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Glasgow, the Art of revival

The large Scottish metropolis has long suffered from the rivalry with Edinburgh, the historic capital. More popular, with its large labouring classes, Glasgow has no reason to disregard its artistic heritage. That is why the city decided to launch a vast communication campaign based on its major asset: the Art Nouveau heritage from its native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Glasgow has long lived in the shadow of Edinburgh, its neighbouring capital. In the tourism field, however, each city has a unique history and style despite being only 75 kilometres apart. On the East coast, aristocratic Edinburgh is home to the Scottish Parliament that was re-established in 1999 as well as to the headquarters of banks and insurance companies of worldwide renown such as the Royal Bank of Scotland or Scottish Widows. A tourism showcase with 4.5 million visitors, Edinburgh is “the historic jewel in the crown of Scotland, the beautiful capital city with its historic Old Town and Castle and the Georgian elegance of the New Town,” describes Shona Telfer, director of Marketing at the VisitScotland Business Tourism Unit for Europe.Around Pacific Quay, the project QD2 will transform the car park adjacent to the SECC into a 12,000-seat exhibition, conference and entertainment complex, freeing up space in the current conference centre and thereby increasing its capacity. Just across the river this new neighbourhood will also become a central location for the media with the creation of offices for the BBC and Scottish television networks. Meanwhile, Glasgow holds its breath. Several British cities are in the ranks for opening a large casino. The lucky one to be chosen should soon be known. But already, the South African Sol Kerzner has shown interest with the eventual implantation of a luxury brand that until now is specifically resort-oriented: One & Only. Glasgow has more surprises up its sleeve.Further West, bourgeois and popular at the same time, Glasgow cannot pride itself in such treasures. With twice the population of Edinburgh with 800,000 inhabitants, Glasgow turned toward to the high seas while Edinburgh turned toward Europe. A point of entry for products from the Americas - tobacco, sugar and cotton – with its port on the Clyde River, the city has forged its reputation since the industrial revolution. The downside: this city with a great wealth that is also very poor felt the impact of the decline of shipworks and steelworks in the 1970s. And the city, having been bombed during the Second World War, and slashed by city highways, offers the image of a depressed and violent city.And yet, today Glasgow has succeeded in developing a future in tourism for itself. A testimonial to its appeal is the city’s recent election by Frommer's tour guide as THE short stay destination on that side of the Channel. Even better, this guide ranks Glasgow among the ten cities worldwide to be visited in 2006 and the only European stopover destination. According to Pauline Frommer, its director: “More cosmopolitan and modern than its capital neighbour, Glasgow features radiant Victorian architecture.” Shona Telfer confirms: “Glasgow is stylish and trendy, a shopping Mecca and renowned for its stunning architecture and lively restaurant and bar scene”.This new spirit that wafts over the city may be found in the city’s promotional campaign "Glasgow with Style" launched in March 2004. This successful campaign – which generated 228,500 tourists according to the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau – is developed around Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the principal founders of the European Art Nouveau. The works of this artist-architectdesigner constitute a theme that leads the visitor throughout the city – the Glasgow School of Art, the Lighthouse, the Willow Tea Rooms and House for An Art Lover. The highpoint of the year 2006 and of the Mackintosh Festival is indisputably the reopening of the Kelvingrove Museum, the most visited museum in the United Kingdom outside London and the number-two attraction in Scotland before closing for renovation for three years. 40 million euros were invested to increase the exhibition space at this hundred-year old museum by 50% in order to display 8,000 works including some by Van Gogh, Whistler, Monet, Rembrandt or Botticelli. And, of course, the permanent exhibition space “Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style”.In its quest for rejuvenation, Glasgow reached into its artistic heritage. The first noteworthy event within this programme was the simultaneous opening of the Burrell Collection, a concentration of treasures collected and offered to the city by the industrialist Sir William Burrell, and of the tourist office in 1983. “The first put the city on the cultural tourism map and the second promoted the fact,” recalls Nancy Mac Lardie, director of Public Relations at the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. The year 1990 marks a new turning point in the evolution of the Scottish metropolis with the election of Glasgow as “Cultural Capital of Europe”. Since then, Glasgow was also elected the British City of Architecture and Design. These events offer the city new momentum, boosting the moral of its population.At the same time, Glasgow began a major urban regeneration project. The project will concentrate on rehabilitating the banks of the River Clyde and its derelict warehouses. The first stone was laid with the transformation of Queen's Docks and the opening of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in 1985, to which was added a 3,000-seat auditorium in 1997. Thanks to the largest exhibition area on