Posted on Wednesday 16 November 2011 by Ulster Business

The hottest ticket in town

It has been the talk of the town ever since it was announced that the MTV Europe Music Awards were coming to Belfast. Symon Ross looks at the benefits of bringing such an event to the city and the legacy it could leave

By the time this article is published the MTV EMAs will be over and done with and, while you may not have been lucky enough to be there, it is unlikely you’ll have missed the publicity surrounding the event.

It was billed as an event which would showcase Belfast to more than more than 160 countries around the world via a triple-stage broadcast from the Odyssey Arena, City Hall and Ulster Hall, featuring the likes of Lady GaGa, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay and Snow Patrol.

As well as bringing some much needed glitz, glamour and rock’n'roll kudos to the city there is also a clear economic benefit to hosting an event on this scale.

The event will account for more than 8,000 hotel room nights at 40 hotels, who will provide accommodation for crew, artists and VIP guests – a much needed shot in the arm for the struggling sector.

Sixty trucks have descended on Belfast, bringing a lot of the technical equipment from the UK and Europe, but more than 90 local businesses have got work from the awards show, more local suppliers than have worked on any other EMA event.

As well as recruiting all of its show runners and backstage coordinators from Belfast the network is working with businesses ranging from internet and ISDN providers, photocopier hire companies, taxi and chauffeur businesses, production managers, event staff, security, catering, audio visual, venue branding, food concessions, furniture, riggers, restaurant and fencing companies.

Estimates suggest that the EMAs bring in around £10m for the host city, directly and indirectly, and there is a lot of competition to stage the annual showbiz bash.

The choice of Belfast can be seen as an encouraging sign for how far the local hotel and hospitality industry has come, as it had been overlooked on several previous occasions.

Richard Godfrey, Executive Producer of the MTV EMAs, told Ulster Business the music network had been talking to representatives in the city on and off for about 10 years.

“When the Odyssey first opened they made contact with us and at that point I came over to take a look at the city. The feeling then was that although the venue was great, the city wasn’t ready to host an event of this scale. We talked again in 2008 when the EMAs ended up in Liverpool. It was obvious what had changed but it wasn’t quite there yet,” he said.

“This time around, with the new hotels opening, all the investment you can see in Titanic Quarter and the real sense of optimism around the city, we were seduced, and here we are.”

MTV’s Godfrey said that after a successful test event with Mark Ronson as part of last year’s Belfast Music Week, his network was hugely impressed by the way the various Government bodies worked together to ensure they had everything they needed for the main event.

“I know things are very complicated politically in terms of getting things done. But having said that there was a can-do attitude from the Tourist Board and officials involved, everyone involved in the planning. There were a lot of people on the ground bending over backwards for us, who clearly were passionate about making it work. I have to say that is not always the case in host cities,” he said.

Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have between them contributed £870,000 to bring the EMAs to Belfast.

Kathryn Thomson, NITB Chief Operating Officer, is in no doubt that the investment was worth it.

“Events are powerful tools. They have the ability to give Northern Ireland a competitive edge, impact tourism performance and bring benefits to the economy. In particular, they can attract visitors at a time of the year when there is surplus capacity in the accommodation sector,” she explained.

“NITB’s own events fund supports major events that will attract a high-level of international visitors, gain international media coverage, and which are likely to provide a high return on investment.”

Thomson also notes that the show will be transmitted globally to an audience in excess of 532 million homes around the world via the MTV global TV network and that coverage of the event will be carried internationally across 500 satellite and terrestrial TV networks, a multitude of global radio stations and thousands of print media.

MTV is the world’s largest television network and the leading multimedia brand for youth. It reaches over 213 million households in Europe alone, through 28 different MTV channels and they receive eight million unique visitors each month to MTV Music websites.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation says the exposure and boost to Belfast’s image that could be gained, is perhaps just as important as the immediate commercial impact.

“With MTV it is an event of world standing, so you have the added bonus of getting seen on the world stage. That’s part of the normalisation process, where people see Belfast as a normal place to come, where events take place, and not some war-torn, tragic environment,” she said.

“Events do cost money to attract, they do cost money to stage, but if they are of international standing they are an investment and you hopefully get a legacy from them.”

Gault also believes that successfully hosting the event will help attract other bigger events to Belfast.

“We would be very keen to see events of an international standing on the calendar on a bi-monthly basis, with smaller events sitting underneath them,” she said.

“Probably MTV wanted somewhere that was a bit different, and Belfast has a young population with a big music scene. We are not a destination that appears on the news every day, but we’ve got venues that suit them, it’s relatively small, easy to get to and has good transport infrastructure. This is an easy city to stage events in because it is relatively small.”

A recent report from PwC said Belfast hotels can expect demand for accommodation to rise faster than in most European cities in 2012, but warned there would probably be little or no revenue growth due to falling public expenditure and competition for tourism spending.

In such an environment it is vital they use the MTV awards to kickstart business for the year ahead and to encourage the many visitors who travel here for the event and will be intrigued to see what Belfast is like, to come back.

MTV’s Godfrey notes that last year’s hosts Madrid used the event to create a different perception of the city. It had specific goals to portray itself as a modern, cool, weekend venue, and used the EMAs as part of a wider campaign designed to regain some ground against its hip neighbour Barcelona in the tourist stakes.

By shining the spotlight on Belfast it is to be hoped that the city will be increasingly viewed as a place the people want to come to, even when the stars are not in town!

Fact File

Local suppliers working on the MTV EMAs included: W5 (venue), Focus (audio visual), Tibus (ISDN and internet provider), Oltech (photocopier provider), KDM (furniture hire), Blacksheep (venue branding), TK Media (venue branding), Belfast Bus Company, Translink, Value Cabs, Fona Cabs, Mccombs, Crown Chauffeurs, Browns Coach Hire, Compass Coach Hire, Devines (transportation), Castle Catering, Production House Group (sound), Event Sec (security), Production House (sound), Terry Power (production manager) Paul Scott (Health & Safety and Event Management), Show Inc (fencing, event crew), Stage Crew UK, Lowes Refrigeration, CW Rigging, Total Event Rental (furniture rental), Balloo Hire, Smarts PR agency, Norspace (portacabins), Event Medic N.I (paramedics) and Astute (event staff).

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