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October 15, 2009
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Jackie Boughton:Venues provide a service – not a product!




Head of sales, conference and banqueting at Delaware North Companies at Wembley Stadium says venues need to move with the times and change the way they deal with clients to make it through the recession and beyond.

Shush – don’t tell anyone, but I have been working in this industry for almost 30 years.

Now, I know I may look like I am only old enough for this to be my first job, but that is the truth… honest! 

One of the advantages of being a long-term industry insider is hindsight. I have seen several economic cycles, I have watched the ebb and flow of trends, and I have experienced several recessions.

While the current recession looks like it will be the worst, new ideas and new strategies are not the only tools available to see us through. We must look to the past, use our experience and combine what we know with creativity to survive. Above all else, venues must beware of the precipice on which they are precariously perched.

Changing times
Throughout the years of boom we have had it our own way. Venues, in particular, have by and large dictated the terms. From costs to logistics, they have set the rules and religiously stuck to them, secure in the knowledge that clients have few choices. 

Clients would threaten to go elsewhere and sales teams would shrug their shoulders, confident that the client was either bluffing – because there was nowhere else suitable – or confident that there were three other events in the background crying out for the space.

How things change. Forward-thinking venues now have a choice. It is simple and the alternatives are the difference between success and failure. Either they carry on as before, selling products and treating clients as consumers of space, food, beverage and ancillary services, or they shift their perceptions and realise that the future, just like the past, demands we provide a service, work in partnership with clients and achieve the best for everyone concerned.

Shift in perception
“What is she talking about?” I hear you ask. “Surely the purpose of venues is to provide the physical necessities for an event to take place. How can we provide a service? “

The difference requires a shift in perception. Our venues are the vehicles for our services. They are one of the tools we use to help organisers succeed. However, they are not the only thing we can offer. How about expertise, knowledge, flexibility, partnerships, creativity, understanding – the list of added value goes on!

Venues may not have described themselves as service providers in the past, but they certainly recognised the fact that they were working in partnership with clients. 

Times changed, venues took too much and now they will pay for it as the adjustment kicks in. And why shouldn’t it? Personally, I think it will benefit us all in the long term. 

Ultimately, it will separate the men from the boys. The forward-thinking few that have a history of building client relationships will benefit, exulting in their service-led offering. The rest need to hurry up and join them or risk alienation

Product or service?
A switch in perception is not the answer to our prayers. It will not solve our economic woes. But it will make a difference. It will set us on the right track and, inevitably, make life a little easier. At the very least, it will improve reputations among organisers at a time when they have never been more important.

The cycles will continue, boom will follow bust, bust will follow boom, but friends will continue to talk to each other. You don’t become friends with a man selling you a product, but you do with a partner and service provider.

Jackie Boughton is head of sales, conference and banqueting at Delaware North Companies at Wembley Stadium


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