London hotels report £10m revenue boost for 2012 Olympic Summer

By James Parsons, Managing Director, The Conference Bench

The effect of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on the meetings and event industry can be evidenced in new data released today by The Conference Bench.

A sample of 23 London hotels and venues, including several LOCOG designated hotels, posted £10.04 million in revenue (food and beverage and room hire revenue) between 27 July – 12 August 2012, compared to £1.9 million for the corresponding period in 2011 (29 July – 14 August 2011). This indicates a 434% increase year to year, demonstrating the Olympic Games period’s positive impact on the industry.

Meeting space occupancy also jumped from 22% in 2011 to 52% over the Olympic Games period in 2012.

To put this into perspective, during the busiest period of the entire year in 2011 (25 November – 11 December 2011), the same sample of venues posted just over £11.02 million in total revenue at an occupancy level of 60%.

The occupancy difference between the busiest period in November 2011 and the Olympic Games period in 2012 indicates that only a few of the hotels surveyed enjoyed a stellar performance during the Olympic Games period, while the majority performed either to the same level or below that level in the comparable period of 2011 (July/August).

The three weeks preceding and the three weeks following the Olympic Games indicate revenue performance and occupancy steadied to levels comparable with, yet still slightly above 2011.

London conference revenue 2012 vs 2011

London conference occupancy 2012 vs 2011

The Conference Bench is an internet based performance benchmarking tool designed to shine new light on the performance of your conference and event space against your market and direct competitor set. The service is active in several European markets, as well as in the Middle East, and it is free for participants to obtain market reports in return for daily data submission.

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Booking event space online? You could be missing out on inside knowledge from venue staff

By Clare Hodgkinson, marketing executive, Church House Conference Centre

For event organisers time is precious. Today, through advances in technology, event organisers are being given the option to take a virtual tour of a venue, book event space, catering and AV, and make payment at the click of a button. But is this the way forward for all venues?

Are those venues that don’t have online booking facilities regarded as old fashioned and missing out on business? Will all event booking be done online in future?

There are many advantages to online booking, but it may not necessarily be the most practical option for everyone. For venues with similar sized event spaces, online booking could be a feasible option, but for unique venues with diverse event spaces, like those at Church House Conference Centre in Westminster, these are more effectively booked by the in-house events team. That’s because it’s the in-house events team which has the best insight into the most suitable event spaces for the client sourcing a space for a particular event. It’s also because they know the tricks for maximising space.

Having that human element in your booking process means you are talking to an events professional, whether that is via telephone or by coming to a venue to meet their team and have a showround. This one-to-one interaction can have a significant influence on whether a booking is made.

The friendliness and professionalism of a venue’s team is often a crucial factor, and this of course cannot be judged online. Furthermore, it is still widely acknowledged that people buy from people.

In addition to these factors, it has to be questioned whether it is a good thing for clients to be able to see availability. Due to the logic of supply and demand, if a client sees there are very few bookings around the time of their event, they may be inclined to push down the pricing significantly. Furthermore, if a venue is suffering from lack of business, it is unlikely this is something they would want to advertise.

So what’s the solution? Is it about finding a compromise? Having some event spaces and services available for booking online whilst keeping others offline? Or should venues that choose to keep booking offline simply pride themselves in the personal and friendly service they offer? People are, after all, at the very heart of the events industry.

Royal College of Surgeons launches webcasting services

In today’s fast-paced business environment it often is impossible for everybody to be in the same place at the same time. The Royal College of Surgeons’ new webcasting service allows clients to broadcast their event in real time to as many global viewers as they like and, even more importantly, to actively engage with them.

Live webcasts bring many other benefits, such as increased brand coverage, playback on mobile devices and reduced travel costs. Moreover, the service provides multiple broadcast cameras for visual variety and professional audio systems, for additional content including PowerPoint slides, document attachment or agenda points and for polls, surveys and social media interaction.

Recently, Cancer Research successfully used the Royal College of Surgeons’ new webcasting service to broadcast to over 500 delegates. Dr Nicola Hawkes, Operations Manager at Cancer Research, was delighted with the result: “Webcasting allowed us to broadcast live and record the conference with six months’ access after the event, via the internet. This meant we could share our event with a wider audience.”

