THE Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area needs to promote itself better and find ways of keeping more of the talent that comes out of its universities, business leaders have said.

Those were among the messages at the a symposium which concluded the 10-day, Daily Echo-backed BCP Business Festival.

The event at AFC Bournemouth's Vitality Stadium brought together a host of business leaders, who split up according to their sectors and then reported on the discussions.

Helen Stacey, managing director of Aspire Jobs, was one of several leaders who reported concerns about lack of affordable housing and the tendency for graduates of Bournemouth’s universities to leave the area for London.

“The town centre is not that attractive in terms of retail centres,” she reported for the recruitment sector group.

“We’ve got fantastic hospitality businesses but that town centre is broken and compare it with Bristol, Bath or Brighton, people want to go there – they don’t want to go to BCP.”

Paul Tansey, managing director of marketing agency Intergage, spoke for the tech sector and said the area was great for wellbeing and quality of life but needed to communicate this.

“The reality of what we are is nothing like what we’re perceived – and if we don’t tell the right people in the right places our story, we’re not going to take advantage of a massive opportunity,” he said.

“We need to create a powerful vision and tell that story relentlessly.”

The area had created a “playground” for 5G technology which could power innovations such as driverless cars but needed to tell about it.

He added: “If we have aspirations to be a shining digital city by the sea, which I think we do, where’s the physical manifestation of that? Where’s the hub, where’s the building, where’s the landmark that we can all point to?”

Mark Cribb, founder of the Urban Guild hotel and restaurant venues, spoke for the hospitality group. He said the area was great for wellbeing and praised its natural environment.

He echoed the need for better promotion and said hospitality struggled to find accommodation for its staff when “any spare accommodation gets turned into Airbnbs”.

He said the area had too many sub-standard older hotels. “We need to get rid of them and focus on new ones, but could we say 12 Premier Inns is enough?” he added.

Arabella Lewis-Smith, founder of the Poole creative agency Salad, reported for the creative and digital sector. She said “80 per cent” of the group’s discussion “kept coming back to recruitment”.

“Lots of graduates automatically go to London – they’re not sold on staying here,” she said.

“There are a number of big players with deep pockets that are coming in and hoovering up a lot of the talent,” she added.

She called for better messaging about the conurbation. “The area doesn’t feel like it’s promoted beyond the beach. We know it’s a summer town but there’s so much more happening,” she added.

The key points from the discussions were shared with BCP Council deputy leader Cllr Philip Broadhead and will be the basis for a white paper from Evolve, the Poole-based business community which organised the BCP Business Festival with a council grant.

Warren Munson, founder of Evolve and the accountancy practice Inspire, said he was pleased with the way the free festival had gone.

“We started with inspiration from Alastair Humphreys the adventurer, about thinking differently, stepping outside the comfort zone and taking advantage of what’s on your doorstep, which got people’s business minds thinking along different lines,” he said.

“We ended up with the sectors getting people thinking about the good of the local economy but also what they are looking for in the community.

“It was great to see BCP Council has responded to those things.

“We’ve done some stuff around green growth and how business leaders need to be more resilient. We did sessions around meditating and breathing and how they can help business leaders.

“My favourite event was Inspiring the Next Generation, which put business leaders entrepreneurs in front of the local university students to share their journeys from education to where they are now.

“If we just inspired one of them to see things differently and think about enterprise in a different way, then the festival has been a success.”