UK attractions are tapping into the corporate events market by staying open when the public have left.
There is something mildly amusing about the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) holding a corporate dinner beneath the stomach of a dinosaur at the Natural History Museum.
The appropriateness of this venue, chosen by the Forum to mark the introduction of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations and to celebrate the employer network's 10th birthday, was not lost on the EFA's business development manager John Ross.
His brief to event management company European Events was to find a setting for this one-off occasion, attended by more than 400 guests.
'There was an element of tongue-in-cheek about our choice,' says Ross.
'The venue needed an age-related feel and it had to be somewhere a bit different that would appeal to our corporate members, their guests and our sponsors.'
UK visitor attractions, whether museums, castles or theme parks, certainly tick the box when it comes to offering corporate event organisers something unusual. Public venues have seen a sharp rise in popularity among the corporate sector in recent years, with 26% of buyers listing them as a favourite venue in 2006 (source: MIA 2006 Survey).
As the EFA discovered while dining among the dinosaurs, corporate events at these types of locations work best when an organisation can link its own brand values or image - however loosely - to that of the venue. It means guests not only enjoy the occasion, but understand why it's being held where it is. The choice of an unlikely venue can ultimately be what convinces a guest to attend in the first place. It can even ensure the underlying corporate message being conveyed remains in his or her mind for longer, once the event is over.
'If people have the choice of going to a hotel or a castle we know which one most will choose,' says Mike Kershaw, founder of corporate event company The Ultimate Experience, part of The Concerto Group. 'The venue chosen speaks volumes about a company or brand. A castle is all about history and tradition, while a theme park is about fun. A client must ask itself if these match its own brand values.'
The visitor attractions themselves have realised there is a lucrative market to be tapped into here. They know that if they can crack the corporate sector it will effectively create a regular second stream of revenue when they close their doors to the public at the end of each day.
However, it is not always that simple. One difficulty a public attraction can face is how to transform its facilities from a public to a private venue. This is something it usually has to achieve within an hour of the last paying visitor leaving.
Moving Venue Management managing director Richard Beggs says attractions are more aware than ever of the potential from the corporate market. And he bumped into a number of representatives from UK public venues at the Motivational Show in Chicago this year.
'Twenty years ago, if you approached a historic venue with an idea for a corporate event they would see it as an annoyance because they were not geared up for it,' says Beggs. 'They would have had to use their daytime staff to run the event, and these people would be tired and therefore not deliver the level of service our clients expected. Things have changed enormously.'
In October, MVM organised a product launch and dinner at the Tower of London for more than 100 international guests of global law firm Watson Farley Williams. The event included a private tour of the Crown Jewels, a drinks reception in the White Tower and dinner in the New Armouries.
'Often clients are not that worried about the cost of an event if they can get the wow factor when they have something significant to launch or say,' says Beggs. 'This is where historic visitor attractions come into their own, because people have the opportunity to visit areas of these buildings they would not normally be able to access.'
Jane Wade, a director of European Events, which organised the EFA event at the Natural History Museum, agrees public venues must be slick operators these days to win business clients. 'Often they will shut their doors at 6pm and the first corporate guests start arriving between 6.30pm and 7pm. Our clients can be concerned that visitor attractions will struggle to turn everything around this quickly, but venues do it because this has become a huge part of their business strategy,' she says.
However high the earnings potential from corporate bookings, these venues must not lose sight of who exactly they should be aiming their facilities at.
Scott Balfour, managing director and co-founder of Fortesqueue's, says the visitor attraction must be as aware as the event company of what the client is trying to achieve from a team-building event or product launch.
'Our clients' requirements are individual so it is crucial that venues can offer the right facilities at the right cost and not price themselves out of this market. There must be a partnership between the attraction, the event managers and the company that is inviting the guests,' says Balfour.
He cites the example of how Fortesqueue's worked closely with The London Eye this summer. Guests at a number of events enjoyed a reception on The Eye, followed by a dinner in Fortesqueue's' temporary marquee-style venue known as The Room, set up on London's South Bank. 'This is all about exploiting a mutual opportunity and is something visitor attractions should be encouraged to do more of,' says Balfour.
There is a risk when marketing visitor attractions to businesses that these types of venues can be perceived by clients as too seasonal and should only be booked in the summer or at Christmas. While a family day at Thorpe Park may appeal in July, any outdoor venue may not be first choice in the autumn or spring, however well matched a venue is to a brand's own values and objectives.
It can therefore be tempting to return to the traditional hotel market, but most attractions are quick to point out their year-round appeal as most of their facilities are indoors. For them it is crucial to persuade the corporate market because public visitor numbers fall during the winter.
It means for event organisers and their clients there can be some attractive deals available, whether you want a dinosaur to watch you eat or not.
INSIGHT HISTORIC VENUES
Corporate functions and events generated more than pounds 4.7m for the Historic Royal Palaces during the last financial year, up from pounds 3.4m the year before.
This compares to the massive pounds 27.4m earned from public admissions to the Tower of London, Hampton Court, The Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and others, but the upward trend emphasises how corporate events is a growth market for these venues.
'The problem we have is that event companies do not always realise just what is on offer at these historic palaces, or worry we will say 'no' to an event they want to do because the buildings are so old,' says Hampton Court Palace event manager Stuart MacFarlane.
The venues' closeness to central London does appeal to many organisers.
Last year Hampton Court entertained European leaders attending an informal EU summit that was hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Henry VIII's Great Hall certainly has the wow factor that clients and even foreign political VIPs are increasingly looking for.
