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November 28, 2006

VENUE-FINDERS: How can they help and are they impartial?

The number of conferences held in the UK rose by 8% in 2005, according to figures released earlier this year by the British Association of Conference Destinations. Unsurprisingly this has led to an increase in demand for all kinds of venues, from Manchester City Football Club’s City of Manchester Stadium, which saw a 38% rise in conference business recently, to Conference Oxford, which has seen a 30% growth in demand for Oxford University and its colleges.

This increased demand has also led to an increase in the actual number of event venues in the UK. “There is good money to be made by attaching a meeting and events business on the side of say football stadia, museums, universities, etc,” said Sally Dunsmore, conference manager at Conference Oxford. “More and more buildings will develop events and meetings business and enter the market.”

So how do event planners and organisers keep track? Well the answer is with great difficulty. And that’s where venue-finders come in. Many live marketing and event agencies offer a venue-finding service, but there are still many companies that simply specialise in finding the right venue for businesses that are planning events.

“Our overall service is that of sourcing venues to match both the conference physical requirements and the budget for clients, negotiating an excellent rate, and advising the client about the range of venues offered so they can make their choice,” says events industry stalwart Jacqui Kavannagh, who has recently set up venue-finding agency Trinity. “This involves having an in-depth knowledge of the industry, venues, their comparisons and also the peaks and troughs on pricing. So all in all we have to be a venue specialist, an industry analyst and tough negotiator.”

There is no charge to the client company for this service, with venue-finders getting a commission from the venue based on the value of the business generated.

“This is a win-win situation as the corporate has the benefit of a specialist consultant without having to pay for in both time and expertise, but also the venue is working with a professional who understands the business needs of both the venue and the client,” says Kavannagh. “The industry wins as a whole because the events industry is seen in a more professional light and is also seen as a contributor to the overall benefit to the organisation in the achievement of their business objectives through events.”

However, this relationship raises two questions. First, why should venue-finders negotiate on price when this reduces the commission they make from the venue; and second, as some venues pay out more commission than others to venue-finders, how can venue-finders be impartial? So do venue-finders go for commission over suitability of use?

“I think that some venue-finders have got the industry a bad name in the past for operating in this way,” says Tony Rogers, chairman of the British Association of Conference Destinations. “In the past, there have been a number who have simply chased the highest commission rather than putting the client's interests first. This is a short-sighted policy as the likelihood is that a dissatisfied client will not use their services again.”

Aware of this, Trinity has been keen to build its (very new) reputation on trust. “There are some bigger agents that have over rides with major hotel companies and may find that they can only offer these to their client because of the commercial arrangements made with their clients’ procurement departments,” says Kavannagh. “Personally my company prides itself on being objective, because if we don’t get the best for our customer we won’t keep our customer and we will lose their trust in our professionalism.”

So how does Trinity go about making sure its service is impartial?

“Our research is such that we can select all the venues suitable to the needs of our client, then we set about contacting them and assessing if they are available and at what price,” Kavannagh replies. “The structure of our process does not allow for deviation in any way as our agents have to give a reason why a venue that has come high on the search criteria has not been included on the proposal. It is easy to prove as all our enquiries are trackable. This also ensures that individual agents are not swayed by individual hotels.”

To further emphasise accountability and transparency, venue-finder Zibrant has developed a software tool to enable clients to monitor the company’s progress. “We have developed a booking viewer that allows clients to view what we’re doing for them, while we’re doing it. It’s in real time so they can see who we’re contacting on their behalf,” says the company’s sales and marketing director Fay Sharpe. “It means we can’t simply phone one venue and say we’ve searched lots, which some other venue-finders are tempted into doing.”

Not only does using a reputable venue-finder help you to find the most appropriate venue for your event, but it should also mean you save money.

“On average we save companies 20-30% on venue booking prices,” says Sharpe.

The benefits of using a venue-finder are clear, but make sure the one you choose has some way you can monitor the work they have done on your behalf and is transparent about the commission it’s receiving.

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