MEET and drink to that

Re­ces­sion has far from killed off the de­sire for face-to-face busi­ness in­ter­ac­tion, writes Neil Clark

The Herald Business - - Special Report: Conferencing -

CIN­EMA at­ten­dance in the UK is set on a 2.7 per cent growth curve from 20082013. Even with the ad­vent of home movie sys­tems, Blu-Ray and 3-D tele­vi­sion, the jeremi­ads of the 1950s and 1960s proph­esy­ing that tele­vi­sion would be the death of films as a so­cially in­ter­ac­tive oc­ca­sion have been con­founded.

In much the same way, some of us were re­cently con­fi­dently pre­dict­ing that video-con­fer­enc- ing, Skype and an in­creas­ingly (baf­flingly) so­phis­ti­cated ar­ray of so­cial me­dia would for­ever put to bed the ridicu­lous no­tion of ac­tu­ally driv­ing to a venue to sit in an au­di­to­rium or in break-out groups, tak­ing time f or f ace- to- f ace di­a­logue. Be­cause as we all know, time – and money – is scarce.

There is a germ of truth here but the need to re­late on a per­sonal level when dis­cussing im­por­tant shared agen­das and strate­gies has by no means dis­ap­peared. In the west of Scot­land, Glas­gow City Mar­ket­ing Bureau says that it is on track for its best con­fer­ence sales ever, much of it on the back of the 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games.

Its Con­ven­tion Bureau last month con­firmed 347 new in­ter­na­tional and UK­con­ven­tions through to 2020; col­lec­tively, th­ese events are worth more than £141 mil­lion to the lo­cal econ­omy and are ex­pected to bring some 140,000 del­e­gates to the city stay­ing for more than 450,000 nights in the city’s ho­tels.

This, it points out, is an 18 per cent year-on-year growth in con­fer­ence busi­ness won by GCMB. And the prizes are ma­jor ones: among con­fer­ences lined up for the city are The Euro­pean As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion in 2015, The Congress of the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Haema­tol­ogy in 2016 and the World Bio­ma­te­ri­als Congress in 2020, among those that will bring 16,000 in­ter­na­tional del­e­gates to Glas­gow and boost the econ­omy by a pro­jected £30bn.

Ben Goedege­bu­ure, di­rec­tor of sales at the Scot­tish Ex­hi­bi­tion and Con­fer­ence Cen­tre (SECC), be­lieves that Glas­gow will con­tinue its emer­gence as one of Europe’s key meet­ings and events des­ti­na­tions.

“Meet­ings and events mat­ter to Glas­gow; they ig­nite our lo­cal econ­omy, cre­ate re­peat vis­i­tors to our city and un­der­line Glas­gow’s role as a hub of in­for­ma­tion shar­ing, spe­cial­ist knowl­edge and ex­per­tise, and busi­ness ex­cel­lence.”

Be­neath such op­ti­mism lurks the re­al­ity that for con­fer­ence venues to suc­ceed to­day, they must ab­so­lutely ful­fil and prob­a­bly ex­ceed the ex­pec­ta­tions of a clien­tele that is in­creas­ingly de­mand­ing true value for money.

Clare Martin, mar­ket­ing co-or­di­na­tor at Lang­side Col­lege, based in Glas­gow’s south side, agrees. There is the op­por­tu­nity for smaller, spe­cialised venues to suc­ceed and the col­lege, with its mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties for con­fer­ence, busi­ness and train­ing events, has hosted ma­jor events for or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the NHS, the Scot­tish Government, large pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies from Lon­don and in­fra­struc­ture ser­vices firm Bal­four Beatty.

“We con­tinue to have en­quiries,” she says, while con­ced­ing that as train­ing bud­gets have been cut, con­fer­ence venues have to com­pete with the fact that some cash­strapped firms are cur­rently stay­ing in-house for cor­po­rate events.

