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Royal Docks: How Excel’s expansion impacts Newham, London and the UK

With less than a year until opening, CEO Jeremy Rees outlines the benefits for events, local residents and the wider British economy

An artist’s impression of how Excel will look when its latest expansion programme is completed

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Jeremy Rees is excited – and with good reason.

It’s now less than a year until the latest extension to Excel in Royal Docks is due to open its doors for business, and the exhibition and conference centre’s CEO is buzzing with the anticipation of what it means for the UK, London and the local area.

To say live events have bounced back after the pandemic would be an understatement.

Fuelled by a period of almost total shut down, when meetings were deemed illegal, the demand and desire to reconnect is at an all-time high.

“This year will be 10% busier than we’ve ever been in the history of Excel’s business,” said Jeremy.

“There will be more events, more exhibitors and more visitors here than ever before – that’s a really strong catalyst for activities, innovation and ideas.

“It puts Royal Docks right at the heart of our trade agenda in the UK once again.

“Historically, it was an area where innovation was rife, where trade was a huge driver for the capital.

“That tailed off with containerisation.

“But it’s a great example of what London does, it adapts and changes into something else – so the Royal Docks began reinventing itself as a centre of excellence and innovation.

“Transportation links improved and, over the years, pieces were put in place to remove the friction of travel to get here.

“Now, with the Elizabeth Line, we’re a very strong proposition for our customers. Excel is three minutes from Canary Wharf and 15 minutes from the West End. It’s so accessible.”

Read More: How Canary Wharf-based McLaren is building Excel’s extension

Excel CEO Jeremy Rees says the benefits of increased space will bring increased growth and prosperity to Royal Docks, London and the UK as a whole

Riding the wave of that regeneration and infrastructure improvements, Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), which owns Excel, has invested significant cash in expanding the venue.

When the doors to the extension open in October 2024, Excel will see its available space increase by 25% to some 125,000sq m.

The new facility will connect seamlessly to the existing centre’s eastern end, with landscaping outside, including a public park.

“We’ve designed a £220million building connected to the existing one, which will genuinely delight and surprise everyone with a world-class experience,” said Jeremy.

“The process of regeneration here is far from complete and that’s one of the reasons our expansion programme is so important – because it’s demand-led. 

“Our customers in the corporate, association and exhibition markets – both nationally and internationally – have told us what they want.

“That’s the future of face-to-face events – a building that needs to be not just physically but also technologically fit for purpose and a place that’s sustainable and puts delegate health and wellbeing right at the heart of the proposition.

“The brands that are coming now care deeply about the experience and that’s something we’ve catered for really carefully.

“The expansion is a place where millions of moments will happen, where people will go away saying that their needs were fulfilled when they came to Royal Docks – whether that was for trade, fun or engagement.

The project will see Excel get a second main entrance

“It will be where their preconceptions of the area, of London and of the UK, will have been shifted.

“Our vision for the future is to add significantly to where we are now and this is deeply exciting. 

“From a stakeholder perspective, from ADNEC downwards, I think it shows a belief in London and the Royal Docks.

“They’re investing hundreds of millions of pounds in our buildings and the experience.

“That’s being reinforced by our customer base who are signing contracts now for 2024, 2025 and beyond. We’ve got agreements in place for 2030 already.”

Take a step back and Excel currently generates about £4.5billion in economic impact for the UK, attracting around 4million visitors to the Royal Docks each year by hosting roughly 400 events.

“The expansion is necessary to ensure the virtuous circle of growth continues.

Jeremy said: “What our existing customers are saying is that if we can’t cater for them, they’re going to go somewhere else.

“There is a significant emphasis on investment internationally and cities are competing aggressively with each other.

“The difference with London is that most other cities in the world own their convention centres – here it’s privately owned, so all the investment coming through us is driving a vast ripple effect through the city.

“The economic impact is huge and costs the public purse nothing. In other cities, the events industry is asking for subsidy or support from governments whereas we are a massive contributor to the Treasury and UK PLC as a whole.

“Our investment is driven by the fact we believe there is a commercial need – it’s what our customers want.

“The benefit from this is also for the hotels, bars and restaurants – and so for the Exchequer as well – due to the increase in activity across these sectors.”

At a more immediately local level, the expansion will also benefit those living and working in Royal Docks in a variety of ways.

Put simply, the larger Excel becomes, the more potential there is for success.

The more successful the venue is, the bigger its economic impact will be, with greater and greater audiences coming to the area with needs to satisfy.

“From a successful exhibition perspective, it means that we’re generating more income, and that flows through to Newham, where tourism and hospitality are key pillars that drive job creation,” said Jeremy.

“As a business ourselves, there is no doubt we are already employing more people from the local area than ever before.

“Similarly the businesses we’re supporting and working with are also employing people, so you get this multiplier effect.