For more information on the Royal College of Surgeons’ new webcasting service, please call 020 7869 6702 or click here to visit the website.

Interview: Banqueting House’s incoming events head Petra Bones

As former RIBA venue head Petra Bones secures her dream job as new Head of Events for Banqueting House and Historic Royal Places, she talks to The Westminster Collection about the lure of the venue’s heritage, the challenge to keep pace with event buyer behaviour and her admiration for the late Neil Armstrong

Tell us about your move from RIBA to Banqueting House. What was your relationship with the venue prior to your move?

I have known Lin Kennedy [incumbent Head of Events at Banqueting House] through the events industry for several years and have been keeping an eye on her role, as I knew she was due to retire in late 2012. It’s a role I have always been keen to pursue and was delighted to be approached by Portfolio International on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces. I jumped at the chance to interview for the role.

What does this new role mean for you and your career, reflecting on your path up via Madame Tussauds?

This is a big role, both in terms of the responsibilities for the existing daytime visitor attraction and events business at the Banqueting House, but also as I will be heavily involved in the development of the Banqueting House over the next few years and act as Head of Events for Historic Royal Palaces as a whole.

However, I have been working towards this for some time. I started my venues/events career as Events Administrator at Madame Tussauds, left there four years later as Senior Event Manager, joined Somerset House in the same capacity and then got promoted to Head of Events. Three years on I took on the role of Head of Venues for the Royal Institute of British Architects and I am now ready to take on the prestigious (and challenging) role as Head of Banqueting House to consolidate my learnings in both visitor attractions and historic event spaces.

I am looking forward to again working with some of London’s top event suppliers in another stunning building.

What is it about the grandeur and setup of Banqueting House as an event venue that appeals to you?

The history and heritage of the building is a huge draw as although renowned for its architecture, Banqueting House is probably most famous for the execution of King Charles I.

The building is one of the first examples of the principles of Palladianism being applied to an English building and the original Peter Paul Rubens ceiling paintings provide a stunning backdrop for events and daytime visitors alike.

Banqueting House is surprisingly flexible, can host a variety of events and benefits from a large capacity and a wonderful location on Whitehall.

Have you identified any immediate opportunities to reshape the event offering at Banqueting House?

Not yet, but I officially take over on 1st October 2012, when Lin retires…

As part of the team that secured ‘Casa Brasil’ for Somerset House when you were Head of Events there, how do you now feel about the Olympic Games and what it has brought to London’s meetings and events industry?

I was sad to not to be at Somerset House for the Casa Brasil residency, as the team worked so hard to secure the contract and fought off a lot of competition to do so!

From my conversations with industry colleagues, there seems to be an element of relief that the Olympics are over, as whilst they have been a wonderful opportunity for a lot of suppliers and venues, they have also caused a lot of uncertainty.

However, I think the overwhelming feeling is one of pride. We always knew we could deliver the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ in the greatest city on Earth and now we have proved it!

For you, what makes Westminster stand out as a destination for meetings and events?

Location, location, location!

What changes have you seen in event buyer behaviour in your 12 years in the industry?

Event buyers are much more ‘savvy’ and confident nowadays; they know there’s a lot of competition and how to negotiate for the best rates as a result. They are knowledgeable about the industry and how flexible venues and suppliers need to be to secure business.

However, there no longer seems to be the buying ‘patterns’ and trends that we used to have and planning and forecasting are really challenging as a result.

Social media: relationship building with prospects or idle chit-chat amongst strangers?

Both! Idle chit-chat can build relationships and is much better than using social media solely for advertising and promotion.

Who’s the person you’d most like to meet?

Until recently it was Neil Armstrong. I would love to have met the first man on the moon and had a chance to speak to him about the adventure of it all. The trust he must have had in the NASA team to get him and the other astronauts safely into space, onto the moon and home again is incredible.

Which industry figure do you most admire and why?

Michael Aldridge, General Manager of Events for Merlin Entertainments. He has never been afraid to ask difficult questions, make difficult decisions, challenge ‘events myths’ and make the necessary changes to improve the business.

Petra Bones sits on The Westminster Collection’s marketing committee, helping to steer the future direction and strategy of the venue consortium.