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