Venues need to get connected

It isn’t just service standards that are affecting the competitiveness of the UK conference industry (MW November 9), but a combination of the strength of the pound and organisers’ choice of venue, driven by their desire to optimise margins. This is the essential driver behind UK venues being forced to employ cheap, untrained labour from Europe.

There is little point in having an industry-wide training and development scheme if organisers will not pay for the quality of the service that such a scheme would yield.

The pound is very strong and venues are struggling to compete internationally – hence something has to give in a market driven by price. If venues are cutting staff costs to sustain margins, a compensatory USP is required. I believe that USP to be knowledge management. Venues need to start collecting data on visitors through the use of smart applications and by having the correct infrastructure within a venue to support intelligent data applications. This would lead to a more measurably effective CRM campaign, enabling venues to justify higher prices. The question then would be whether the venues would reinvest in the staff to square the service-quality provision.

Though some modern UK hotels host conferences well, many still cannot cope. Often, their function rooms lack the technology needed by 21st century business people.

The answer lies in purpose-built conference and exhibition centres that offer sufficient bandwidth for Internet access and other broadband applications. When this becomes standard, venues can differentiate service and price effectively in a competitive environment – one where location within Europe is becoming increasingly insignificant.

It is encouraging, at last, to see ExCel taking a lead with their smart partners in creating just such a level of differentiation – and amusing to see competitors in hot pursuit. Any UK losses may yet be restored in the light of such initiatives.

James Latham

Managing director

INM (Interactive New Media)

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