“The hotels locally are running at around 85% occupancy, very largely filled by people attending events at Excel.

“We aim to make sure that, we’re working harmoniously with the residents who benefit from hospitality, bars and restaurants. 

“But it’s also the reason why we’re investing in transport links, why there are, for example, 5G networks here, and that infrastructure generally is being improved, because all the activity is here.

“That’s interesting because it changes the dynamics of the ecosystem.

“What used to be the case is that people came in, conducted their business and then  left.

“That’s shifting and I foresee over the next five or 10 years that the dwell time here is going to be significantly greater within the Royal Docks.

“I think that the east of London – Royal Docks, Canary Wharf and all the other areas – have all got very bright futures. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.

“With the Elizabeth Line now in place, Excel is the natural home for events for companies on the Wharf – the journey is only three minutes now.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in this area to set the tone, develop, grow and do it in partnership.

“If we can accelerate this with our investments and support from Abu Dhabi, then we’re going to do that.”

One of the other things the venue is already doing is shifting its programme.

“We’ve been planning all this since 2018 and the final pieces of the puzzle were the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, a commitment from our investors to expand and, lastly, Excel’s complete adoption of immersive events and experiences,” said Jeremy.

“We’ve got truly world-class creators, innovators, production houses and agencies who are exporting immersive experiences to other countries, where they have residencies.

“There hasn’t really been a place where they can host them here, so we’ve observed and responded to the need – and we’ve done it very quickly. 

“We’ve been really keen to work with some of the best brands globally to do this, which is the reason we’ve hosted Jurassic World and Disney100.

“These are world-class experiences and there will be more announced soon. 

“Brands invest tens of millions in some cases and what we want is families and children to come here and be surprised and delighted by what they find so that they return again and again.” 

In some senses, the countdown to the future of Excel has begun. In others, it’s here already.

Find out more about Excel’s expansion programme here

Excel’s total space is set to increase by 25% when the extension opens in less than a year

FACTS AND FIGURES

Excel’s expansion will see the following benefits created:

  • 25% larger overall with 25,000sq m of additional space that can be completely taken over by a customer
  • A new front door for the venue 
  • Improved landscaping for pedestrians and cyclists including along the dock edge
  • 12,000sq m of new exhibition space
  • A freshly planted pocket park
  • Views across the dock from the venue

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Royal Docks: How the arrival of the Elizabeth Line is transformational

Excel’s CEO on the myriad benefits Crossrail brings both to the events venue and London as a whole

Jeremy Rees says the Elizabeth Line will have a huge impact on Excel
Jeremy Rees says the Elizabeth Line will have a huge impact on Excel

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On my way to interview Excel CEO Jeremy Rees, I caught the DLR to Custom House. Despite it being mid-morning, it was packed.

Not quite rush hour, but filled with smartly dressed people, lanyards and passes hung round their necks.

The Royal Docks’ vast events venue had 11 shows on last week and the infrastructure was showing signs of strain. 

With the arrival of Crossrail, that may have been the last time I use the DLR to make that trip.

The Elizabeth Line’s slick new service offers alternatives that make some routes on public transport completely redundant.

No longer will those in Canary Wharf trundle on little red robot trains through Blackwall, East India, Canning Town and Royal Victoria to get to Excel. 

Something lost, but so much gained. Crossrail will have an enormous impact on London as a whole, but its launch – even in its current, limited form where it operates as three distinct railways – will especially be felt in east and south-east London.

Here prosperity has followed connection – the Jubilee line extension delivered the fillip necessary for Canary Wharf to flourish and Stratford to take off after the 2012 Olympics.

Now the purple thread of rapid rail will pull Abbey Wood, Thamesmead, Woolwich and the northern strip of the Royal Docks right into central London.

All will be connected to the Wharf as never before, knitting these areas together to bring change and opportunity, as space is distorted and journey times to west central London are cut dramatically.

This is the dawn of a new chapter and, perhaps, few are as well placed to ask what might be written in it as Jeremy Rees, given its myriad benefits to Excel’s operation.

“Crossrail answers one of the very large questions in the capital, which is: ‘How do you get from west London to east London with as little friction as possible in a comfortable environment, at a sensible price?” he said.

Custom house is about three minutes from Canary Wharf via Crossrail
Custom house is about three minutes from Canary Wharf via Crossrail

“From our customers’ perspective, they’re really excited about it, because while they’ve run successful events, exhibitions, conferences and corporate events, there was that element of friction.

“Much of our audience is international, largely flying in through Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line very dramatically reduces the time it takes to get to Excel.

“In the past, delegates will have paid for taxis that might have taken anything from two to three hours to get to the venue. When direct services begin, that will be cut to a little over 40 minutes. 

“So, theoretically, that means people can spend that time trading, engaging and talking with their prospective customers at the venue.

