Mandarin website launches Central Hall’s march on China

Central Hall Westminster has launched a series of sales and marketing initiatives aimed at attracting bookings from China. The drive to target the Chinese market comes as a result of steady growth in this sector in the last two years.

Earlier this month, Central Hall rolled out a Chinese version of its venue website, written entirely in Mandarin. This is bolstered by a portfolio of new marketing collateral, including brochures, banners and case studies specifically highlighting the public and private events held by Chinese delegations in 2012.

Paul Southern, managing director at Central Hall Westminster, said: “During 2011 we were able to generate significant interest for Central Hall Westminster as a key player for hosting conferences and events in the UK. It shows the Asian market is increasingly important in the years ahead and it is vital to take advantage of the growing opportunity.”

Longstanding employee and Chinese culture enthusiast Kevin Blackman, senior sales manager at Central Hall, has been appointed dedicated account manager for the campaign.

The new Chinese website was launched this month at China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market (COTTM), with Blackman present to promote Central Hall to the 4,000 leading, outbound tour operators from all over China. He later travelled for a further 10 days, attending various business meetings with corporate clients in Beijing and other locations.

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.

Flexible pricing and free service add-ons create healthy competition in the events market

By Wendy Greenhalgh, Board Director, The Westminster Collection

The stage has been set and Westminster is alive and kicking like never before thanks to 2012 and all the domestic and global profile this year’s events have attracted. So far there’s little evidence of a shadow being cast over post-Olympics London when you hear that 45% of the capital’s venues have already forecast revenue increases of up to 30% from now through to December.

The outlook was upbeat for conference and event venues, tourist attractions and hotels when we released our 2012 London Venues Business (LVB) Report. 30 member venues of The Westminster Collection confirmed that a collective £11.75m of bookings had already been contracted or forecasted to take place in Westminster over the Olympic Games period as of May 2012, when the original meetings and events survey was completed.

With National Hospitality Houses of Italy, Qatar, Georgia, Japan and Slovakia and the London Media Centre amongst the role played by Westminster’s prestigious community of venues, there’s little doubt this figure can be inflated now. Three months before the Olympic Games officially began, more than half of all 100 London venues surveyed were already reporting direct commercial gains.

Now’s the time to capitalise on that optimistic outlook and absorb the lessons we’ve learnt about world-class execution of events for global audiences. We were a culturally diverse city well able to service the needs of visitors from different countries long before the Games came to town. But now we’re even more aware of our responsibility to promote the unique quirks of Westminster as a destination for all sorts of events. It’s a place where decisions and policies are made, on the doorstep of exciting entertainment and iconic attractions.

The LVB report shows that London venues have been quick to respond to buyer behaviour and demand for exceptional value for money, with offers of flexible pricing and free service add-ons creating healthy competition in the events market. As a borough, Westminster boasts a high concentration of unusual and unique meeting venues to offer choice and flexibility to the event buyer. Some are ornate buildings of historical significance and some set trends with their ultra-modern design.

Business tourism is a dynamic sector that’s critical to the UK’s economy. Successful business is impossible without contacts, exchange of technologies and information, exhibitions and business trips so let’s keep the noise loud and retain the incredible momentum achieved in recent months.

To purchase a copy of the full 2012 London Venues Business Report, priced £95, please call 01483 740747.

2012 London Venues Business Report reveals event industry optimism for Olympic Games legacy

The Westminster Collection, Unique Venues of London and The Conference Bench unveiled the key findings of the 2012 London Venue Report today, culminating in what is believed to be the largest entirely London-centric meetings survey in circulation to date.

