Set on hosting an event in London in 2012? Forget the hype and bluster surrounding venue unavailability before, during and after the Olympic Games. Some of the capital’s top venues remain up for grabs right on the doorstep of world famous landmark eye-candy – and it’s first come, first served.
“The early bird catches the worm,” says Tim Barrett-Jolley, Sales & Marketing Manager at RSA House, a refashioned Georgian property nestled just off the bustling Strand between Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross. The perception that prime locations are all locked up by LOCOG, have sold out or are priced beyond reach is a bubble that needs to be burst.
“Companies looking to hold one-off events or a series of events are still just at the enquiry stage,” so until confirmations come through, some of the very best venues in the heart of London remain ready for the taking, he says. “If you want to secure your preferred venue of choice, I would suggest you book early.”
A majority of clients are looking for long-term hire with flexibility to entertain, do business, hold press conferences and generally make a statement during London 2012, says Clare Jones, Senior Marketing Executive at 116 Pall Mall, the headquarters of the Institute of Directors. Shorter-term event leads are still being pursued with similar vigour though, she says. “We certainly would not turn any business away to hold out for the ‘million pound deal’ that everyone seems to be waiting for. We are looking for both. As with everything during the Olympics, we say the key word is ‘flexibility’. If you are not flexible you will not appeal.”
Like moths to an Olympic flame
Venue operators in Westminster have admitted they are bemused by talk that the London Olympics are spurring central city boycotting. “We are seeing some with this mindset, but not the majority,” says Craig Wallace, Conference and Events Manager at One Wimpole Street, a high-spec technology-focused venue that houses over 10 charismatic meeting spaces and two luxury auditoriums. “Many organisations feel they need to be represented by hosting an event during the Games. Demand trends indicate brand hospitality is a favourite purpose for venue sourcing, as is having a central London base for entertaining clients.”
For sponsors of the Games, the branding opportunities are unprecedented, particularly for those who have recognised the benefits of aligning with a venue that mirrors their brand personality and values, has a premium location on the doorstep of sporting and official Olympic events, other community based events and famed tourist attractions.
Central Hall Westminster’s iconic dome presents a one-in-a-million opportunity for marketers to thrust their brand onto a global stage, with Maria Schuett, Marketing Manager at the 30-room venue, revealing that the exterior dome and roof space is still available as a branding platform for one lucky organisation, as is hire of the Great Hall, with its magnificent 4,731-pipe organ, which is housed beneath the dome.
Central Hall Westminster offers premium exposure to the swathes of tourists, Brits and broadcast journalists who will flood the streets around Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, as does its close neighbour The UK Supreme Court, a majestic and Gothic style Grade II listed building available for corporate event hire.
In-between the two is the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, which will reinvent itself as ‘Casa Italia’, home to the National Olympic Committee of Italy (CONI) and its public exhibition of Italian companies, for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Even companies not directly involved with the Games can hop on the back of the buzz that will bring London and the UK alive during July and August of 2012. “It’s a great time to showcase your business and your capital city,” says 116 Pall Mall’s Clare Jones, whose venue sits three minutes’ walk away from the Trafalgar Square ‘Live Site’ – one of 22 big TV screens and event spaces in urban centres around the UK offering live information, video, news and community events – and near the volleyball events on Horse Guards Parade.
“In central London the streets will be themed, so they will look spectacular. Pall Mall will be transformed during the Games, so we are hoping that people will take advantage of this and choose to host events during this time, rather than shy away from London, ” says Jones.
“We have one National Olympic Committee who will be using two of the 12 event spaces available in 116 for the entirety of the Olympics and they will be hosting VIPs, athletes and sponsors during this time. We still have a good selection of different event spaces available and we are now seeing more interest in one-off events such as large banquets and drinks and canapés,” says Jones. “We also have a 30-room media centre which we are hoping that a company wishing to relocate staff for the Olympics would be interested in taking.”
Work and play combined
Cultural Olympiad director Ruth Mackenzie has announced that there will be more than 10 million chances to see free London 2012 Festival events throughout the UK, with the Mayor’s Office planning to create “unforgettable experiences” for attendees with a series of events in all 33 London boroughs.
