factor for the Royal College of Nursing conference and event organiser Jeanine Staddon, who coordinated a conference in September this year. "I flew from Bristol, and it was cheaper for me to do that than to get on a train and go to London," she says.

Jersey indisputably punches above its weight where incentives are concerned.

It is reliably warmer than the UK and it offers some of the best water-sports opportunities in the British Isles - as well as numerous inventive gala dinner and dine-around options.

The result of the recent investment has not only rejuvenated the island's infrastructure but also injected it with renewed optimisim.

VENUE UPDATE

While the 13th-century Longueville Manor might be the island's flagship property, Jersey can offer accommodation to suit every type of group.

At the four-star level, the Pomme d'Or is the quintessential business hotel, located near the St Helier waterfront. It can hold 200 delegates for conferences. Across the other side of town, the 118-room De Vere Grand offers sea views and meeting facilities for 230.

There is more choice still in the three-star sector, from the Best Western Royal, acquired in September by local hotelier Morvan Family Hotels, to the cosy country house ambience of Chateau La Chaire at Rozel Bay.

"This year, the level of reinvestment by the island's hotels has been phenomenal," says Jersey Conference Bureau commercial development manager Sam de Gruchy, and the figures bear her out.

On top of the £13m poured into the Hotel de France by its owners, Handpicked has put £5.4m into L'Horizon, the art deco Atlantic expects to spend around £2m between its new Ocean restaurant and its soon-to-be-renovated public areas,and Channel Islands hotelier Huggler Group has just spent £7m to give the island its third five-star hotel, The Club in St Helier.

There is further investment in the pipeline, too. Radisson SAS confirmed recently that it will be coming to the island as part of a major development on the waterfront, while nearby, the Royal Yacht Hotel has embarked on a major extension and renovation programme of its own.

FIVE OF THE BEST JERSEY INCENTIVES

Extreme sports

A major element of Jersey's attempt to lure a younger incentive crowd is the range of sporting activities on offer. Blo-karting on the beach - a cross between go-karting and sailing - is just one of the more unusual options. Also available are surfing, kite-surfing, abseiling, clay pigeon shooting, horse-riding, fishing and any number of conventional water sports.

One advantage of Jersey's size is that you are never far from the sea, and the range of water sports activities on offer is as broad as you will find anywhere in Europe. Jersey's clear seas offer, arguably, the best scuba diving in the British Isles.

Jersey rally

3D Performance's variation on a familiar theme sees participants travel around the island by as many different means of transport as possible, and everything from vintage coaches to Beetle convertibles to sand yachts are pressed into service. "It is basically about seeing as much of the island as possible," says 3D Performance client services manager Bridget Barley. Incentive & Conference Specialists offers an orienteering version of the rally.

Down on the farm

After finance and tourism, agriculture is Jersey's third-biggest industry, and all it takes is for a bank to send an incentive group to La Mare Vineyards to see all three in action at once. The vineyards are a highlight of Jersey's incentive offer, not least because of the imaginative variety of activities available. Delegates can race to build barrels, tread grapes and competitively blend their own wine from four wine varieties - the vineyard will even bottle up a quantity of the winning blend, label it and deliver it back to your hotel.

3D Performance takes groups to farms where they can learn to milk a cow and make their own fudge, and it also sends incentive visitors on tractors out to the oyster beds to pick their own champagne accompaniments.

Above and beyond

Groups can charter boats to go around the island, or hire planes to take in the views from above. On an island of just 45 square miles, you really might as well see as much of it as you can. Whether from the top deck of a Sunseeker yacht or from a plane, Jersey invites delegates to appreciate one of the more unusual landscapes of the British Isles.

Jersey Zoo

Jersey Zoo is home to the Gerald Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and specialises in breeding programmes for endangered species including marmosets, iguanas and mountain chickens from Montserrat - which are, in fact, a variety of frog. The animals live in approximations of their natural habitats, and if that's not interesting enough for an incentive group, you can build monkey cages too.

GALA DINNER VENUES

One strength of Jersey's tight-knit C&I industry - and indeed its business community in general - is its ability to turn almost anywhere into a venue.

For instance, there aren't many destinations that would allow corporate groups to stage a gala dinner for 400 in the airport itself (www.jerseyairport.com).

"We have done it in the past - it was absolutely transformed," says Bridget Barley, client services manager at DMC 3D Performance. "People are quite open to suggestions here."

The waterfront of St Helier is on the verge of a major redevelopment, and the former ferry terminal buildings, now between uses, make for an incongruously grand venue with capacity for 200.

The Great Hall at the Hotel de France is the largest indoor gala dinner venue on the island with a capacity of 800. Meanwhile, the Jersey Pottery in Gorey (www.jerserypottery.com) offers dining space for 300 in its Garden Restaurant, and is also the most active catering company in Jersey.

