THE ANNUAL NATIONAL CONFRENCE 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 £199 plus VAT before 15th August
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. The programme is being finalised in the next couple of weeks and includes:
- Industry Keynote from Nick Varney, Chief Executive, Merlin Entertainments
- Major Attractions Sector presentation by Bernard Donoghue, Chief Executive, ALVA
- “The Big Interview” with Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust & Liz Terry MBE, Publisher of Attractions Management
- Leading Insights & Research session with BVA0-BDRC and VisitEngland
- “The Voice for England” – with Nick de Bois, Chair, VisitEngland
- Niche Market sessions including The Groups Market, The Family Market and The Virtual Market for Attractions
- Tourism Alliance Policy Update & Legal Briefing with Kurt Janson and TravLaw
- “The Power Panel” with Bernard Donoghue and senior representatives of leading attractions
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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.
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.
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.
Liz is the Managing Director of Leisure Media Group, whose publications including Leisure Management, Attractions Management, Leisure Opportunities and the related websites are very much respected in the Cultural Leisure, Heritage, Sports and Tourism industries that they serve.
She joined the then embryonic company, as an Editorial Assistant in 1983, after leaving University with a B.A. Hons degree in English. She became a Director in 1987, joint Managing Director in 1989 and sole owner and Managing Director since 1993. Today her company is
directly involved with 27 Trade Associations and training bodies, providing support and services to many. Her leader articles and the journalistic integrity of the publications is well respected. Since it’s inception, Liz has supported the Visitor Attractions Conference as a service to the industry. In 2006 she was appointed MBE for services to Publishing.
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.
Paul has spent the whole of his working life in the attractions industry. As a student he worked on the ghost ride at Thorpe Park. Having spent many happy years there heading up the operation, he moved over to the London Eye in 1999/2000, as part of the Tussauds Group to head up the operational launch of, what turned out to be Britain’s busiest paid for attraction. After five years and a purchase by the Merlin group, Paul worked on Business Development projects in the UK and around the world. Paul joined BALPPA as Chief Executive in 2012, and has led the organisation since then.
Sponsorship and 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.