HBAA Made to Measure Annual Forum welcomes record attendance

Welcoming the 350 delegates to the Hotel Booking Agents Association’s (HBAA) Annual Forum this week, the association’s 2013 Chairman, Chris Parnham, announced it was the largest attendance ever recorded for the event.
The first day of the forum at London’s Twickenham Experience, 5 September, saw the results of the HBAA and Conference Centres of Excellence (CCE) Future Trends in Meetings and Accommodation survey delivered, conducted by PwC.
The Forum proceedings kicked off with a welcome from the newly-appointed Executive Director, Juliet Price.
“I have been part of the association since 2005 and have witnessed it continue to grow its network and membership to where it is now.  This year 40 delegates, who have never attended a HBAA event before, have signed up as delegates and also 16 companies have joined the association since the last Forum,” said Price.
Parnham said the theme of the forum, ‘Made to Measure’, reflected the bespoke nature of the event and also what the HBAA hoped to achieve from it: “We want delegates to measure how effective their time has been used at this forum.”
The first session for the forum was humorously delivered by Economist, Dennis Turner, who explained the outlook for the UK economy, focusing on growth, spending and interest rates, and how it could effect business practice in the future.
Following, the Head of Hospitality and Leisure Research at PwC, Liz Hall, presented the findings of the Future Trends in Meetings and Accommodation survey, which surveyed the members of CCE and the HBAA to capture insights into the UK market place. Venue members and 80 organisers were asked about confidence and key challenges facing their businesses in 2014. Seventy per cent of those surveyed were meeting and event venues, 24 per cent were venue finding agents with six per cent being accommodation-only venue finding agencies. Of those agencies surveyed, 70 per cent work with private sector clients with 21 per cent covering the public sector.
Key results included:

  • Key challenges for the market were indenfitied as: weak economic growth; inflation and a growth in business costs; procurements and RFP processes; structural issues and meeting trends; and technology-based issues

  • The general mood was more optimistic and creating loyalty; improving operational effectiveness; investing in technology, social and mobile platforms were among effective ways of increasing business mentioned

  • 43 per cent of venues saying they could pass on some of the costs of food and engery, with 48 per cent saying they absorbed all of the costs themselves. Only eight per cent could pass on all the costs

  • In terms of their marketing spend 17 per cent were spending over 10 per cent of their turnover with 49 per cent spending one to three per cent of their turnover

  • Changes in the past 12 months experienced include: shorter events; lower budgets; smaller events; fewer residential events; rates under fire; shorter lead times and the ‘fear factor’ decreasing

  • The majority of events are still being held in London, however, the popular cities outside of the capital are: Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol.

  • 47 per cent expected to see a five per cent growth next year with 50 per cent overall thinking sales will grow

  • Sectors that will drive growth were named as: financial, pharmaceutical and government.

Hall summed up the results with one anonymous comment from a respondent: “It’s Darwinian out there: the weak are getting weaker and the strong are getting stronger.”
Following the survey presentation, the HBBA hosted a panel discussion with Russell Green, the Corporate Sales Director for UK & Ireland at IHG; Angie Mason, the Director of Absolute Corporate Events; Alastair Stewart, the Owner of etc.venues; and Matthew Wall, VP of Industry and Partner Relations for the EMEA at BCD M&I.
“I am hopeful for the future, but experience tells us that the tough times will be here for a little bit longer. We must be careful not to talk too quickly about ‘green shoots’ but also not talk down the market either,” said Green. “We are focussing on talent management to ensure growth and keeping qualified people in our business.”
Mason said she kept her life and business simple by keeping an eye on the costs and being flexible and adaptable. “I am not convinced that diversifying our business, like others have, is the way forward. Perception is huge and we have to encourage people to host their events in the UK,” she added.
Stewart said the recession had actually helped his business grow with a 20 per cent growth rate experienced in the past year alone. He said that the benefits have mainly been seen in London.
Wall added that the economic and business situation at the moment was the “new normal” and any current trends the events sector is experiencing were here to stay.
Stewart questioned whether or not there is an oversupply of venues. “Twenty or so years ago their was an influx of residential conference centres, but I think there needs to be 100 fewer venues than there is in the market at the moment,” he said. “Bigger venue groups are selling off less profitable venues and concentrating on providing quality services.
“We will see the correct balance of supply and demand in the future,” he added.
Wall said that although everyone thinks pharmaceutical sector meetings are recession-proof (the majority of BCD’s business), the tough economic situation has affected them. “They are moving their events to somewhere slightly different, into new markets like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. They are thinking more globally.”
When discussing the London and regional city divide, Wall said: “There are no viable UK alternatives outside of London for our clients. They choose either London or continental Europe and we have a problem with quality suppliers in regional areas.”
Mason disagreed, and said the regional areas were giving a better offering than before.
Fay Sharpe, MD of agency Zibrant, spoke up in the audience to say: “Large meetings simply do not want to go to London due to the costs involved. Birmingham, London and Edinburgh are cost effective and offer a great service. However, there is a problem with availability when going out of London.”
When discussing Strategic Meetings Management Programmes (SMMP) and its impact on businesses, Green said he had not seen a great deal effect on business spend. “However, we have not seen enough evidence of agencies actually using an SMMP when dealing with us,” he added.
Wall said BCD runs 15 per cent of its business through SMMP, but added that it was difficult to track and report on the real spend to use it more effectively. “If terms and conditions were the same with every partner we deal with around the world that would be a different matter,” he added.
Stewart said SMMPs are detrimental to businesses like his. “It provides a real challenge for venues and individual venues cannot complete with chains and SMMPs,” he added.
Wall said 50 per cent of the venues they booked over the past year were independent and Mason added she was “surprised and encouraged by this”.  
The HBBA Annual Forum closes 6 September.
Any conference-related news? Email sarah@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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