Service Quality, Strengths and Weaknesses within the Four UK Conference Venue Classifications

Article excerpt

A survey of 3000 UK conference venues took place in 2001 as part of a PhD research program. One aspect of this research highlighted the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the UK conference sector in terms of service quality. This article provides an overview of the UK conference sector, introducing the four conference venue classifications within this sector, and outlines the developing role of service quality within it. The research identifies that there is a perception by UK conference venue providers that they offer at least some of the factors that are demanded by conference organisers and delegates in terms of service quality, such as supplying a high level of service and customer-oriented staff, and a range of meeting capacities. Additionally, this research identifies that perceived weaknesses exist within the four venue classifications, such as concerns that conference capacities may not be sufficient for the modern conference organiser.

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The UK Conference Sector In 2001, research undertaken by the Union of International Association identified the UK as the principal European destination for conferences (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2003). Data published by the International Congress and Convention Association in May 2002 identified that in 2001 the UK was ranked second behind the US for global market share of conferences (Rogers, 2003). Additionally, in 2001 the UK conference sector contributed approximately 7.3 billion [pounds sterling] to the UK economy (British Tourism Authority [BTA], 2002). This is an increase of 10.6% on 6.6 billion [pounds sterling] in 2000. This 7.3 billion [pounds sterling] was generated from an estimated 1.4 million conferences, defined as involving eight or more delegates, taking place at UK venues (BTA, 2002). The UK conference sector is therefore an important competitor in the global conference market place. However, over the first years of the current decade, studies have identified that the average number of delegates per conference, the average conference duration, and indeed the number of conferences have all shown a slight reduction, although the reduction in conference duration was highlighted by the BTA in 1998 (BTA, 1998; Davidson & Cope, 2003; Meeting Industry Association, 2002; PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2003).

Around three fifths of all UK conferences are organised as corporate events (59%), a further quarter (25%) are held by government and 14% held by associations. UK nonresidential conferences attracted, on average, 46 delegates, while an average of 50 delegates attended residential conferences. Fifty or fewer delegates attended approximately three quarters (74%) of nonresidential conferences, while 50 or fewer delegates attended 72% of residential conferences (BTA, 2002). However, many conference venues have facilities to host larger events. Just over half (56%) of venues offer a maximum conference capacity (e.g., single largest area, theatre style) of between 101 and 500 delegates. Overall, the average maximum capacity of a UK conference venue is 391 delegates, which is slightly fewer than the average recorded in the 2000 survey, 410 delegates (BTA, 2002).

The BCMTS report (BTA, 2002) also details that overseas delegates attended some 20% of residential conferences; this compares to 13% of nonresidential conferences. A professional conference organiser or a venue-finding agency was used to book a third of all conferences (34%). Similar proportions of nonresidential and residential conferences were booked using this method (34% and 33% respectively). This suggests that the majority of conferences are booked directly with the conference venue itself, rather than a professional agency. Table 1 shows a summary of the UK conference sector by the BCMTS (BTA, 2002).

UK Venue Classifications

With an increasing number of destinations introducing conference venues, the conference sector is one of the fastest growing tourism segments (Oppermann & Chon, 1997). …