THE ANNUAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF VISITOR ATTRACTIONS
Thursday 7 October 2021
This year’s VAC conference is to take place at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster on Thursday, 7th October.
Register for VAC 2021 now! Only £249 plus VAT
Group registration discounts are available plus assisted places for the unwaged and students on proof of status, please contact the organisers for further information.
Last year, VAC pivoted to a fully virtual conference and saw over 200 delegates attend from across the UK and internationally. This year we’re delighted to be back at the QEII Conference Centre, which has played host to VAC since the conference was launched by a partnership including ALVA, BALPPA, Leisure Media and VisitEngland in 2004. Over 2,500 delegates have passed through the doors since that first event, to hear from over 200 speakers from the attractions and tourism sectors.
VAC is the visitor attractions industry’s annual conference, and this year’s event will feature more than 20 expert speakers’ talks on the burning topics affecting theme parks, stately homes, zoo’s, museums and galleries, heritage attractions, wildlife attractions and parks and gardens.
The theme for this year’s VAC will be all about the sector’s renewal so that profitability can return in 2022. The Industry Keynote Speaker is Nick Varney, Chief Executive Officer of Merlin Entertainments. Other speakers announced today include Bernard Donoghue (Chief Executive of ALVA), Nick de Bois (Chair of VisitEngland), Kurt Janson (Director of The Tourism Alilance), Paul Kelly (Chief Executive of BALPPA), Hilary McGrady (Director General of the National Trust), Barbara Smith (General Manager of Diageo’s new Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky Visitor Experience in Edinburgh), Liz Terry (Publisher, Attractions Management magazine), and Jon Young (Research Director, BVA BDRC).
Conference and Venue
Our industry must work together, now more than ever, to bounce back stronger and deliver more exciting, creative and enticing ventures. Last year’s VAC 2020 VIRTUAL was an excellent opportunity to learn, share and promote the innovative strategies that are being developed within our industry to inspire the public to visit again safely, yet enthusiastically.
Bringing the Industry Together in Person to Rebuild
Organised by the industry for the industry, we are delighted that VAC 2021 will return to the QEII Centre in Westminster to provide an exclusive opportunity to meet together in person once again, to share insights, data and innovative thinking at a time when our businesses need it most. Join us for more networking at the end of day drinks!
Returning for its 18th year, The Annual National Conference of Visitor Attractions is the leading networking event for visitor attractions. We are privileged to invite back to VAC, our UK and international attendees, partners and exhibitors, to a take part in delivering a wider industry perspective on how best to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and to thrive in future years.
Who is it for?
The expertise and creative ideas we will share is relevant to all organisations offering visitor attractions – large and small. From parks and gardens, historical or heritage centres, theme parks, museums and galleries, zoos or science and discovery centres, sharing best industry practice at VAC 2021 will help attractions managers and directors plan their recovery from the last 18 months of uncertainty and poor trading, enabling all of us to enter a brave new world with increased confidence.
VAC Committee Members
VAC 2021 will feature a full programme of conference sessions and networking/refreshment breaks from 9.30am to 5pm on Thursday 7th October, with complimentary drinks and further networking until 6.30pm.
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Ami trained under Stephen Mason and qualified as a solicitor in 2000. Ami then focused on building an enviable employment practice serving the travel industry. She regularly worked with ABTA, AGTA and ABTOF amongst others.
Since 2004, Ami has worked at a number of top, large national and international law firms, serving a wide variety of industries, acting for some of the largest employers in the private sector including well-known household names – Royal Mail, Tesco and Honda to name just a few.
Ami returned to her travel law roots in 2017 and now heads up the employment team at Travlaw. She exclusively serves the travel and leisure industry with its employment law needs.
Andy helped set up Adido as an award-winning digital agency in Dorset in 2003. As CEO of Adido, Andy has a vast knowledge of all areas of digital marketing and is a regular blogger, contributor and presenter on all areas of digital. His most speciﬁc areas of expertise and interest are search marketing, travel marketing and future innovations in the digital world.
