12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
IT’S A MICE PLANNER’S DREAM. Your key personnel and top clients are heading to the greatest show on earth in the city that boasts the largest number of event venues on earth. What can go wrong? Well, quite a lot, according to industry experts.
“Similar to the hype that surrounded the millennium, everyone is waiting with bated breath and hoping the Olympics lives up to its expectations,” says marketing agency RPM’s head of corporate, Chloe Ward. One of the biggest challenges organising events for the Olympics has been the huge expectations from clients, agencies and suppliers alike, she adds.
For many corporates, the 2012 experience hinges on sourcing elusive tickets. Prestige Ticketing admits to underestimating the demand and says supplies are hard to come by. Sales director Richard Scott says: “Due to its location, we assumed the tennis would struggle to sell. We also thought we’d never sell out the water polo, but it was taken up quickly by Hungarians, where the sport is popular. ”
However, that golden ticket may still be achievable if you’re in the know. Peter Kerwood, marketing director of Altitude London – which represents three venues in the capital – says that, despite criticism, hospitality prices are reasonable and tickets are still a possibility. “If you want cheap tickets I think the best bet is to buy or swap tickets with people who don’t want them, using websites such as www.seatwave. com,” he says.
Savva Hadji-Savva is business development director at business services company Grass Roots. He advises event planners to wait until January 25, 2012 to see what the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) releases back into the market. “If they can be patient and wait longer, April 25 is the next key date when LOCOG can release a further percentage of its retained allocation.”
Whether you’ve secured a ticket or not, obtaining a brand presence at the Games is the real prize for many corporates. As Forman’s Fish Island’s director of events, Arthur Somerset, puts it: “Having a venue near the Games is a way for your company to piggyback the event which has cost sponsors millions to be associated with.”
Be quick, though, is the message from event solutions company Thevenuepot.com – operations manager Emma Kennard says: “Venues have been block booked without a real idea of strategy.
Clients are holding space around this time in London, but everyone is nervous about signing on the dotted line until they know what is going to be happening.”
Kathryn Hurt, who heads Olympic projects at office and events space provider MWB Business Exchange, agrees that speed is of the essence. She says with space selling fast it is time to put plans in place before it is too late.
“Demand is at an unprecedented level so our advice is if you want to win, book now because this is the London event of a lifetime,” she says.
Corporates are just waking up, according to Charlie Vernon, business development manager at conference and events venue Senate House. “We have received enquiries, but it is really only now that corporates are bringing their plans to the fore. There has been much talk about events being booked years out, but the reality is that it’s only coming to fruition now.”
Finding a quality, good-value venue requires thinking outside the box, says Grass Roots’ Hadji-Savva.
“Our actions to date have included moving large numbers of delegates out of the capital, begging providers for any extra space that they have, and considering innovative alternative accommodation options, including passenger ships moored in the Royal Docks.”
There is also the big issue of pricing, with many event companies warning of steep mark-ups. Altitude’s Kerwood says that using venues not signed up to the LOCOG London 2012 UK Event Industry Fair Pricing & Practice Charter (FPPC) could involve large booking costs and cumbersome terms and conditions.
However, he adds: “My research suggests there is still plenty of availability all over London, and great offers are to be found in venues out of London.”
Events production company Smyle’s director Rick Stainton, meanwhile, says that outdoor spaces are the place to entertain during the Games, offering real value. “Clients will be able to get into the spirit and watch live sport and enjoy quality entertainment. It is a great, cheap form of entertainment but the experience will be phenomenal,” he adds.
RPM’s Ward agrees: “Spaces such as Potters Fields Park will be inundated with Olympic-related events and gatherings. I think the most important thing for a venue will be the impression that it is steeped in London’s heritage or infrastructure.”
Many corporates, however, are avoiding the crowds completely. Suzanne Ackerman, conference project manager at pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca, says: “We don’t have any events planned in London next year during the Olympics and, should anything arise around those dates, we will most likely place them in alternative European cities, such as Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.”
Finding hotel rooms is the biggest stumbling block, says Grass Roots’ Hadji-Savva: “LOCOG has not bought anything yet, but the organisation is holding a contracted allocation with the first obligated release date being January 24, 2012. This will cause a rush of demand.”
LOCOG is said to have blocked off more than 40,000 out of London's 100,000 hotel rooms, causing Craig Wallace, conference and events manager at meetings venue One Wimpole Street, to advise being open-minded. “Don’t limit yourself to hotels – many other venues can organise accommodation for you and can, in fact, offer better facilities for entertainment, meetings or conferences,” he says.
