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International Confex has come a long way in 20 years. In 1984, Confex was a very small exhibition held at the Barbican Centre, London. It is now Europe's leading annual forum for the conference, events and corporate hospitality industries regularly attracting over 1200 exhibitors and over 8000 visitors - the highest audience of any European show in its sector.

VENUEMASTERS, the UKs only consortium of academic venues, has a 30m2 space occupied by a custom built stand that allows VENUEMASTERS members the opportunity to take a position. Amongst exhibitors on the 2004 stand are The University of Manchester and Keele Conference Park, both of who exhibited way back in 1984.

Christine Bolton, University Conference Officer from the University of Manchester, was on the stand at the first ever Confex and is looking forward to celebrating the 20th Anniversary in 2004. Christine says: My recollection of the first Confex is of being hidden away from the main event in a very dark part of the Barbican Centre. We must have done some business though as we returned the following year! Christine also recalls an infamous year in the history of Confex: It snowed on the final day and by 11am we were getting reports of London being grid locked and trains being cancelled.

Ken Walshaw , Head of Customer Relations at Keele Conference Park, also has fond memories of the first Confex: I remember unloading our stand from the back of my illegally parked car! I was hovering on a double yellow line and had about thirty seconds to unload the entire kit whilst the traffic wardens looked on, pen in hand.

As Confex has changed so has the set-up at both the University of Manchester and Keele Conference Park. Back in the middle eighties the University of Manchester had a turnover of around 725,000 for conference activity compared to the 2.5million it turned over in 2002/03. This, of course, is due to the growth in facilities available over the same period. The University now has 1150 en suite rooms as well as its own purpose built year round conference centre and hotel, Chancellors. There is more disabled access and purpose built accommodation and the University now has other, more unusual, attractions to offer such as the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery as well as several venues with civil wedding licences.

Keele Conference Park has also continually invested in its facilities, employees, training and development over the last 20 years. Today the Conference Park can cater for groups from 2 to 2,220. With 800 en suite bedrooms, a stunning new 11.5 million medical centre, 110 syndicate rooms and over 2,500sq ft of exhibition space, the Park has moved on from just having to use the existing University facilities that were available. It is no surprise then that since 1984 turnover has quadrupled.

Universities and colleges, as a whole, have also developed alongside Confex over the years. In fact in the last ten years there has been a marked increase in the level of facilities available for event organisers at the UKs academic venues. The 96 venues represented by VENUEMASTERS now have an average of 565 en-suite bedrooms; this is the equivalent of an average increase of over 460 in the last ten years. The reason for this vast increase is simple; demand for en-suite accommodation has increased significantly from both the students in term time and the delegates using them in the vacation period. This increase would suggest that almost 50,000 en-suite bedrooms have been added to the stock at universities and colleges over the last ten years.

contact name:Lorna McGown
telephone:0114 249 3090

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