Adido are experts in the travel and tourism sector and have in-house marketing experts who have held senior posts client-side with large Travel Brands including P&O, Royal Caribbean International and Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Andy is also a proud member of ITT (Institute of Travel & Tourism), Chair for the Digital South group, Business South and is also on the great Board of Silicon South.
Anthony founded Digital Visitor to help tourism businesses enhance their digital strategies and attract wider audiences both locally and internationally. Over 15 years, he has worked across all segments of the travel and tourism industry for leading global brands. At Digital Visitor, Anthony ensures the company is at the leading edge of industry insights and trends and drives innovation and business strategy so they can continue to deliver best-in-class growth for their clients.
Anthony has the privilege of being mentored by Sir Tim Smit (Eden Project) and Bernard Donoghue (ALVA) and is a strong advocate for the ‘good tourism’ movement. He has recently been working on a new ‘natural tourism’ enterprise, working with the country’s wildlife and conservation trusts and is awaiting its imminent launch.
Barbara Smith is one of Scotland’s most experienced leaders in the tourism and visitor attraction sector with over 30 years working in sport, leisure, tourism, culture and heritage and most recently in the wildlife charity sector.
She was appointed in late 2019 to lead Diageo’s Scotch whisky brand homes in Scotland, including the newly opened Johnnie Walker Princes Street and the company’s network of 12 distillery visitor centres across Scotland, including such famous distilleries as Lagavulin, Talisker, Cardhu and Brora.
Barbara joined Diageo from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, where she was Chief Executive from 2016. Prior to that Barbara was Managing Director of Edinburgh Zoo from 2013 to 2016. Barbara was also Managing Director of Chester Zoo (2010 – 2013) and Executive Manager of Edinburgh Castle (2000 – 2010) – two of the UK’s most successful visitor attractions.
Bernard has been the Director of ALVA, the UK’s Association for Leading Visitor Attractions, since September 2011 following a career in advocacy, communications, and lobbying, latterly at a senior level in the tourism and heritage sector. In May of 2017, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, appointed Bernard to be the Mayor’s Ambassador for Cultural Tourism and a member of the Mayor’s Cultural Leadership Board. He is Co-Chair of the London Tourism Recovery Board.
He is Chairman of LIFT, London International Festival of Theatre; Chairman of the Bristol Old Vic, the oldest continually operating theatre in the English-speaking world; and will take over as Chairman of the People’s History Museum, the Museum of Democracy, in November.
He has been a member of the UK Government’s Tourism Industry Council since 2016. He was named by Blooloop in 2020 as one of the world’s 50 most influential people in museums, and in July 2021 won the public vote for the COVID Special Recognition Award from the UK Museums and Heritage Awards for his service to, and leadership of the museums and heritage sector in the UK during the pandemic.
Carol King is the Director of Programmes at the Black Country Living Museum, an award winning open air museum that tells the story of one of the first industrialised landscapes in Britain. Carol joined the museum as their Head of Collections in 2018 before becoming Director of Programmes in 2019. She has over 10 years of experience working in community focused museums and heritage organisations developing and delivering high impact audience led programmes. Carol has held a variety of roles throughout her career from strategic to on the ground delivery but all have focused on providing increased access to culture for communities.
Emma is a Partner at Travlaw and heads the Commercial and Corporate Governance team. Emma brings considerable experience and expertise to the team and to the travel industry, working across a range of B2B commercial contracts, many of which are international, and consumer booking conditions, as well as regulatory compliance work including the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 and the ATOL Regulations. In addition, Emma advises on all aspects of corporate and corporate finance work, as well as compliance with the mandatory package travel financial protection requirements. Emma also undertakes data protection and intellectual property work, as well as technology contracts.
Emma is a regular speaker at industry events and conferences including the ABTA members’ training programme, and has hosted a number of webinars and update sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic across the travel and leisure industry.
Hilary became Director-General of the National Trust in 2018. She’s worked for the Trust since 2006 since joining as regional director for Northern Ireland. Hilary later became regional director for Wales and the London and South East region and in 2014 was appointed chief operating officer, leading the operations and consultancy teams.
