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April 16, 2008

VENUES:Blinded by choice?

Probably one of the most dramatic changes to the venue scene in the past few years is the increase in types of venues that companies can now choose from when holding their events.

The more traditional venues have been joined by ones that are slightly more unusual along with a wider range of meeting facilities to provide event organisers with a wealth of possible options, from theatres to boats, tree-huts, nightclubs, large estates and country retreats to dedicated training and conference centres.


Green scene: Pines Calyx, a sustainable conference centre


“Competition is fierce and there are ever more options for those looking for something new and exciting,” says Ben Hunt of motivation agency Archer Young. “You can have your conference in a West End cinema followed by your own private film premier or hold your next board meeting around a table suspended hundreds of feet in the air above Notre Dame. Having a secret meeting? Why not hold it at KGB headquarters? Security a priority? How about your own nuclear sub in the Baltic Sea? The world is waking up to the MICE industry and everywhere is now a potential venue."

Wider choice

Richard Renau of Roffey Park agrees, saying: “There is a much wider choice of venues and organisers are now no longer restricted to hotel chains. We have seen more dedicated conference centres being established that can offer benefits over hotels as they can focus on your event without being distracted by non-related activities. Schools and universities are also now actively offering their facilities for conference organisers to generate new income.”

Certainly there has been an increase in dedicated conference venues, with the rise to prominence of groups such as MWB Business Exchange, Regus and DeVere Venues. On top of this, more clients are requesting dedicated venues that can cater specifically for their conference and meeting requirements, which traditional hotels can’t do. The extra equipment that is often included at conference centres (such as LCD projectors, wi-fi, etc) adds a lot of financial gain to the company as these can often be over priced at hotels.

But it’s not just these types of venues taking cash away from traditional hotel conference business, as Donna Briant, conference manager, at hotel reservations and conference solutions company Inntel, explains: “Venues such as football stadiums, theatres, art galleries and stately homes are also now realising there is a niche in the market for them. Events are a very valuable way for them to increase their revenues.”

Going green

Of course, green issues are playing their part, too, and a lot of companies are requesting locations close to train stations so that delegates can travel by public transport rather than their cars. But there are also venues that offer a far greener experience.

“A number of eco-venues like Kent's Pines Calyx have arisen to cater for the CSR [corporate social responsibility] conscious, while more opulent venues of yester-year, such as the Midland Grand at St Pancras, re-emerge from more decadent times to cater for those whose tastes run more toward the gold than the green,” says Hunt.

With such a broad choice, how do you decide which venue to choose? And are certain events more suited to particular venues?

“They certainly can be, although venues nowadays tend to provide very flexible and varied space that can be tailored according to the event in question,” says Amanda Simpson, marketing and communications manager at Warwick Conferences. “However, a training or educational event held at a venue with noise and distractions, or a product launch at a far flung venue, are not ideal event/venue fits.”

Letting in the light

Briant has some further advice. “Dedicated conference centres are most suited to training as they are usually equipped with natural daylight, comfortable conference chairs and suitable equipment," she says. "Sports grounds, unusual venues such as theatres and theme parks are great for press events, product launches, team away days, annual conferences or anything where your employees need a moral boast.”

She also highlights ultra modern/contemporary venues, such as St Martins Lane in London, or venues that are classic and traditional, like Danesfield House in Marlow, as being good for product launches.

“Getting it right is all about matching the venue to suit the experience and complementing your message,” concludes Hunt. “Get it wrong and you may as well just pop that Rubens in a glass clip-frame and hang it with an orange bungee.”

Unusual venues

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