“That’s quite an interesting prospect – if you extrapolate the figures based on the million visitors who came to Excel in 2019, with 90% coming through Heathrow, that’s 900,000 people spending an extra two hours here, which is 1.8million meeting hours.

“That’s an awful lot of engagement with committed people who have come from abroad to attend an event.”

It’s tempting, when writing about Crossrail, to simply descend into stats. The line brings 68% more people within 45 minutes of Excel and a massive 9.2million to within two hours of the venue, for example.

Similar stories about other organisations will be written across London, of course. But equally important will be the psychological impact.

“A very large amount of decision making in the industry is based on an emotional response,” said Jeremy. “Where there was travel friction that people may have worried about, that has been eliminated.

“This is why Crossrail is a truly exciting, amazing project. London was already an incredibly strong proposition relative to other top tier cities around the world and this opening really gives us an opportunity to shine a light on what we have to offer.

“People will be able to move very quickly and easily – suddenly Excel is Canary Wharf’s exhibition and convention centre – it’s a few minutes away, less than the time it takes to walk the length of the venue.

“If you think what that means, are we also now able to fulfil that role for Whitechapel, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Paddington?

“I think it will drive a different type of audience for us too – people who are time-poor for whom popping across London used to be too much, but who can now make a one-hour trip to deliver a keynote presentation because it’s only 10 or 15 minutes on the Elizabeth Line.

“We’re expecting a boost in the seniority of visitors, and for people to stay at events longer.

“All of this adds yet another layer of value, demonstrably proving internationally that London is a great proposition, and that investment in infrastructure is really important.

“It’s something the Mayor Of London has advocated for and pushed, and it’s a huge credit to TfL for pushing this forward, as well as the Government for being supportive.

Connected like never before - Excel in Royal Docks
Connected like never before – Excel in Royal Docks

“The great challenge that London has is that it’s in a very competitive marketplace internationally, and, in order to continue to thrive and not just survive, we need to continue to invest in our infrastructure, to enhance our product, to underline why we’re a great place to live, engage, work, invest and base your business.

“It’s a great place for events because we’re surrounded by leading businesses in IT, insurance, finance, pharma and life sciences.

“Making Excel really easy to get to for these people means the shows we host will be even more successful, creating a virtuous circle as greater numbers of people will want to come to London. Crossrail is a big shot in the arm for business – we expect our audiences to increase between 10%- 20%.”

Locally, it’s relatively simple to join the dots. The Elizabeth Line will have the obvious impact of improving connectivity for those living in Royal Docks and along the rest of the line.

But the expected transformational benefit on businesses based close to Custom House should also deliver jobs, activity and focus.

Those extra visitors will need services – firms that depend on footfall can expect a significant boost and that means jobs, fresh openings and development.

Excel itself is embarking on a huge expansion to its east to provide an extra 25,000sq m of event space, increasing the venue’s overall floorspace by 25%.

“From the perspective of our owner – Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company – Crossrail forms a really important pillar in our investment in that extension,” said Jeremy.

“To the question: ‘Is London, the Government and business investing in transportation infrastructure?’, the answer is a resounding: ‘Yes’.

“So we’re playing our part by investing and enhancing our facilities to make us more attractive as a cultural asset and maximise everyone’s experience when they come to visit our capital. It really adds to what is already a compelling proposition and it’s going to be great for the Royal Docks.

“The Elizabeth Line will help create social mobility and opportunity as businesses here open, grow and expand. It also transforms where people can live in terms of their commute to places like Excel, Canary Wharf and Paddington.

“It’s also going to create competitiveness around the hotel proposition here, given the easy access to other parts of London.”

There’s also a story to be told about sustainability. Jeremy said Crossrail’s ability to join up areas of London could mean those travelling internationally for business would be more likely to spend longer in the capital rather than taking trips to multiple destinations.

“Aside from the boost to public sector travel, which is great for the environment, for international delegates, the reduction in travel friction the Elizabeth Line brings means you can connect to the wider ecosystem more easily,” he said.

“You can be at an amazing seminar at Excel and a couple of workshops in the morning, then whizz to Tottenham Court Road for a spectacular lunch and be back in an hour and 10 minutes for your afternoon.

“That’s got to be more compelling than being in one place at one time. London is getting to grips with the question of how you square off trying to drive a large amount of international business and tourism with the carbon impact that has.

“One of the solutions to that will be creating carbon avoidance, which means doing a lot on a single trip to London and then leaving.

“That’s interesting for the capital because, if you’re travelling to second, third or fourth tier cities, you’re likely to only be able to do one thing before you have to fly somewhere else.

“In London, you can easily combine meetings with cultural experiences, perhaps with the whole family but only travelling once, probably saving six or seven trips elsewhere and so creating a carbon deficit.”

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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