Originally trained in graphic design, Hilary’s career path started in the drinks industry in brand and marketing. In 1998 she moved to become director of a national arts charity and was seconded in 2002 to become CEO of Belfast’s bid to become European Capital of Culture.
Hilary says: “I am picking up the baton from a long list of inspiring leaders who have helped us grow over the last 120 years. We now have over 5 million members supporting what we do and a portfolio of extraordinary places. I see my role as building on that success and inspiring more people from all parts of our nation to love, engage with and want to care for the places that matter to them.”
Hilary is married with three children. Her interests include the arts, gardening and hill walking.
Jon has worked in the Culture and Tourism Team for over a decade, focussing on consumer sentiment, visitor research, summative evaluations and audience segmentations. He is the lead author of Holiday Trends 2020 and a co-author of BVA BDRC’s COVID-19 sentiment tracker.
Kate Nicholls OBE has been CEO of UKHospitality, the powerful voice representing the broad hospitality sector, since its inception in 2018, having previously worked as CEO and Strategic Affairs Director of the ALMR.
Kate is Chair of the Tourism Alliance and co-Chair of the London Tourism Recovery Board, representing the needs of the wider tourism sector in discussions with Government and the Mayor of London. She sits on the Government’s Tourism Industry Council and Events Industry Board, the London Food Board and has previously Chaired the London Night-time Commission. She is a Board member of London & Partners, Best Bar None, PASS and is a trustee at Hospitality Action. In July 2021, she was appointed as the first Government Disability Ambassador for hospitality, promoting inclusivity.
Kate initially worked as a researcher in the House of Commons and European Parliament on food, employment and environmental policy before joining Whitbread to work in Strategic Affairs. She has extensive experience as a political and strategic communications consultant and is a graduate of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and Kings College London.
Kathryn McDowell became Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2005. Building on the Orchestra’s reputation she has enriched the artistic programme with outstanding artists, including the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle; extended its profile internationally through partnerships in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australasia; developed its recording label LSO Live into the most successful orchestra-owned label in the world; deepened its Discovery programme at LSO St Luke’s as a leader in the field of Education & Community work; and built a more sustainable financial model. Kathryn has held prominent positions in leading cultural organisations including Music Director, Arts Council; Chief Executive of the Wales Millennium Centre; and roles in Scotland and her native Northern Ireland.
Kathryn holds honorary awards from three London music colleges and was named Incorporated Society of Musicians’ ‘Musician of the Year’ 2017. She was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London 2009 and CBE in 2011.
After graduating with a 1st Class Masters in Public Policy, Kurt was employed by the Department of Conservation and then the New Zealand Tourist Board, working national and regional tourism strategy. He moved to Britain in 1997 to work for VisitBritain as Head of Strategic Planning with responsibility for Policy, Strategy, Business Planning and Marketing Evaluation.
Kurt left VisitBritain in 2004 to become the Director of the Tourism Alliance, an umbrella trade association for the tourism and hospitality sector that comprises over 50 industry associations that together represent almost 200,000 UK businesses. The core role of the Tourism Alliance is to lobby Government on issues that support the development of the UK tourism industry, and Kurt has been at the forefront of disseminating government advice and regulations during the covid pandemic to the industry. He is a member of several Government advisory groups including the Tourism Industry Council and HMRC’s SMEOF, and has written VisitEngland’s “Pink Book” on accommodation legislation since 1999.
Laura has worked in fundraising, arts marketing, festival management, events production and even as a film location scout. She is currently Events Manager at the Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford, where she heads up commercial venue hire as well as masterminding large-scale public events. She is particularly interesting in developing innovative event formats which combine commercial activity and learning through objects. In this talk, she will showcase the Museum’s hugely successful online lockdown escape room event Mystery at the Museum.
Liz is the CEO of Leisure Media, the magazine, book and web publisher. She joined the then embryonic company as an editorial assistant in 1983, became a director in 1987 and owner and CEO in 1997.
She was appointed MBE for services to publishing in 2007 and an Honorary Fellow of the Tourism Society in 2015 and dedicated both to her team.
Liz has supported the Visitor Attractions Conference as a service to the industry since its inception.
