Abu Dhabi-owned ExCel London gets go-ahead for 25% expansion

Exhibition Centre to boost floor space by 25,000 square metres as momentum returns to UK events sector

Jeremy Rees, chief executive of ExCeL London, said the Covid-19 pandemic led to 'a challenging and unprecedented year' for the exhibition centre in 2020. Courtesy of ExCeL London
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Abu Dhabi-owned ExCel London has secured planning approval to expand its venue by 25,000 square metres in a clear signal that momentum is returning to Britain’s Covid-battered events sector.

Work at London’s largest international exhibition and convention centre - which is owned by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (Adnec) - to boost floor space by 25 per cent will start next year, with an expected completion date of 2024.

The Phase 3 project is expected to support 115 jobs.

ExCeL London’s chief executive Jeremy Rees said receiving the green light for the expansion from the local planning committee was a “key moment” not just for ExCeL but for its customers and the entire UK events industry.

“The expansion of ExCeL will ensure that London and the UK remains internationally competitive and a destination of choice for world leading events, for years to come. Moreover, this investment will ensure that we can continue to meet the needs of our customers by providing opportunities for growth, complemented by a world class guest experience,” he said.

While the site initially expanded in 2010 to create London’s International Convention Centre, the new investment will include 12,000 sq m of exhibition space on the ground floor, which will be integrated into the existing venue.

The plans also include a high-end convention space, meeting rooms and catering facilities on the upper floor, with a “substantial” investment towards the greenery along the dock edge to improve landscaping, and a new pocket park.

Mr Rees said the project also falls into the centre’s ambition to create “the most sustainable development possible”, with the aim of securing a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment rating of excellent.

The expansion is another indication of Adnec’s commitment to investing in London. In July, the company bought a new hotel in the UK Capital as it continued to expand its hospitality portfolio.

DoubleTree By Hilton London Excel, a 287-room hotel next to ExCeL London, will support the development of the business and leisure tourism sectors in both countries, Adnec said.

“Adnec continues to affirm its commitment towards developing its assets in London”, according to the company’s managing director and chief executive Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri.

“This consolidates ExCeL’s position as one of the largest exhibition and conference hubs in Europe, and its pivotal role through the direct and indirect economic impact,” Mr Al Dhaheri said.

“The new expansion phase for ExCeL London contributes to our investments in the business tourism sector for the United Kingdom."

ExCel London said the Royal Docks venue is returning to pre-pandemic business levels since reopening its doors in July with “a packed schedule of almost 60 events”.

While 25 events have already been delivered, the venue said it was seeing “a faster than expected return in market confidence” with a “near capacity” 56 events scheduled until the end of this year.

In September, 40,000 visitors headed to Virgin London Marathon Show, with strong attendance also reported at other events

“All of this combined is leading to renewed confidence in the face-to-face events sector, which is forecast to be worth £27.6 billion by 2026," said Simon Mills, executive director of ExCel London.

The events industry, which generated £11 billion in economic activity and supported 114,000 jobs pre-pandemic, according to the Events Industry Alliance, was hammered by the pandemic after it was shut down by the government in March 2020 and did not fully reopen until July this year.

Event organisers still need measures in place to protect attendees, such as face masks and limits on numbers, depending on which part of Britain an event is located.

In December, Mr Rees said the pandemic was the “toughest situation” Adnec and ExCeL London has ever faced, calling 2020 “a challenging and unprecedented year”.

At the start of the crisis, ExCel London was transformed into Britain’s first coronavirus field hospital to help the country cope with a surge in coronavirus cases.

However, it later shut after being rarely used before reopening earlier this year to relieve the pressure on medical services when the UK capital was on the brink of running out of intensive care beds.

Adnec, a subsidiary of ADQ, acquired ExCeL in 2008, with the venue typically hosting 400 events a year, attracting 4 million visitors and 40,000 exhibiting companies.

Events at ExCeL generate £4.5bn for the UK economy, support 37,600 jobs and drive 25 per cent of London’s inbound business tourists, according to Mr Rees.

The opening of the Elizabeth Line, part of the Crossrail project, next year will see visitors able to reach ExCeL in 15 minutes from central London and 43 minutes from Heathrow, via the venue’s onsite station at Custom House.

Updated: November 11, 2021, 2:33 PM