the British Isles, the Scottish city could position itself on the MICE segment. Another advantage: the SECC is located a fifteen-minute walk from George Square, the city’s main square, which is home to a property of the Millenium&Copthorne chain. Along the way are the city’s other major business hotels - Hilton, Marriott, Radisson. “The compactness of the city – it has an international airport and purpose-built convention centre within a 10-mile radius – was a big hit with conference organizers,” explains Nancy MacLardie.The year ending March 2006 saw sales of conferences produced by Glasgow City Marketing Bureau are up by 8% on the previous year for a total close to 75 million euros. This result may also be explained by the appeal of Scotland in general as a destination. The land of whisky, golf and lochs, Scotland offers the possibility of a wide range of incentives options and tours of all kinds just a one or two-hour drive away. Until now the climax of congress tourism was in September 2004 when the European Respiratory Society was hosted there, truly putting the city’s capacity to the test with its 15,000 delegates. “Major conferences held in Glasgow generally overflow throughout the region all the way to Edinburgh,” explains Shona Telfer.This under-capacity is very fortunately temporary since the hotel industry has kept pace with the development of the city and its tourism. And it has picked up speed in recent years. This growth in capacity has not hurt the occupancy rate at hotels as the occupancy rate rose to 73% in March 2006 versus 71% in March 2005. With two very strong months when the city posted no vacancy: “August and September are very good with strong activity,” remarks Alison Hunter, Marketing Director at One Devonshire Gardens.Hotel inventory grew by 40% since the beginning of the new millennium and today Glasgow has more than 6,000 rooms in the city centre and 8,050 within in a 10-kilometre radius of the city. This growth is to the credit of hotel chains, whereas many small properties and B&Bs closed their doors during the same period. The brands Campanile, across from the SECC, and Jurys, in the centre of town, have joined the evolving market place. The Malmaison, a transformation of an orthodox church, and the Hilton have both gone through recent renovations for over 2 million euros. Renovation has also begun at the Crowne Plaza, which is directly connected to the SECC. Begun in November 2005, the work will be completed a year later in December 2006, and will allow the old Moat House to bring itself up to par with the brand standards of the group InterContinental.The supply is fairly homogeneous across the different categories with economy brands (Express by Holiday Inn, Premier Travel Inn, Ibis), mid-scale and upscale (Holiday Inn, Marriott, Thistle, Novotel, Crowne Plaza), as well as three 5* properties. To the Hiltons, Radisson SAS is adding One Devonshire Gardens. This boutique hotel in the chic neighbourhood near Kelvingrove is a conversion of five houses providing 35 high luxury rooms. Twelve new rooms and a spa will open in the next twelve months further to the acquisition of adjacent houses. In addition, One Devonshire Gardens was recently put on the market by Citrus Hotels and the group Malmaison is set to add this trophy to its charming hotel brand Hôtel du Vin. The development of very upscale hotels is not fully complete since the Royal Scottish Automobile Club should open its doors in 2007. And in the surrounding countryside there are two properties, the Mar Hall and the De Vere Cameron House, which bring the total 5* capacity to 862 rooms.Today, Glasgow has all it needs to satisfy its leisure and business tourists regardless of budgets and expectations. The city and all of Scotland are appreciated first and foremost by the “Auld enemies”: the English. After these neighbours, “the American market is our biggest market, espe cially in the summer,” adds Alison Hunter. The Germans, French, Swiss and Spanish follow. The city drew 3.2 million visitors of which 400,000 hailed from overseas. And in all likelihood this figure should progress significantly in the years to come, thanks in particular to short break vacations. In addition to being the international airport, just thirty kilometres to the south, Glasgow Prestwick has also become the low-cost hub whence Ryanair serves Oslo, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm or Frankfurt.But Glasgow is not resting on its laurels. Other major projects should have a strong impact on tourism in the ten years to come. The city has begun the second phase of its regeneration along the banks of the River Clyde with a large-scale worksite worth 4 billion euros: the very ambitious Glasgow Harbour project. Thousands of homes will be built along the river and its banks will become enjoyable public spaces, including the Riverside Museum, which will replace the existing Glasgow Transport Museum.Around Pacific Quay, the project QD2 will transform the car park adjacent to the SECC into a 12,000-seat exhibition, conference and entertainment complex, freeing up space in the current conference centre and thereby increasing its capacity. Just across the river this new neighbourhood will also become a central location for the media with the creation of offices for the BBC and Scottish television networks. Meanwhile, Glasgow holds its breath. Several British cities are in the ranks for opening a large casino. The lucky one to be chosen should soon be known. But already, the South African Sol Kerzner has shown interest with the eventual implantation of a luxury brand that until now is specifically resort-oriented: One & Only. Glasgow has more surprises up its sleeve.

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