Conference call of the capital

London welcomed 4.9m visitors in Q3 of 2013, an increase of nearly 20 per cent on the previous year. The figures also showed a record increase in international visitors in London from January to September 2013.

CN asked tourism board London & Partners’ Director responsible for Business Tourism and Major Events, Tracy Halliwell, about this and other hot topics as the capital looks to capitalise on New Year momentum.

Is the Olympic dividend paying off, or are there other reasons for the sharp uplift?

London’s ability to stage an event like the Olympics is a great demonstration of the city’s ability to put on big events. No doubt this is something organisers of large congresses, conferences and exhibitions will consider when choosing a destination for their event.

There is now a much more targeted approach to winning convention and congress business for the city.
We focus on events we know will work in London for specific reasons. We then match the objectives of the event planner to the right stakeholders, the right venues, the right delegates, and so on. By honing down on the objectives of the meeting we are finding that we are having a lot more success.

Key venues include Excel London and its ICC, the QEIICC, Grosvenor House and the London Hilton Metropole.

Alongside these conference venue flag-carriers for the capital, how important is the contribution of unique venues in London?

A destination fundamentally sells itself by being the right size and fit for a particular event, but the real clincher is the destination’s culture, and London has this in abundance.

We have such distinctive and unrivalled venues that can only be found in London and this is hugely important to the majority of event planners. When deciding on a destination, [planners] are looking for something different, something special, and whether it’s the historic Tower of London, the iconic Shard, or the QEIICC with its views across Westminster, London really can’t be matched.

How is the capital doing in terms of pitching itself to the international association sector for major events?

A real focus for us now is the London Ambassador Programme which we launched in January 2014. The programme is targeted at people who are experts in their field, have international reputations for their work and have a real interest and influence in their sector and within their professional bodies. Such influence means they can vote for London as a future destination for their congress or convention, or help guide these events in London’s direction.

Our initial focus is on the capital’s medical and life sciences community and involvement is voluntary. We simply ask that they have an interest in helping us promote London to international peers and colleagues who influence or decide where congress events will take place.

We do not ask for specific time commitments from our Ambassadors. Their involvement in the programme could involve working with us to identify potential events in their field that could come to London, facilitating introductions and letters of support or providing sector knowledge to strengthen bids for congresses and events.

Despite the success of Excel London’s ICC, is the capital still lacking a major convention centre in the West End?

London is such a big destination that there is always room for another convention centre and any new event space is always welcome.

There appear to have been big strides taken over the past year in terms of the conference and events sector getting organised as a political lobby and working closely through the BVEP to advance our interests. How vital is this?

It is absolutely vital that the tourism sector has a greater political voice. When putting bids together it is important for the event organisers to see that the destination wants them to come.

Political leaders need to further understand the effect that business events have, not just by bringing in delegate spend, but also their influence on driving trade and investment and in underpinning a city or country’s sectoral expertise. By raising awareness as a collective we can showcase the real impact of events and therefore drive support from politicians that can be included in our bid proposals. Such political awareness will also help to exact policy changes and reduce barriers to bringing events to the UK.

What do you gauge as the biggest challenges facing London and the further development of the capital as a national and international conference destination?

It’s important that we remain aware of the Eurozone and the impact any changes in the world economy can have on the events industry globally. We, of course, must stay abreast of what our competitors are doing, particularly emerging destinations around the world.

Where are we with hotel stock? There are many, many rooms, but are we pricing organisers and their delegates out of the market?

There are currently 117,000 hotel rooms in London, with a further 30,000 under construction or with planning consent. Within this number there are also increasing volumes of budget accommodation to supplement the number of four- and five-star properties already in the city.

What is the situation with subvention funding options open to organisers wishing to bring in large conferences to London. What concrete financial help can they count on?

As a destination we’ve never had a subvention fund. What we can offer event organisers is introductions to relevant stakeholders, to expert speakers based in the city and to contacts who can open up interest from potential delegates.

In terms of international competitor destinations, where does London have something to learn and who from?

There is always something to learn so we keep an eye on all destinations. We like to learn from successful initiatives, as not so successful projects as well, to ensure we remain innovative and are offering the best possible service as a convention bureau.

How do you work with other national and major city bureaus for mutual advantage?

We often collaborate with Scotland, Wales and Ireland when we are marketing to similar client bases, hosting joint networking events for example. We also sit on the Meetings Industry Association destination group where we share best practice and learnings.

We are always keen to work with other destinations and have collaborated with Paris on joint Eurostar campaigns, as well as with New York. We also introduce our event planners to London Plus to encourage them to go beyond the capital when bringing their event here.

Two new hotel investments

Holiday Inn Heathrow at M4 Junction 4 recently completed a multi-million pound refurbishment that positions it as a leading meeting and events venue for the capital.

 The 617-bedroom hotel boasts brighter breakout spaces and meeting rooms.

General Manager, Lissy Thornquist said: “We are a big hotel in a great location and welcome a lot of business travellers.”

Thornquist believes the meetings industry has changed dramatically over the last few years, with delegates wanting to feel less restricted and more creative.

“Developments in technology mean that meeting styles have changed, and people are always switched on,” she said.

A new Holiday Inn ‘Your Meeting, Your Way’ pledge, has been brought in designed to help businesses get the most from their meetings, backed up by a money-back guarantee.

Holiday Inn Heathrow also offers a Park, Stay & Go package including one night’s accommodation and car parking for up to 15 days.

Intercontinental Hotels Group is also investing in other pioneering meetings spaces across London. There has been a multi-million pound redesign of ‘The Academy’ at Holiday Inn London Kensington-Forum, Holiday Inn London-Bloomsbury and Holiday Inn London Regent’s Park, all aimed at positioning the hotels as meeting and events venues.

Due to re-open in March, the refurbishments, management hopes, reflect cutting edge design based on industry insight.

Superfast Wi-Fi, quiet work stations with printers and a ‘Food for Thought’ F&B philosophy, accredited by Food for Brain, are all initiatives claimed by Holiday Inn to be industry firsts.

This was first published in the March 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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