Interview: MD of the Venue Search UK, Katherine Buchan

How did you get into the industry?

I worked for IIR for a few years in the mid-80s in its then newly-opened London office. I knew absolutely nothing about the events industry when I joined, so I had to learn quickly because the company was planning to run four conferences a month. I was one of a team of six crammed into a small open-plan office; I learned so much from my colleagues there. IIR went on to become the world’s largest conference training company – after I left.

What do you like about the industry?

I love the fact that there are so many opportunities for women and young people within the industry. Many of the UK’s training, conference and event agencies have female CEOs. And a high percentage of our clients and venue contacts are in their 20s. On many occasions, I’ve witnessed junior employees within venues progress to management roles or set up their own businesses; we meet sales managers who started out as waiters.

This is something we should really shout about at national government level and more people should be made aware of the value of the events industry to the economy.

How is business since the GFC?

Every crisis presents an opportunity and the economic downturn forced us to take a long hard look at every aspect of our business. Now we’ve gone through that process, we’re in a stronger position. Business levels are getting close to what they were before the downturn, which we’re delighted about but, we have to work harder now. We’re putting in extra effort to source venues more suited to clients’ reduced budgets and negotiating deals for multiple events. Plus we’ve been getting our message out that we book worldwide, not just in the UK, so we’re now booking a more diverse range of destinations.

What is your clients’ demographic?

We have loyal clients from across industry sectors, many of whom we have worked with for between 10 and 20 years. We work with corporate clients who do one awards dinner a year and training companies which do 100-plus events a year. During the past year, we have booked events across five continents.  

How is the venue booking business faring?

It’s a very competitive and ever changing market but there is still a place for boutique agencies. Fifty per cent of our business is now booked in destinations other than the UK.

How did the Olympics affect business?

The Olympics had no impact whatsoever, which is disappointing. LOCOG should have put more trust in small booking agencies and allowed us to offer a fair and informed booking service for visitors. So many people stayed away because they thought hotel rates would be prohibitive but there were some great last-minute deals. 

What is the USP of Venue Search for event organisers?

All of the team has been with the company for a minimum of 13 years, so we have a fair bit of experience to offer.  We approach every enquiry from the client’s perspective, concentrating on what is important to that particular client.

A time-saving tip for event organisers?

If you arrange for any equipment to be delivered to the venue in advance of the event, make sure you know before you get there exactly where your equipment is being stored and exactly who at the venue has responsibility for looking after it until you arrive.

Most successful personal achievement?

Venue Search celebrating 25 years in business this year; I feel I have been very lucky to have had such a loyal team working with me. Others have been impressed that I have just cycled 400km around Kenya for charity without falling off my bike. I was more impressed that I did so without moaning about the very basic hotels and lack of lavatories along the way.

Prediction for the future?

In 2014, we will see an increase in DDRs at London venues, but rates will remain static in the rest of the UK. Man U will retain the title. Scotland will vote No to independence.

This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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