From London to Rio

In the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics, you
won’t find a city with a bleary after-party vibe,” according to Lonely
Planet
. “Rather a fistful of improved facilities and infrastructure,
brand new and smartened up hotels? and the buzz of Londoners going about
their daily business, secure in the knowledge they live in one of the
world’s most captivating cities.”

Following a successful Olympic and
Paralympic Games that proved London is equipped and ready to host major
events, and with Rio the next Olympic host city in 2016, James Rees,
Executive Director at Excel and Co-chair of the International Congress
and Convention Association’s (ICCA) Venue Sector, visited Mendoza in
Argentina for Cocal 2013 to offer advice and share his experience of the
London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“My presentation looked at
what London learnt during the Games and what being host city meant to
the UK meetings and event industry,” said Rees. “Rio has three to four
years to really nail the 2016 Games and hopefully hearing what is
happening elsewhere, they will see the opportunity that is available to
them.”

Olympic venue perspective

Excel
London hosted Olympic events including boxing and table tennis last
summer and Rees was able to offer a venue perspective on what it was
like to go from a conference and events centre to an Olympic venue and
back again in a three-month period.

“We learnt a lot about this
process, and it was personally rewarding to be invited to speak at
Cocal, where there was a real thirst for knowledge, and share the
lessons we learnt and offer advice,” he said.

Sharing best
practice between Olympic host cities is a key process during the build
up to the Games, according to Rees, who said that the Excel teams
received advice from Vancouver, Sydney and Beijing prior to London 2012.

In addition to sharing best practice with Cocal, Excel London
has already met with the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre
(SECC) in Glasgow prior to them hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

“As
a business that works within the events industry, we know that event
success or failure depends on the quality of relationships and
partnerships,” said Sales Director at the SECC, Ben Goedegebuure. “It
was great to see Excel London activated so prominently as part of the
Games and, knowing that the SECC and The Hydro will play an equally
prominent role in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, we felt it important to
reach out to our colleagues in London.”

Changing perceptions

Rees
highlighted that hosting any event, whether a major sporting event or
otherwise, was both a learning process and a chance to change
perceptions. “London delivered and learnt,” he said. “We learnt to be
more humble and to welcome the world to our city. Whenever I’ve spoken
to clients post-Olympics they have all said that it softened London’s
image. London is a big, bold city that is rightly proud of its status,
but the Games has shown that we can compete with other cities in the
world and can do so in a more humble, welcoming way.”

Rees added
that hosting INCON, a global partnership of PCOs, DMCs and event
management companies, for its University event at Excel, had reiterated
to him how the London Games had changed perceptions of the city. “One of
the industry seminar topics was an analysis of London and from the
feedback it was made apparent to us that the city is now being seen as
an emerging destination and one that is interested in, and bidding for,
congress business. Something that was maybe not so evident before.”

Rees
said that presentations during Cocal were predominately reflective in
nature, with a recognition from the Latin American industry that it
needs to do the simple things better and develop in all areas and ensure
attention to detail.

“The Latin American meetings industry
recognises it needs to change how it operates in some areas. They
understand there are issues in service delivery and the perception of
service delivery that need changing,” he said. “They are also aware that
when they put on a conference it needs to be perfect as this is what
the rest of the world is doing.”

Rees was keen to pass on to Rio
the need to promote fair pricing, particularly in relation to hotel room
rates. London committed to a Fair Pricing Charter to avoid the price
hike for hotels, venues and hospitality providers that adversely
affected previous Olympic cities. “Put simply, during the Games the
greedy caught a cold, while the sensible and fair were full,” said Rees.

Rees
also warned about a potential drop in food and beverage revenue for
hotels during the Olympic period. “Hotels during the Games are like bed
factories. Guests leave early to get to events, eat while they are out
and come back late.”

London legacy

London added 20,000 rooms in the lead up to the Games, said Rees, who added there were plans to add 5,000 more this year. In addition, new venue stock including the Olympic Park, improvements across the transport network and future developments such as the Cross Rail in 2018 had further transformed the London landscape, he noted.

Rees
said it was important for London, and Rio, to take advantage of the full
window of opportunity, which he saw as opening seven years before the
Games and seven years after.

London already claims to be reaping
the benefits from hosting the Games and recently won its bid to host
the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) annual congress in 2015. Isabel
Bardinet, CEO of ESC told CN that six years ago (pre-Olympics) London
would not have been considered as host venue for an event that was
expected to attract 35,000 medical professionals and worth £80m to the
economy.

Rees said his main recommendation for the South American
meetings industry was to take full advantage of the opportunity Rio
2016 will present. “South America recognises its slice of the cake is
not huge in terms of attracting conferences and events, but if it does a
good job hosting the Games, the perception of South America as a
destination for events can be changed,” Rees said.

This was first published in the May edition of CN. Any comments? E-mail conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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