Conferencing and Events: interview with Paul Szomoru, Head of Business Tourism at NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau
As part of a series of interviews with key figures in the conference & events industry in the region, Paul Szomoru, Head of Business Tourism at NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau talks to our Conference and Events Sales Manager Amy Gibson about his life, his job and his interests.
Tell us a bit about you
I’m a born and bred North East lad, I grew up in Chester-le-Street, then spent four years in London and the home counties getting my career started. I moved back to the North East 10 years ago. I love living here – I’m always out with friends and family enjoying as many of the fantastic things-to-do as I can; the nightlife, cultural attractions, walking on one of the many beautiful beaches, catching a gig, going to a festival…. we are so lucky to have so much happening on our doorstep year-round, I’m always taking advantage of it!
To relax I cook and I read. I was inspired to cook by my two amazing grandmothers, I enjoy having friends round for dinner and taking charge of the kitchen at big family gatherings. I’m grumpy and frustrated if I haven’t got a book ‘on the go’. Always fiction. It’s how I switch off and wind down.
What does your role entail?
The Convention Bureau is a strong team with a worldwide reputation for attracting high profile conferences to the destination, and providing friendly, knowledgeable support to organisers. My role is to lead the strategic approach for the Bureau and oversee all aspects of our service delivery. In the last nine months we have worked hard to focus on the destination’s key strengths and have aligned our proactive activity with that of our Inward Investment team, which will help us focus proactively on key opportunities to help grow the local economy through attracting high-profile conferences and events. The three target sectors for this proactive work are Offshore & Marine, Science & Healthcare, and Creative & Digital.
We achieve this in a variety of ways including targeted marketing campaigns and activity including exhibition attendance and the production of our award-winning Meeting and Events Guide, and working with local academics and professionals through our Conference Ambassador Programme.
Most recently we have introduced a Delegate Placement Scheme thanks to funding via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This allows us to support both conference organisers and local SME businesses by funding local delegates to attend conferences from our core target sectors.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in your new role?
The meetings, incentive, conferences & events (MICE) market is an increasingly competitive industry, with more and more destinations around the world, and in the UK, competing to host events. We have consistently ‘punched above our weight’ in attracting some of the world’s most influential events, from the World Summit on Arts and Culture to England’s three biggest political parties, and have an outstanding track-record and growing reputation that puts us in a strong position to continue to attract conferences of the highest calibre.
What do you consider to be the region and Sage Gateshead’s biggest strengths?
When people arrive here for the first time and set eyes on our quayside, the first thing they say is “Wow!”
We have one of the country’s most recognisable destinations, from the Angel of the North to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (the world’s first and only tilting bridge), the Tyne Bridge and our famously friendly residents. Here at NewcastleGateshead Initiative we are newly inspired every time a visitor, a journalist, client, conference organiser, or delegate tells us how fantastic they think the place is, it makes you feel so proud. Of course Sage Gateshead is one of the jewels of the quayside, it’s such an inspirational, motivating setting for international delegates to gather and do business. When you’re at an event at Sage Gateshead you know you’re in NewcastleGateshead – it’s everywhere around in the fantastic views.
Which other regions / organisations do you look to for inspiration (nationally and internationally)?
We work very closely with VisitEngland, especially on international activity to promote NewcastleGateshead overseas as a business tourism destination. There’s some wonderfully talented people there who work in collaboration with us and we regularly attend European trade events with them to help profile the place to target international associations. NewcastleGateshead has actually been a huge source of inspiration for destinations across the world. At NewcastleGateshead Initiative we have hosted delegations from South Korea, Ireland and Japan amongst others, all of which have come here to talk to us and our partners about our successes, and learn from them.
Tell us something people would be surprised to learn about you.
My surname gives it away really but, I’m half Hungarian. I have family in Budapest who I made contact with and met last year for the first time since I was 13 years old!
Fast forward five years. What do you think will be different about the region and industry you are in?
Business tourism is going to be delivering so much more for the region in five years time. We’re aligning our business tourism activity with the destinations inward investment strategy, bringing events to NewcastleGateshead that will show off our core strengths as a place to do business and invest. We’ll be bringing people here from all over the world to attend conferences and events, to ‘do’ business, and during the three or four days they’re here, we’ll be planting the seeds to say, “you could be ‘doing business’ here all the time – wouldn’t that be brilliant”!
Tell us your favourite recipe.
I make a seriously good pan of chilli – evolved from recipes past down from my Grandmothers, my best mates and a celebrity chef. It’s top secret.
We have a ‘My Sage’ campaign running. Please tell us what the venue means to you.
I moved back home to NewcastleGateshead because of Sage Gateshead.
I was working in Berkshire and London in sales for two four star hotels. Whilst attending a huge business tourism trade show exhibition, I walked past a big artists impression and asked the question “where’s that going to be?”, “Gateshead” answered the then Head of Business Tourism for NewcastleGateshead Initiative. “Oh there’s a Gateshead near where I’m from originally, where’s this one?”, “NewcastleGateshead”…… I was gob smacked! To then learn about all the development and investment happening, I was hooked and left that trade show intent on coming home.
I became part of the management team that opened the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead (which is next door), in the same year Sage Gateshead opened. It was such an exciting, memorable and rewarding year, being part of something which was literally changing the shape of a place. I remember that first Christmas and New Years Eve, my team and I came to Sage Gateshead, we had a spectacular dinner on the concourse and I danced (badly) as Sister Sledge performed in Sage One, it was awesome!