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June 19, 2008

Alex Hewitt:How to save money on hospitality

In these uncertain times, keeping customers and staff happy is becoming an increasingly important part of a successful company's customer relationship marketing programme. But if a credit crunch is heading our way, how do you save money without compromising quality, or more importantly, letting your customers know that budgets have been cut?

Some of the best ways to save money may sound rather obvious, but it’s amazing how many people forget them.

The first thing to do is consider your objectives and decide who actually needs to attend. Don’t invite people who don’t really need to be there – it’s a waste of money.

Then, try to book early. It’s far cheaper and obviously less stressful to boot. Negotiate the best deal you can. Everyone is feeling the squeeze, so it’s worth asking for a discount. And don’t buy more packages than you need – it’s quite acceptable to buy some and keep some on hold, which you can add to later.

For example, if you are considering entertaining 20 guests at an event, buy 10 packages and ask to keep 10 on hold. Get your invites out and if you have a strong acceptance rate, confirm the latter 10 places.

Make sure your company has a central reservations system, so that you do not have a situation where you are entertaining different groups in different facilities.

Packaged hospitality
When considering packaged hospitality, choose the sport you would like to entertain at, and then work out which event you want to go to.

A hospitality package for the Men’s Finals at Wimbledon costs around £2,500 plus VAT per person this year, which is a staggering amount of money to spend (although people are still booking), so perhaps you could consider inviting clients to the Finals of Artois, Fortis or Black Rock instead, if tennis is your chosen sport?

If you are still interested in entertaining at Wimbledon, bear in mind that there are at least five companies offering official hospitality packages, with prices fluctuating from £2,000 to £2,500 plus VAT per person. So shop around and choose the supplier that best meets your requirements.

Once you have chosen the supplier that you want to work with, choose the facility that works best for your budget, objectives and guests. For example, one of the suppliers at Wimbledon has four different facilities to choose from with package prices varying enormously, so it pays to consider all the options available.

The debate about official versus unofficial packages continues to be topical, but if you don't buy official hospitality packages, then you should prepare yourselves for disappointment. I know it’s tempting, but anyone starting a telesales pitch with: “A client has just cancelled,” should not be trusted. It rarely pays and there is no point spending money unless your guests’ enjoyment is guaranteed.

Bespoke hospitality
You should strongly consider creating a bespoke event as an alternative to packaged hospitality. These allow you to set the date, the budget, the catering and other important elements. They can also ensure that your objectives are met and that the experience is really memorable.

It’s also easier to create a wow factor for less money. A private viewing of The Queen’s art collection followed by dinner, for example, is £265 plus VAT per person, which is a third of the price of taking guests to Twickenham to see England v New Zealand. And did you know that a VIP trip to Epernay by private jet is cheaper (£895 plus VAT per person) is cheaper than a seat on Centre Court on most days at Wimbledon? What’s more, a day cooking with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall at River Cottage is cheaper than going to see Elton John at the O2 Arena.

There are many ways to save money without cutting corners or cancelling hospitality altogether. If you don’t look after your clients, your competitors are more than ready to!

Alex Hewitt is managing director of hospitality specialists AOK Events and will be presenting a session entitled ‘How to save money on your hospitality programme’ at londonlaunch LIVE at Earls Court, London at 10.30am on Wednesday 25 June.

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