Jersey Heritage (www.jerseyheritagetrust.org) also operates a number of venues, including Jersey's fort, Elizabeth Castle, which is cut off from the mainland entirely at high tide, making it a dramatic marquee venue for up to 500 people. Likewise, Mont Orgueil on the Bay of Grouville, above the village of Gorey, can take 50 people in its medieval Great Hall, 30 in the candle-lit crypt or 150 in a marquee on the lawn overlooking the sea. "There's a nice green area," says Sam de Gruchy, commercial development manager at the Jersey Conference Bureau. "It's land-based, so it's easier to get there than Elizabeth Castle."

Other unconventional venues include the Opera House (www.jerseyoperahouse.co.uk), which recently underwent a £7m overhaul and can now house 250 for a sit-down dinner; Kemp Tower, a Jersey Heritage martello tower on the west coast, which offers banqueting for up to 50 people; La Mare Vineyards (www.lamarevineyards.com), a popular incentive destination, that can cater for up to 1,000 in a marquee.

JERSEY DIRECTORY Jersey Conference Bureau, c/o Jersey Tourism, Liberation Square, St Helier JE1 1BB Contact: Samantha de Gruchy Tel: 01534 733449 Web: www.jerseyconferences.com Flight duration: 40 minutes Currency Sterling (Jersey also has its own notes and coins, which are not legal tender in the UK)

REAL LIFE ITINERARY

DAY 1

09.00: Arrive at Guernsey and transfer to the Old Government House Hotel & Spa in St Peter Port.

09.20: Check in at the Old Government House, which was recently the subject of a £2.5m renovation and, as its name suggests, was once the official residence of the governor of Guernsey. Since 1858, it has been a hotel offering 60 rooms and eight suites, with an outdoor pool, gym, sauna, solarium and a range of beauty treatments. "The Old Government House has been totally refurbished and is a popular C&I option," says Carole Oliver, director of Channel Islands DMC Incentive & Conference Specialists. Smaller groups might prefer the 18-room Hotel Bon Port, with views over Moulin Huet Bay and the famous 'Peastacks' rock formation, immortalised by Renoir; or the 45-room La Trelade, which has a spa and a handful of conference rooms.

10.30: A tour of the island. The first stop is Sausmarez Manor in St Martin. Parts of the building date back to 1220, though the frontage was built in the early 18th century for the first governor of New York. Sausmarez is set in 15 acres of garden and farmland and also incorporates a sculpture park and a nine-hole golf course.

11.45: The tour continues to the Occupation Museum, reflecting life after the German invasion during the Second World War.

13.00: Lunch is at La Grande Mare Country Club on the beach at Vazon Bay in 110 acres of grounds. The hotel's restaurant can seat 100 people, while the conservatory has room for a further 80.

14.30: Local event organiser Eventure offers a variety of incentive options for small groups, including beach Olympics, treasure hunts, It's A Knockout and team sailing events. "Guernsey does not have a big C&I industry, but there are a lot of things you can do with smaller groups," says Eventure's managing director Kat Burgess. A local RIB (rigid inflatable boat) offers tours around the island with seal and puffin-watching opportunities.

20.00: Dinner at La Fregate, a chic boutique hotel overlooking St Peter Port harbour. The restaurant can seat 70, while another private dining room has space for up to 30 or 50 for a reception.

DAY 2

10.00: The morning kicks off with a conference at the hotel. The Old Government House has five meeting rooms with capacity for up to 275 people. One of Guernsey's strengths for meetings is the tranquility it offers. "Guernsey is a lovely, quaint island, whereas Jersey is quite commercial," says Oliver. Claire Thorn, event manager at Delta Conference Systems, which is based on Jersey but works on both islands, agrees. "Guernsey's waterfront is less developed and it is a prettier island," she says.

12.30: Lunch in the hotel brasserie, which seats 25 to 30 out of season, and another 30 when the garden is open.

14.00: Take a chartered boat to the island of Sark. Guernsey has few boats licensed for corporate use, so island-hopping on a Sunseeker is only possible for groups of up to 12. Guernsey is the second biggest Channel Island, and is roughly half the size of Jersey, while the other islands are smaller still. On Sark and Herm, the modern world is kept at bay. There is no motorised transport on either island, except for tractors. Sark is worth exploring by horse-drawn carriage, with a visit to Seigneurie Gardens.

18.00: Return to Guernsey.

20.00: Gala dinner at the restaurant of the Cobo Bay Hotel. For very large groups the Beau Sejour Centre offers two rooms with significant capacity and theming potential. The Sir John Loveridge Hall can hold 800 for a dinner dance, while the David Ferguson Room has space for 440.

- For information, contact Conference Guernsey, c/o Visit Guernsey, PO Box 23, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 3AN

Contact: Jason Moriarty Tel: 01481 234567 Web: www.conferenceguernsey.gg/

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