Ian Irving, founder of creative communications agency The Tailor of Shoreditch, is more specific, recommending event planners use website www.rentduringthegames.com.
“We used it to secure accommodation for our US-based client,” he says. “Currently we have two corporate events planned for 2012 and the message we’re getting from our venue-finding partner is ‘book quick or think outside the box’ for London and the UK,” he says.
Recent research by accountancy and professional services firm Deloitte showed that 37 per cent of businesses admit to being behind with their preparations. Unavailability of staff was cited as the biggest challenge, yet just 14 per cent in the sector say they will make changes to their staffing levels and rosters.
Another issue for agencies is the lack of quality suppliers and concerns about travelling during the busy two week period. Altitude’s Kerwood says: “I don’t think anyone really realises how big this is going to get. I’m sure there will be pinch points on certain products and services. I think staffing and specialist furniture hire is going to be a challenge.”
Careful planning and first-class contacts should stand event planners in good stead, according to One Wimpole Street’s Wallace. “At this stage, MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] buyers and organisers should consider arranging alternative transport for any deliveries they can expect during the Olympic Games period.
“Traffic congestion in central London will be considerable so supply deliveries for businesses in the area need to be arranged out of normal working hours. It is definitely something worth checking with your logistics company at this stage to ensure that they have a plan to accommodate this.”
The Tailor of Shoreditch’s Irving emphasises the immensity of the opportunity. “I am sure the significance of the occasion would actually be a driver for some to just think harder about how their event could work during that period. That said, we do have one client project that has now moved to an international location due to issues with finding the right space in the right part of the City. Istanbul is now the chosen destination.”
Tyre manufacturer Goodyear Dunlop’s channel marketing and events manager Ron Pike recommends finding a quality events organiser with good connections and experience. “I have found an agency that is offering Olympic packages, tailor-made,” he said. “The agency, Bright Sky Events, has excellent hotel deals already in place for the duration of the Games.”
Transport, suppliers, venues and hotels all present pitfalls for event planners, but, as any athlete will tell you, every big opportunity comes with its challenges.
OUTSTANDING LONDON VENUES THAT STILL HAVE AVAILABILITY DURING THE GAMES
Nearest stations: Pimlico, Westminster (Underground)
Event space sizes: A boardroom for 20, a theatre style set up for 300, or cabaret-style for 250
They say: “We do have some availability at Altitude. Altitude 360 Black [sister venue on the next floor] has had a lot of interest but is still available.” Altitude London marketing director Peter Kerwood www.altitudelondon.com
Crazy Bear Members Club
Nearest station: Covent Garden (Underground)
Event space sizes: 130 delegates maximum
They say: “In terms of finding quality suppliers during the Games, planning ahead and booking now is key to ensure the best experience, especially for large parties. There is lots of choice in and around London, but only a certain percentage of restaurants will be up to the standard required.” Crazy Bear managing director Jason Huntwww.crazybeargroup.co.uk/coventgarden
Forman’s Fish Island
Nearest station: Hackney Wick (London Overground)
Event space sizes: 900sq m of meeting spaces
They say: “We do have availability but are expecting to sellout completely, so be quick.” Forman’s Fish Island director of events Arthur Somersetwww.formansfishisland.com
Town Hall Hotel
Nearest station: Cambridge Heath (London Rail)
Event space sizes: Largest space holds 188 delegates
They say: “A stunning hotel and a very convenient location.” The Tailor of Shoreditch founder Ian Irvingwww.townhallhotel.com
One Wimpole Street
Nearest station: Oxford Circus (Underground)
Event space sizes: Room for more than 300 delegates
They say: “One of the primary reasons for using One Wimpole Street is the technical facilities – in particular the voting capabilities in both lecture theatres, and the audiovisual technicians, who are on hand throughout to ensure the event runs without a hitch.” Sarasin & Partners events manager Nicki Sainiwww.onewimpolestreet.co.uk
Nearest station: Russell Square (Underground)
Event space sizes: The venue boasts spaces including the 450-capacity Beveridge and 200-capacity Macmillan halls.
They say: “Senate House is particularly suited for large scale dinners for around 350 and is a good alternative to the Park Lane set.” Senate House business development manager Charlie Vernonwww.london.ac.uk/conference