“The team at the col­lege has man­aged, through net­work­ing, to spread the news about what is avail­able here at Lang­side. We can pro­vide hos­pi­tal­ity, ICT, food, sup­port and a ded­i­cated mem­ber of staff who will meet and greet del­e­gates and en­sure that the ex­pe­ri­ence is a pos­i­tive one at the col­lege’s new the­atre, arts and con­fer­ence cen­tre,” she says.

The col­lege can ar­range meet­ing rooms for groups of around six to eight peo­ple, to the­atre-style con­fer­ence and ex­hi­bi­tion fa­cil­i­ties for up to 200 del­e­gates. In the cur­rent cli­mate, it is clearly aware of the need to pro­vide com­pet­i­tive rates for cor­po­rate events and Clare says that when peo­ple come to visit the venue they are fre­quently sur­prised at the level of value they are get­ting.

And while bud­gets re­main tight, she is op­ti­mistic that the right fa­cil­i­ties at a com­pet­i­tive price will see new busi­ness this year.

Com­pa­nies or­gan­is­ing con­fer­ences are cer­tainly look­ing for a more so­phis­ti­cated of­fer­ing to jus­tify their spend and are con­cen­trat­ing on de­tails. Air con­di­tion­ing, while maybe not a fac­tor in scop­ing out the venue in win­ter, might be a cru­cial fac­tor if the con­fer­ence is sched­uled for Au­gust. Or, more likely in Scot­land, a char­ac­ter­ful cas­tle or pe­riod man­sion with big win­dows that seems ideal in sum­mer might turn the at­mos­phere pos­i­tively frigid and have del­e­gates queu­ing for hot cof­fee long be­fore the pre­sen­ta­tions have ended.

Sim­i­larly, pric­ing – of­ten based around a del­e­gate day rate (DDR) – is a cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tion. What is in­clu­sive: ICT/ au­dio vis­ual pro­vi­sion, full ca­ter­ing – and are you paying for a min­i­mum num­ber of del­e­gates that ac­tu­ally ex­ceeds your needs? Is there the ca­pa­bil­ity pro­vided for plat­forms such as Twit­ter, Face­book and Linkedin to boost the value of the event be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter?

That kind of in­for­ma­tion is what vis­i­tor and con­ven­tion bureau are for and sourc­ing the in­for­ma­tion there in ad­vance can ob­vi­ate a lot of per­sonal leg­work.

In or­der to en­tice staff and ex­ec­u­tives to a cor­po­rate event, lo­ca­tion is clearly key; some­thing with which Bridgeen Mullen, busi­ness devel­op­ment man­ager at Porta- vadie Ma­rina on Loch Fyne, cer­tainly con­curs.

“In the cli­mate we are in now, peo­ple are look­ing for some­thing spe­cial at a spe­cial price and we are an in­spir­ing des­ti­na­tion on the west coast for brain­storm­ing and bring­ing heads to­gether – or for mo­ti­va­tional and team-build­ing events.

“Peo­ple do need a bit of down time and even the jour­ney here gives them time to ad­just and think in a dif­fer­ent way than they would when un­der the pres­sures of a nor­mal work­ing day.”

The Ar­gyll venue, with views over the loch to Tar­bert is, she says build­ing on its abil­ity to host com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in its out­door ac­tiv­i­ties.

“It’s per­fect for cy­cling, kayak­ing and sail­ing. There is a mix of ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing the Lodge and mar­quee and the ma­rina is ca­pa­ble of host­ing board meet­ings, away days or con­fer­ences of up to 150.”

Mak­ing th­ese events a dis­tinc­tive ex­pe­ri­ence is, she says, part of a drive to make the events key to the fu­ture of Por­tavadie.

“As soon as peo­ple ar­rive, you can see the shoul­ders drop as they vis­i­bly re­lax,” she says.

This is so me­thing t ha t con­fer­enc­ing via Skype, for all its con­ve­nience, has yet to of­fer.

A re­laxed meet­ing in a ma­rina set­ting with of­fice pres­sures left in the city

Con­fer­enc­ing in a

the­atre venue at Lang­side Col­lege

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