Kay England, chief executive of Imago based at Loughborough University, believes that 2011 will set to be an even tougher year for the hospitality sector. England discusses the problems caused by the demise of 24-hour delegate rates.
Last year was strong for Imago, despite the difficulties experienced by everyone in the hospitality sector and we successfully retained our high occupancy levels, hosting a number of high-profile events and conferences. Imago as a business is fortunate that it has an extremely broad customer base, which helped to cushion us somewhat from the full impact of the recession. Imago is also now a well-established brand name in the conference industry and this certainly helped us to compete in a difficult market.
However, we are expecting 2011 to be equally challenging. One prevailing factor will be the change in how clients want to book conferences and meetings. In previous years, it was acceptable for meetings and conference clients to book facilities and accommodations for delegates through a single 24-hour rate. It is now more common for organisers to make delegates sort out their own accommodation. This has meant that many will opt to travel or to book budget rooms off campus. This not only has an impact on the pricing structure but can also damage the effectiveness of a conference, as delegates spend less time socialising with colleagues and networking.
The change to bed and breakfast or day rates will be reinforced by the VAT changes and the competition it will further encourage. Rivalry is incredibly fierce with providers knowing that there is always someone else waiting to undercut on price. With this in mind, I am sure that a large number have decided to swallow the VAT increase to prevent clients from seeing any increase in cost. This will mean a big hit for the hospitality industry with smaller venues unable to stay competitive and meet ever rising expectations from customers.
We are prepared for 2011 but are expecting a more difficult year where we will need to be developing new strategies to diversify further and meet the needs of clients. As a result, we will be concentrating on providing our consistent excellent levels of customer care and ensuring the quality of our product remains high, in order to maintain high repeat business levels.
We are also still being proactive with our sales strategy and are managing to pick up new business. It will be up to other venues in the UK to look for wider opportunities, such as those that are expected in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, to make the best of the situation. Being on the ball and looking to new markets, whilst keeping service levels to a premium as standard, is likely to be the best strategy for all.