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April 16, 2008

UK venues report increase in business despite a fall in the number of events

Two-thirds of event venues in the UK have reported that business in 2006 was up on 2005, according to the British Association of Conference Destinations’ (BACD’s) 2007 British Conference Venues Survey results, published yesterday. This is surprising considering that the study also revealed a decline in the number of corporate meetings and conferences and a fall in value of the conference market.

The report provides an important insight into the current state of the industry from a supply-side perspective. As well as reporting an upturn in business, a similar percentage of venues were optimistic about business to be achieved in 2007, with 63% anticipating that it will be up on 2006.

However, a growing North-South divide was indicated, with the study suggesting a downturn in business in the north of England, while activity levels in south and central England have remained comparable to the previous year.

The average number of conferences per venue in the north of England fell from 512 in 2005 to 384 in 2006. While the rates achieved by venues in northern England were similar to the year before, the lower volume of conferences hit their position relative to the rest of the country. In part, these changes can be explained by differences in the venues actually reporting this year.

The report also reveals a decline in the number of corporate meetings and conferences, which formed 48% of all events held. This compares with a figure of 62% in 2005 and 66% in 2004. Government and public sector conferences accounted for 37% of all events in 2006, with associations and other not-for-profit bodies representing 15%.

For the first time the survey collected statistics on the importance of the regional conference market, with venues reporting that up to 69% of conference business came from the region in which the venue itself is situated.

Some 314 venues from across the UK took part in the survey. The estimated value of the conference market (in terms of direct revenue to venues) in 2006 was £7.6 billion, compared with £10.3 billion in 2005. Other delegate and organiser expenditure (such as speaker fees, transport costs, restaurant meals and visits to local attractions) is additional to this total. Reasons for the fall in the estimated value of the market include the lower volume of conferences in certain parts of the country, a slight downturn in the ratio of residential conferences, a slightly shorter length of stay for non-residential conferences and lower achieved rates.

Another key reason may well be a change in the reporting base. For example, in 2006 27% of reporting venues were from London and SE England, but only 17% in 2007, while 14% of venues were from the Midlands in 2006, compared to only 8% this year. What’s more, last year 5% of venues were from Scotland, which rose to 16% this year.

Commenting on the survey, Tony Rogers, BACD chief executive, said: "It does seem unlikely that the estimated value of the market has fallen by 30%, especially when the venues themselves are reporting general buoyancy and optimism. Interestingly, though,the Government's UK Tourism Survey results for 2006 also show a fall in the number of overnight business trips, and shorter duration, which mirrors the BCVS findings."

The annual BCVS survey, conducted across convention bureaux and venues in the UK, seeks to measure the key characteristics of the UK conference market from a venue perspective and then provide the best possible estimates for volume and value aspects of the market.

Other key findings include:
• There were an estimated 1.37 million conferences in the UK in 2006 – an average of 392 conferences per venue. This compares to 1.58m conferences in 2005 - a decrease of about 13%.  

• Hotels and conference/training venues typically hosted more conferences than other venues (hotels an average of 464 conferences; universities, and conference/training centres an average of 649 respectively).

• Unusual venues and multi-purpose venues tended to host the least number of conferences (an average of 183 and 253 conferences respectively).

• The majority (61%) of conferences were held in hotels.

• The average conference duration was 1.7 days, although most conferences (62%) lasted a day or less. This varied from 1.4 days for non-residential conferences to 2.2 days for residential conferences.  This was similar to the previous two years.

• Peak periods for conferences in 2006 were autumn (September, October and November), and, to a lesser extent, spring.  The quietest months were July and August, followed by December and January

• The average daily delegate rate achieved by venues for conferences was £35 (including VAT), compared to £43 in 2005 and £37 in 2004.

• The average 24 hour/residential rate was £121 (including VAT) compared to £136 in 2005.

• Approximately a quarter of conferences (27%) were residential at the conference venue - this is on a par with 2005.  A further 8% were overnight conferences, with delegates staying in the wider destination but not at the conference venue itself. The remainder (65%) were non-overnight conferences.

• About a third of conferences (29%) were booked by a professional conference organiser or venue finding agency.

• The average conference size was 53 delegates - this was slightly higher than in 2005 (49 delegates) and on a par with 2004 (the average was 54).

Copies of the British Conference Venues Survey 2007, priced £125, can be ordered from BACD by emailing sarahm@bacd.org.uk

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