Sodexho Prestige manages more than 25 historic venues, such as Blenheim Palace, Knebworth House and Dundas Castle. It says historic venues are perfect for team-building and outdoor activities because they usually have extensive grounds. Knebworth House in Hertfordshire has 250 acres and is popular for family fun days, while this summer it also hosted the Hedgestock concert. This event, with The Who's Roger Daltry as the headline act, was modelled on Woodstock but attended by more than 3,000 hedge fund managers. Around 12% of the revenue from corporate events at Knebworth House goes to pay for restoration projects because it costs around pounds 250,000 a year to run the house and gardens.
'Corporate clients want something different from venues to ensure that their key messages are conveyed not only through presentations but also through the entire event experience,' says a spokeswoman for Sodexho Prestige.
'An unusual venue, be it a stately home or castle, museum or racecourse, has the scope to match the facilities to a theme, which suits the client.' Castles are always popular with corporate clients and Warwick Castle, which can accommodate up to 5,000 guests, has identified this market as one with huge potential. The castle, nestling in the heart of England, is owned by The Tussauds Group and group marketing manager Peter Kerwood says event sales are rising by around 10% a year.
'This has become a very competitive market, and we sell everything from Kingmaker Feasts to Highwayman Suppers at the castle, where actors re-create the medieval atmosphere, which clients and their guests love,' he says.
From the architecture of the building to the heritage behind the exhibits, a museum can capture the imagination.
Unique Venues of London (UVL) promotes more than 63 venues, including the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.
UVL chairman Charlotte Reeves says museums have had to adapt to a growing demand from the corporate sector to use their facilities after hours.
'Museums understand they can generate substantial income from corporate entertainment. They all have an internal events department, which ensures a smooth and rapid turnaround from public attraction to corporate venue,' says Reeves.
'Clients are now being entertained more and more, so organisers need to choose venues that will draw guests and guarantee a good attendance.
Being in a museum at night, surrounded by famous and historic exhibits, is a special feeling. People are fascinated by what goes on in a museum,' she adds.
Reeves does point out that there has to be a synergy between the museum and the corporate brand hosting the event. 'It is usually obvious if the fit is not right,' she says. 'A funky event at Tate Modern might not work at the National History Museum, for example.'
Corporate events manager at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Pippa da Cunha, says that her venue is popular with fashion clients because the museum focuses on art and design.
The location is also attracting corporate sponsorship from brands that want to be associated with the V&A. Deloittes is sponsoring the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit because the company feels it shares the same values as the artist, being an innovative, cutting-edge and forward-thinking business. The deal provides plenty of opportunity to entertain clients within the museum.
Charles Abraham, general manager at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, says that museums are able to provide event organisers and their clients with added value and inspiration. 'We offer a product that a hotel cannot match,' he says. 'There is a natural interest in what goes on here and we have seen an increase in corporate presentations and product launches.'
The museum is used weekly by various government bodies, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Defence, for meetings. 'Partly this is because of our location, but also because of the inspiration factor generated by this being the Churchill Museum. This is something the corporate market can tap into because we provide interactive tours, 1940s briefings by actors and organise leadership seminars with a Churchill theme,' says Abraham.
INSIGHT THEME PARKS
There are few things as powerful as a rollercoaster when it comes to breaking the ice at a corporate event. And this is definitely something that the nation's theme parks are keen to stress to event organisers who are looking for a venue that can help their client's delegates bond more successfully.
'Putting guests on a few rides before they embark on meetings or a seminar gets their adrenalin flowing, which means people start talking to each other more comfortably,' says Peter Kerwood, sales and marketing manager for The Tussauds Group, which owns Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures and Alton Towers.
At Thorpe Park companies can use a 400-capacity, 940sqm semi-permanent marquee on the lake for their event, and enjoy an evening reception. Many clients, such as Lastminute.com, pay for private use of the rides once the park is closed. This costs from pounds 1,500 per hour, depending on the ride they reserve.
Kerwood says corporate family fun days are turning out to be particularly popular at theme parks. 'Bosses are realising that they need to involve their staff's and clients' families in corporate events, and we can accommodate up to 9,000 people at Chessington and as many as 25,000 at Alton Towers,' he says.
Alton Towers has already been rented out for the whole day by companies including BT and Cadbury's. 'This is something that we try to encourage in the week before and after we open and close,' says Kerwood. 'At the beginning of the season, corporate clients can invite guests with the promise of having one of the first goes on the newest rides for that summer.'
Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire is built in 286 acres of parkland and lakes, and has three suites for exhibitions, live events and meetings.
For large groups of up to 600 these suites can be linked, and guests can go on the rides and visit the on-site zoo.
One company to book Drayton Manor for a day is HSBC. Its guests arrived for an English breakfast, had a conference until noon, followed by two hours on the rides before they returned to work for the final hours of the day.
Drayton Manor managing director Colin Bryan says corporate bookings were up by 23% between March and October this year. One client, Tippers Building Materials of Lichfield, held an exhibition at the park and managed to generate more than pounds 2.5m-worth of orders over two days.
'We get a lot of repeat corporate business and are very busy at certain times,' says Bryan. 'We try to stress to event organisers and their clients that they can save around 10% if they book an event for a Monday, our quietest day, but there seems to be a psychological reason why most companies want to book the venue for a Thursday or a Friday when their staff have the weekend in mind.'
"Visitor Attractions: Adapting to the market." Marketing Event (2006): 21. General OneFile. Web. 3 Sept. 2010.
Gale Document Number:A155224513
Friday, September 3, 2010
UK attractions are tapping into the corporate events market by staying open when the public have left.