If you weren’t one of the participating venues, do you share similar optimism about the impact the London 2012 Olympic Games have and will have on the London meetings and events market? Or are you an event booker with a great story to tell about your experiences with London venues this year? We’d love to hear from you. Email

The key findings from the 2012 London Venues Business Report include:

  • 87% of venues feel positive about the long-term impact the Olympic Games will have on the conference and meetings market in 2013 and beyond.
  • 51% of venues believe that the Olympic Games will improve their 2012 full-year forecast, with nearly half of these venues anticipating revenue increases of up to 30%.
  • Pre- and post-Olympic Games business is showing positive gains. 31 venues report increased revenue between May – July 2012 compared with the same period in 2011. 48 venues have reported increases in trade for September – December 2012.
  • The average day delegate rate (DDR) achieved by London venues in 2011 was £52.31, with 67% of venues reporting their individual highest achieved DDRs were £80 or more.
  • 41% of venues report large events are being booked on average three months or less in advance of the event date. The overall survey average revealed a lead time of five months
  • Core revenue streams saw significant growth in 2011, with half of all venues reporting increases of up to and beyond 40%. 55% of venues saw their room hire revenue increase in 2011, compared with the previous year – a trend that continued into the first quarter of 2012, with 58% of venues reporting room hire revenue growth of up to 40% compared with the same period last year
  • 93% of venues successfully used ‘value add’ as a business conversion technique in 2011.

The full 2012 London Venues Business Report is available for purchase, priced £95. Please contact to order your copy.

Virtual video meet-ups drive conference costs down

By Hannah Evans, Event Sales Coordinator, Academy of Medical Sciences, 41 Portland Place

Gone are the days when companies needed to spend thousands of pounds transporting delegates from around the world to one location. Demand for video conferences at 41 Portland Place has leapt and the availability of this technology is having a major impact on the conference and meetings industry.

Why use video conferencing?

In the current economic client, it’s no surprise that organisations are feeling the pressure when it comes to justifying the money spent on hosting or attending events. Video conferencing saves time and money by removing the need for the business travel and accommodation necessary to bring delegates together.

Connect simply via a video conferencing unit and have the meeting as if everyone was in the same room. Video conferences save on transport and accommodation costs, helping the environment as a result by reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion. For that reason, video conferencing has become the solution for eco-conscious businesses insistent on conducting meetings and events in a more responsible manner.

The time it takes to pull together a video conference is significantly less than that spent organising a traditional, face-to-face conference. Video conferencing strips out the need to factor in uncertainties such as travel time, flight delays or weather disruptions. In just a few minutes multiple people can be sat in front of a camera and screen, ready to talk face-to-face with other people in other locations and countries.

The call quality and enhanced network security capabilities of professional video conferencing technology are far superior for business communications than the mass-market video calling software now commonly used on personal computers and mobile devices. Connection quality is extremely important, as nothing breeds frustration and kills productivity like crackly phone lines that cut in and out.

Make your video conference a success with these 3 key tips:

  1. Don’t just predict, rehearse. Test in advance. Pre-determine potential video conferencing sticking points in advance. IT security measures, such as firewalls, will very often vary from one organisation to another. Even with high specification, state-of-the-art equipment in place, simple connections can become troublesome and time consuming to establish without rehearsed system syncing in advance of the video conference. At 41 Portland Place we always recommend performing a dummy run in advance of the live video conference to allow sufficient time for our expert team of technicians to resolve system incompatibilities.
  2. Ensure technical support is available. It is advisable to have expert technical support available before and during the conference. The peace of mind achieved by having a technician on hand to deal quickly with unforeseen or unexpected issues will leave you relaxed and free to focus on getting the most out of the discussions.
  3. Always have a contingency plan. Even if you have tested thoroughly and have an expert technician on hand, you should always plan for the unexpected! Technology is not faultless, and this is why at 41PP we always offer teleconferencing facilities as a backup.

Video conferencing at 41 Portland Place

We recently hosted an event in the Wolfson Conference Suite, at which interviews with candidates from all over the world took place. Thanks to thorough testing in advance of the event, every video call connection was trouble-free and made on time to satisfy our client’s tight schedule. Over two days, the event connected to Peru, Ethiopia, Japan, Australia, South Africa and five other countries.

For more information on video conferencing, or to discuss how it can be part of your next event, contact the events team at 41 Portland Place.

10 reasons to use the Thames Clipper River Bus Service

By Wendy Greenhalgh, Sales and Marketing Director, One Great George Street (London Media Centre for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games)

Westminster’s transport links are a powerful selling point for venues located in the heart of the business tourist district and the Thames Clipper River Bus Service deserves a special plug.

I watched with interest the recent BBC documentary showing how the River Lea had been cleaned out, with hoards of shopping trolleys and cars removed from the river bed. River Lea has now been completely revitalised and is even being populated with new fish – wonderful considering its former path through wasteland!