A “huge event for our vibrant, buzzing city”, delegates are in for a treat with their pick of “some of the world’s best venues, hotels, eateries, attractions and theatres,” says Jonathan Morris, Commercial Director of No.11 Cavendish Square, a Grade II listed townhouse minutes from Oxford Circus and renowned for its stunning Orangery and secluded Courtyard Garden.
“Clients need to know that not all event spaces and equipment have been allocated to the Games. Enquiries have come in from clients of competitor venues disgruntled that those venues will not be able to accommodate them during the 2012 Games. At No.11 Cavendish Square we are taking a ‘business as usual’ approach and will not be bought out by one Olympic federation,” says Morris.
Waiting for last-minute discounts is foolish
Feedback from members of The Westminster Collection has indicated that lead times have shortened noticeably, suggesting that a culture of last-minute bargain hunters is changing the venue sales cycle significantly.
Much like you’re unlikely to see discounted bedrooms released en masse in central London – owing to demand being higher than the capital’s 123,000-strong room supply – conference, meetings and events venues in premium locations like Westminster have stressed that the focus is firmly on ‘value-add’ rather than price slashing.
“Discounting is not something the client always wants in our experience,” says IET London: Savoy Place’s Sales and Development Manager, Sarah McQueen. “We signed up to London & Partners’ Fair Price Charter as soon as it was announced. We have not planned to increase our rates during this time, but to offer rates that have always been competitively priced within the London market.”
“‘Value-add’ is a far more rewarding proposition than discounting,” says Chief Executive of The Westminster Collection, René Dee. “Event bookers need to know that it’s OK to book in advance and we actively encourage it to ensure there is sufficient time to plan polished, well thought out occasions with good lead times for clients to market their events, whether that’s fashion shows, product launches, press conferences, discrete meetings, corporate hospitality or complete venue exclusivity. Most of the activity in 2012 is targeted at corporate hospitality and brand communication.”
Church House Conference Centre’s Robin Parker remains hopeful of securing a booking for the whole period, but “as every day goes by” he asks himself the question, ‘Do we stick or twist?’ In other words, “do we start taking enquiries for individual dates as opposed to that elusive long-term hire deal?”
If a client wants a particular venue or area for a significant hire period, there’s no merit in waiting, as the number of premium Westminster venues available for the whole Olympic period will soon reduce dramatically.
“Most of the enquiries we have received so far have been for Olympic Houses. We would love to secure a National Olympic Committee who would take over Church House for the duration of the Games. Our central location and 24/7 access makes us ideal for such a client,” says Parker of his elegant 19-room facility which combines traditional design and architecture with advanced audio-visual facilities including CAT 6 cabling and Wi-Fi access.
Be proactive – book a site visit
“Get your foot in the door and be proactive with making site visits to get a real feel for the venue’s character, the staff and the proximity to the action,” says IET London: Savoy Place’s McQueen. “The initial contact to the time of the site visits has been the longest part of the process. Once the client has viewed the venue, then the next stages progress much quicker.”
The availability of complete venue customisation is the stand-out USP at 76 Portland Place, a 13-room conferencing facility located just a stone’s throw from London’s Regent’s Park. It’s in this well-loved green space that a temporary 3000-seat facility will be built for viewing the conclusion of the Road Cycling event.
Hopeful of securing an exclusive hire contract, venue manager Jenny Hullock says, “We’ll work with you to create a unique, creative backdrop for your event. Come and see us. Whether you are looking to host press briefings, office space, meetings or corporate hospitality during the 2012 Olympic Games, the events team will tailor your Olympic experience to meet your requirements.”
Quintessentially British hotel The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel is taking a similar approach to customisation to convey the flexibility of its rooms for hire. With bedrooms at the hotel largely booked up already, Matthew Tolchard, Director of Sales, is keen to promote corporate entertaining and other unique uses of rooms well suited for events. “We have been getting to know our residents as well as we can and have suggested our event spaces be used as lounges or offices, amongst other things, particularly because many of our guests will be staying in a hotel room for one month or more.”
With 55 very unique venues to choose from, The Westminster Collection is a logical destination for anyone wishing to enjoy premium customer service, high quality, technology-forward venues with Westminster locations that simply can’t be rivalled by other boroughs in London. “Enquire early, don’t delay. There are some incredible opportunities to seize your London hotspot now, not later,” says Dee. “We’re a tried-and-tested borough when it comes to event management – just think about The Royal Wedding – and on a global stage, that’s experience you can trust.”