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.
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.
As former RIBA venue head Petra Bones secures her dream job as new Head of Events forBanqueting Houseand 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
In short, using the River Bus Service is quick, fun, affordable and definitely worth considering for meeting and event organisers and bookers.
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.