Magazine article Marketing

A Capital Incentive for Venues

Magazine article Marketing

A Capital Incentive for Venues

Article excerpt


Overpriced and over full? The capital's meetings industry has had some bad press in recent years with sky-high hotel rates and inadequate facilities for very large events.

The London Convention Bureau would protest that things are changing; Wembley opened its new exhibition halls this year and is completely revamping its logo, attitude and marketing strategy. For exhibitions, Earls Court 2 is now open, allowing events that had Olympia bursting at the seams to expand comfortably. Four hotels will have opened between 1990 and 1993. And the continuing recession and reluctance of the Americans to cross the Atlantic this year means that there are bargains to be had.

"There was a stage when it was better to place business in the M25 corridor or in Birmingham," says Caroline Windsor, managing director of conference organiser Meeting Point. "When it's over 100 [pounds] a night for a room with no possibility for negotiation, it's not affordable for most people. But over the past six months it's got much better."

For really large events, conference organisers complain that London lacks a proper, centrally-located and modern convention centre like its European rivals Paris and Amsterdam. "Nowhere to park" is the complaint heard about Earls Court and Olympia, "too difficult to get to" about Wembley and, simply, "wouldn't touch it with a bargepole" of Alexandra Palace. Apparently London N22 doesn't turn overseas visitors on. Few even deign to mention the ill-fated London Arena, currently in administrative receivership.

Of course, certain venues still attract business. Olympia 2 and the Olympia Conference Centre with its 450-seater auditorium are widely praised. But is London losing out?

"One could argue that the attractions of London to overseas delegates would mean that any inconvenience is worth overcoming," says Paul Swan of Spectrum Communications.

"But really, London is a success in spite of its conference facilities, whereas Birmingham is a success because of them."

There are central locations which can take very large events but it is a matter of fitting in around existing programmes. The Albert Hall, for example, is more receptive to the meetings business than it used to be and can seat 5600. The Royal Festival Hall, although often booked up, seats 2600.

Then there are the two purpose-built venues, the QEII Conference Centre and the Barbican. The Barbican Hall seats 2000 and there is enough room for catering and exhibition space in the complex, although some organisers worry about their overseas delegates finding the place and according to one, "the exhibition area was designed as a car park and looks like it."

Everybody's favourite, the QEII centre, modern, almost over-equipped with translation facilities and overlooking Westminster Abbey can seat and feed 1100 as well as hosting sundry smaller events at the same time. Prue Leith supplies fine cuisine and the staff is switched on and willing.

The only complaints from organisers are that the centre is often fully booked and that it's not big enough.

At around the 1000 mark, according to marketing manager Sean Bodkin, the QEII competes with the big hotels, but not with the other conference centres. The Grosvenor House, with its huge Great Room, can seat 1800 and a further 750 in the Ballroom. The InterContinental and the London Hilton on Park Lane can both seat 1000 in their ballrooms.

The Royal Lancaster has made drastic changes to its meetings' facilities over the past couple of years, reopening its vast Nine Kings Suite (seating 1400) in late 1989 after a multi-million pound refurbishment and virtually rebuilding the Westbourne Suite (seating 1200) this year. Both rooms are pillar-free, attractive enough to use for banqueting as well as meetings and have advanced technical support. Organisers speak highly of the Royal Lancaster. …

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