All eyes on Excel

This September an international audience of eye specialists booked Excel London to host three conferences – ESCRS (European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons); EuCornea and Euretina. It made up Excel’s biggest medical congress this year – and was a
return booking.

The main purpose of the congresses was scientific education, and combining the three conferences and the exhibition, allowed the 12,000 delegates, mostly busy doctors and specialists, to make maximum use of their time, swapping between the varied programmes and enjoying the networking potential.

Euretina runs on its own as a stand-alone conference on odd years and, in even years, the conferences are combined.

Excel London’s Head of Conventions, Samantha Shamkh, said: “ESCRS was last with us in 2006 and we were delighted to get this return congress.

“The last ESCRS congress was a third of the size, but we were able to accommodate the growth, as we now offer almost double the space we had then, and more flexibility too.”

The ICC has been built since the last ESCRS congress, and a lot of the programme was based there. The event also used 20,000sqm of exhibition space and the Platinum Suite Conference Centre.

The on-site hotel offering had also increased, with the 252-room aloft hotel, directly linked to Excel’s east-end entrance and the 136-room Sunborn London, a super yacht hotel, now permanently moored adjacent to the conference centre’s west-end entrance.

This brings the seven on-site hotels total room capacity to 1,600, with 10,000 rooms now available within a 20-minute radius of the conference centre, in areas such as Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge.

The Excel Supporters Club, a combination of 100 hotels, businesses and venues, also works in partnership with the Excel team to ensure there are plenty of options for MICE organisers to consider.

ESCRS CEO, Carol Fitzpatrick, was happy to be back: “We had a very successful conference here in 2006 and this one was even better,” she said.

“Our delegates love coming to London and Excel is an easy venue for them to navigate around, as everything feeds off one main central corridor.

“The Excel team also did a great job with the signage, which made it easier for our delegates to keep up with their schedules, and careful planning meant no crowds, or queues; they could move easily between the different meetings and functions.”

What’s new?
So, aside from the increased scale of the event, and well-run agendas, what else was there to tempt people to attend? “We dabbled with social media, but the main thing that was unique for this event was our Poster Village,” said Fitzpatrick.

This interactive, computerised area gave delegates the chance to log on and look up areas that interested them, or to sit on the funky red dice-type seating and catch up.

The village, lit by lavender-coloured lights, created an interesting, restful feel, and props such as Big Ben and a red bus reminded delegates that they were in the capital. It was an eye-catching contrast to the rest of the congress, and a place that people migrated to.

“The aim was to encourage delegates to do their own research, and to also come and listen to interesting papers, presented by the authors, in an informal way,” Fitzpatrick continued.

“There were 28 sessions in the village throughout the congress, with papers of a similar subject grouped together so that those dropping by could focus on areas that interested them and make sure their time was well spent.”

The EuCornea was staged almost like a stand-alone event in the self contained Platinum Suite, while the EURETINA and ESCRS held a lot of concurrent sessions which were built into the event halls.

Early research also showed good use was made of the conference website’s virtual exhibition tab ahead of the event, which gave potential delegates a quick heads up as to which company was based where at Excel, and again saved a lot of time during the event.

Repeat trade
Aside from increased facilities, Excel went further to secure this return booking, and to set itself apart from the crowd. So what is its strategy for attracting a large-scale event?

“I feel it is very important to have an individual approach to conference and exhibition planning, to ensure the space works for the client,” said Samantha Shamkh.

“We kept our links with the ESCRS team after the last conference, building on its success and ensuring we could offer something even better for a future booking.

“The contract for this event was signed five years ago and is a credit to our wider team, as it is Excel’s service levels that set it apart; we ensure all our employees are polite and helpful, as quality service is paramount to any events success.

“ESCRS are a great team to work with and it has been a great partnership process. Working so closely with their planners, we were confident that the event would work well and looked forward to it,” she said.

She also credited the capital’s appeal. “Bookings such as this are proof that London works. The city gained a great boost after the Olympics, and organisers now have increased confidence in the capital’s infrastructure.

“It is also easy to get to here, and attracts delegates who want to have a good business meeting and then enjoy the sights.”

In-house caterers, Leith’s, provided the coffees, breakfast and lunch boxes for this event. Delegates also benefitted from Excel’s retail provision, which was open and ready to cater for them.

The security, by Excel’s preferred on-site provider, ensured that everyone was fully briefed on ‘who went where’.

All in all ECSRS demonstrated a clear conference vision and both organiser and venue worked hard to deliver that to the delegates and all concerned.

The ECSRS XXXII Congress ran 13-17 September 2014 at Excel London.

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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