After such a long time of underuse, it’s pleasing to see that the Thames has welcomed a similar redevelopment in the form of a far more effective River Bus Service for travelling along the famous London river. It is also admirable that it has been integrated so well into the city’s infrastructure.

Here are 10 great reasons for promoting the use of the Thames Clippers River Bus Service to conference and meetings delegates, particularly next year during the Olympics:

  • You can use your Oyster card and take advantage of discounted travel fares.
  • For business meetings, the express, commuter-style service is ideal.
  • The leisure River Tours Service comes complete with tourist commentary, and any Thames Clipper River Bus Service presents an innovative and fun way to transport delegates to familiarisation trips, site inspections and other meetings, conferences and events held at The Westminster Collection‘s 54 member venues.
  • All piers are wheelchair accessible, most riverboats are accessible, and most new riverboats have dedicated wheelchair spaces. The Woolwich ferry is a free service operating between Woolwich and North Woolwich and is accessible to people using wheelchairs and powered buggies.
  • The Thames River Bus provides an easy-to-follow timetable and service map, so navigating your way to the departure piers is made simpler.
  • Maps of the river services operational during the Olympic Games are already available.
  • It’s an efficient method of travel for the 10,000 accredited journalists needing to move between the Olympic Park and the London Media Centre for the 2012 Olympics, located within One Great George Street in Westminster.
  • The London 2012 sporting venues accessible by river include Greenwich Park, North Greenwich Area, The Royal Artillery Barracks, Horse Guards Parade and Eton Dorney.
  • The River Bus Service is ideal for those wishing to get to the Beach Volley Ball, Road Cycling, the start and finish of the Race Walk and Olympic and Paralympic Marathons next year.
  • It’s worth considering if you’re a visitor to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (National House for Italy) and 45 Millbank (National House for Georgia), both venues within the Westminster Collection.

In short, using the River Bus Service is quick, fun, affordable and definitely worth considering for meeting and event organisers and bookers.

Westminster host venues for 2012 Olympics

Take a look at this handy and informative 3D map (as above) showing the location of the two River Bus Service access piers together with the locations of some of the Westminster Collection host venues for events in 2012.

For a comprehensive guide to the Thames Clipper River Bus Service, including timetables and fares, click here to download TFL’s River Bus Guide.

Breakfast Meetings

By Maria Schuett, marketing manager, Central Hall Westminster

Breakfast meetings are fast becoming the new way to carry out business. It is fair to say that taking your clients out for extended lunch meetings has become a thing of the past. With time and financial constraints being felt across the industry, it simply isn’t a viable way to conduct business anymore.

Breakfast meetings are often seen as an innovative yet practical way of carrying out business and in recent years have dramatically increased. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Compensating for the time spent away from your desk is becoming increasingly difficult especially with the pinch of the recession still on our tails. Therefore spending hours away from your desk travelling to and from meetings and enjoying an afternoon tipple just isn’t feasible anymore. Also, returning to your office to find your email inbox filled to the brim isn’t an inspiring prospect for a productive afternoon.

2) Our work ethics have dramatically changed over the years resulting in a ‘lets get down to business’ attitude. Rather than sealing a business deal over the course of two or three leisurely meetings we want more immediate results. Walking out of a breakfast meeting with a sure fire business prospect is almost guaranteed to give you positive vibes, that, coupled with the idea of maximising your time propels you forward in to a more positive working day.

3) There is a significant increase in restaurants and cafe chains offering a breakfast or brunch option which usually means there’s not far to go in search of a delicious and nutritional breakfast. Beginning your working day with a freshly prepared breakfast beats soggy toast and instant porridge by a mile. You can enjoy your mouth-watering breakfast whilst technically working, resulting in a full tummy and a potentially lucrative business deal – now that’s a result!

So whether you are organising an intimate breakfast meeting or a corporate brunch consider these simple rules:

What – Have your aims and objectives planned out and make sure the meeting is not only informative but also enjoyable.

Who – Think about who you want to attend and remember to listen to your guests and encourage discussion.

How – Make sure the time and location is convenient for all guests. Choosing somewhere fairly central is always a good idea.