Leisure Media’s title, Attractions Management, has been documenting the growth and development of the attractions sector since it was first published in 1992 and is proud to be an official supporter of VAC.
Attractions Management publishes a daily news website, quarterly magazine, twice monthly news magazine and annual handbook.
Nick de Bois was appointed as Chairman of the VisitEngland Advisory Board for three years from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2023. He was Member of Parliament for Enfield North from 2010 – 2015. Prior to his election he was founder and Managing Director of Rapiergroup, an international events and exhibitions management agency that he set up in 1988 delivering conferences, exhibitions and digital content for U.K. and International based clients.
In 2016 Nick was appointed Chairman of the government’s first U.K. Events Industry Board bringing industry and government agencies together to advise the government on the implementation of their Business Events Strategy launched in 2015. This strategy set about securing an increase of inbound international visitors by winning new international events hosted at U.K. destinations. In July 2018, Nick joined DExEU as Chief of Staff and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State Dominic Raab MP. He lives with his wife Helen in Hertfordshire. He is also an author and contributory program host and broadcaster, chiefly with talkRADIO.
Nick has 30 years’ experience in the visitor attractions industry and was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Merlin Entertainments in 1999. He was appointed a Director of the Company on 20 October 2013. Nick started his career in FMCG marketing, first with Rowntree and then with Reckitt Colman. He went on to hold senior positions within The Tussauds Group (Pearson PLC), including Marketing Director of Alton Towers and Head of Group Marketing, before becoming Managing Director of Vardon Attractions and a main board director of Vardon plc.
In 1999 Nick led the management buyout of Vardon Attractions to form Merlin Entertainments and, in 2005, initiated the process which led to its acquisition by Blackstone. Nick is a Board member of UKHospitality, the trade body representing the UK’s hospitality and tourism industry with a membership of over 45,000 companies.
Nigel Huddleston MP was appointed the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on 14 February 2020. He has also been an Assistant Government Whip since July 2019. His portfolio covers Sport, the upcoming Commonwealth Games, Gambling and Lotteries, as well as Tourism and Heritage. He has been MP for mid-Worcestershire since 2015. Prior to entering politics, Nigel had a career in international business with a familiarity in tourism, having worked at Google as UK Head of Travel.
After 15 years at Thorpe Park, Paul had the opportunity to open the London Eye on the South Bank in 2000. This experience lead to a wider involvement in the attractions industry through both the Tussauds group and Merlin Entertainments. The wider industry involvement became part of everyday life after that as he worked in the area of business development for Merlin. Also at that time a member of BALPPA, Paul had the opportunity to visit many operations in the UK and around the world. Having now been CEO at BALPPA for a number of years it is a very natural fit for Paul to help support a conference that celebrates the passion, innovation and delivery of fantastic visitor experiences in this sector.
Richard Nicholls joined VisitBritain in 2015 as Head of Research and Forecasting. He and his team are responsible for analysis of inbound tourism datasets, insights and prospects both for VisitBritain and for the benefit of the wider UK tourism industry.
In a career spanning over 30 years in the travel and tourism industry, Wendy has held senior positions, latterly with Reed Travel Exhibitions working across 17 events globally including World Travel Market, and prior to that with Stena Line and National Car Rental. She also has a 10-year service as a director of the Institute of Travel & Tourism. She has extensive experience of leading teams, managing key account clients and dealing with trade associations and tourist boards covering the inbound, outbound and domestic tourism markets. As CEO at AGTO she continues to develop the organisation’s strategy for engaging with the wider travel and tourism industry, ensuring that the needs of group travel organisers and industry suppliers involved in delivering group travel products are represented and understood.
Sponsorship & Exhibition
Please contact us to discuss a wide variety of promotional opportunities for VAC 2021 – the exhibition is filling up fast!
The audience profile is owners and senior managers of Visitor Attractions as well as opinion leaders, heritage professionals, local authorities, national bodies and many service providers that support the marketing, development, infrastructure, legislation, management and safe delivery of the attractions enjoyed by the general public of all ages.
Join our current Sponsors and Exhibitors at VAC this year and improve your company’s awareness and business development in this important sector of the tourism economy.