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September 7, 2008

London venues on the credit crunch

Members of The Westminster Collection, comprising 20 venues, hotels and hospitality facilities in Westminster, London, have responded to a questionnaire asking them to comment on the current economic situation and how this is affecting their businesses, both short and long term. The research gives a snapshot of how the credit crunch is hitting London venues, and is likely to reflect the situation across the UK and possibly even Europe.
Overall, the members were clear that their main business was holding firm.   However, there are some signs of ancillary costs, such as catering, hospitality and add-on services being squeezed or restricted. Greater innovation is being applied to pricing and packages to remain flexible and ahead of the market conditions. There was also evidence that short-notice booking is increasingly becoming standard practice, making forecasting and budgeting more difficult to achieve with accuracy.
Recognising the plight of companies using its facilities and making a real effort to keep prices down has helped One Queen Anne’s Gate maintain business levels.

"Fortunately, we have still managed to enjoy fruitful recent months,” says Adele Summers, One Queen Anne’s Gate venue and marketing director. “Clients have reacted positively to our cost-reduction initiatives, indicating that price is increasingly at the forefront of factors when a client is considering a venue.

“We have yet to suffer any major impact due to the current economic climate because we have been alert and prepared,” she continues. “Yet any stronger storm can only be weathered as best as possible by continuing innovative measures to hopefully counter any anticipated turbulence and always ensure we fly as high as possible."
Encouragingly bookings at The Banqueting House on Whitehall are healthier than they have been for the last two years, reports palace manager Lin Kennedy. “It’s actually looking as if we will achieve target before Christmas,” she comments.
Alastair Betty, event co-ordinator at One Birdcage Walk, reveals a similarly optimistic picture with respect to room hire, but admits catering is a different story.

“We are hitting and exceeding our targets in terms of room hire, but falling short of catering,” he says. “We feel confident we can continue strongly with room hire over the next 12 months, but that the catering spend may remain lower, in line with current economic uncertainty.”
Savoy Place reports a similar catering scenario. “The volume of business has not been affected, in fact the number of last minute bookings has increased,” explains sales and development manager Sarah McQueen. “However, companies are always looking discounts on everything from room hire and catering to audio visual facilities. This has affected mainly our catering spend per head, which has decreased.

“I have felt that the majority of meetings and event organisers need to be seen to be getting the best available financial offering,” she continues. “With this in mind, we are being very cautious with 2009 budgeting.”
Catherine Hutchings, sales manager at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, has certainly noticed a marked tightening of corporate belts.

“Customers are obviously being cautious with their money and what they are spending it on,” she says. “We are still taking regular enquiries, although these tend to be more short lead. We think the situation will stabilise, but customers are wary, at present, of committing their money and having budgets 'signed off' too far in advance. On the positive side, our Christmas pipeline is strong, and some key nights are booked up.”
Although Simon McGrath, events manager at Lewis Media Centre, reports that the credit crunch has failed to reduce the number of incoming calls and enquiries the venue has received, like Hutchings, he is keen to encourage event organisers to heed economic warnings and plan their budgets more carefully to avoid having to cancel key events.

“We’ve actually seen an increased number of forward bookings for 2009, and we’re busier now than last year,” he says. “But event organisers need, to be more savvy with their budgets. Keeping a close eye on catering costs, for example, can make a crucial difference.”
René Dee, chairman of The Westminster Collection, summaries the feelings of member venues, saying: “The comments reflect that business that has been already booked for this year has, by and large, not felt the affects of the credit crunch, but the signs are clear that, in 2009 and perhaps beyond, budgets will be tighter, bookings will have shorter lead-in times, targets will be more difficult to determine in advance and venues are going to have to be more innovative in their future marketing and pricing.”
For further information on The Westminster Collection and its members, visit www.thewestminstercollection.co.uk

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