Old favourites face challenge

Traditional corporate hospitality venues such as Royal Ascot must move with the times in the face of competition from cultural and arts spaces offering viable alternatives. By Sarah Forsey

Horse%20racingThe top ten corporate hospitality events listed by EventWise is filled with traditional sporting events and excursions from the British social calendar. The British Grand Prix and Cartier International Polo take the top spots, followed closely by Six Nations Rugby, Wimbledon, Henley Royal Regatta and Royal Ascot.

However, these traditional forms of entertainment face increasing competition as a wider variety of cultural and arts exhibitions open their doors to the corporate world.

Gyro International senior event manager Laura James says: “There is a growing number of clients who are responding to increasing public interest in cultural issues.” She adds that by using a more traditional cultural exhibition space, guests are likely to be impressed by a unique and striking building, surrounded by objects and decor that really tell a story.

Unique venue

Jane Travis, press and PR manager at The National Trust, says: “Clients benefit from a higher acceptance rate at a unique venue, rather than a conference centre or hotel, as corporate individuals are more likely to come if there is an interest factor over and above the purpose of the event.”

And as museums and galleries wake up to their potential as corporate venues, they are making sure they have the facilities that hospitality organisers are looking for. “Historically, hotels were the only venues able to cater for big numbers in corporate business, but there has been a consistent shift towards the museums and galleries in the past ten to 15 years,” says Paolo Bastiani, events manager at The Natural History Museum.

For companies searching for a niche alternative to the sporting and social calendar, which can have a “been there, done that” feel, the latest must-see exhibition, such as the Tutankhamun exhibition at The O2, can offer a good alternative. As Eddie Hoare, project director at Tutankhamun Hospitality, points out: “Sporting events tend to appeal far more to men, so by choosing to stick to an event such as rugby, there is the risk of alienating half of your potential guests.”

One company that recently enjoyed a corporate package at the Tutankhamun exhibition is BMI. The airline’s general manager of UK sales, Kam Jandu, says: “The event provided a good chance for the travel trade to network – and for BMI to host. The special edge of the event was being able to give our guests exclusive access to the exhibition that hadn’t been open long to the public. This was a great pull for our guests and gave them a trade party with a difference – two parties in one.”

As The O2 is a large, modern venue, it does not face the challenge that many historical or aesthetically focused venues have, which find it hard to offer the facilities that new purpose-built sites can offer. “Many of our galleries are deemed too sensitive, due to object displays, and are often not suitable for entertaining,” says Victoria and Albert Museum head of corporate events Karen Jones.

As a result, many traditional venues are adapting and modernising their facilities and events programmes to differentiate themselves. At the Natural History Museum, Bastiani says: ” We offer a kind of experience that cannot be recreated in a conference centre.”

Even sporting venues are finding that they cannot afford to be complacent. Ascot Racecourse, a venue that could depend on its brand name alone, is now trying to attract new audiences by adding themes such as an annual wine festival and live music concerts to its race days. The racecourse has also teamed up with London club brand Movida to create Movida Trackside, a luxury marquee in the Royal Enclosure that recreates the London club’s multi-million pound interior, offering restaurant and nightclub facilities to an exclusive invitation-only crowd.

Sporting events

As London is seen as the cultural capital, the present demand for events in traditional spaces, such as museums and galleries, is obviously centred on the capital. However, regional venues are keen to differentiate themselves too. Liverpool is showcasing itself as the European Capital of Culture this year, organising over 350 innovative and exciting new events. There is an extensive selection of arts, music and also many sporting events planned that are enticing many to book events there.

However, it seems that as organisers have more choice, they are becoming increasingly fussy. This is leading to many in the corporate hospitality industry predicting that venues will have to continue extending their facilities and offerings. No matter how awe-inspiring the venue, impressive the event and exciting the entertainment, corporate hospitality organisers can never rest on their laurels – because next year, marketers and their guests will inevitably expect something even better.

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