London scales up

The capital’s convention bureau, London & Partners, tailored its strategy last year to target larger-scale events and focus on its sectoral expertise, something Tracy Halliwell, L&P director of major events and business tourism, says has paid off.

In 2014, L&P launched the first-ever London Technology Week, which saw more than 40,000 people from around the world attend 200 independently run events. The bureau is working to build on the success of last year to make the 2015 event bigger and better.

“The success of London Technology Week has also driven fresh interest from other organisations in hosting major technology events in the capital,” Halliwell tells CN. “In October 2014 London welcomed TechCrunch Disrupt for the first time and in January 2015 L&P supported the first ever London Mobile Games Week aimed at professionals in the tech, entertainment and creative sectors. Last year, also saw the bureau help launch the new MedCity initiative, which was set up to provide a focus for life sciences activity across London and the Greater Southeast. MedCity acts as a front door to London’s life sciences industry – granting access to world-class researchers, and facilities, and showcasing research that is being undertaken in London.

Halliwell says the initiative is already helping to attract medical and life science events to London. In August 2015, London will welcome the European Society of Cardiology and its 35,000 international delegates. Looking further forward, 2016 will bring major events from the European Respiratory Society and The European League Against Rheumatism, while 2017 sees the Alzheimer’s Association annual conference in the city.

For London to be able to host such major events it needs the infrastructure to match, of course. With the demolition of Earls Court looming ever closer, the capital will lose one of its historical event venues. But what does this mean for the industry?

“The Loss of Earls court is a bit sad as it was an iconic venue but the market for larger stand-alone conferences and exhibitions has been in long term decline and new venues such as Excel and The 02 are bringing a new generation of event space,” Alastair Stewart, MD of etc.venues tells CN.

“The Olympic Park also offers a huge opportunity. It is hard to see with the value of residential property how space is now going to be found in more central locations for convention space without a massive political subsidy, which, if someone as entrepreneurial as the current mayor can’t organise, is hard to see happening,” he adds.

Des McLaughlin, divisional director at Grass Roots Meetings and Events, says the central location served Earls Court well in the past, but believes the venue failed to move with the times and was “well past its sell-by date”.

He does, however, note that London desperately needs a high quality centrally-located convention centre to rival other major cities. “I’m constantly amazed this hasn’t been addressed,” he says.

“Things do look brighter on the east side of town where Canary Wharf is now well served with good quality new hotels including the Shangri-La at the Shard,” he notes. “We can also look forward to the opening of The InterContinental London O2 Arena at the end of this year. The O2 Arena and Excel are two of London’s best large venue options.”

Case in point, Excel London experienced another record year in 2014, with highlights including the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict; The European Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, which was the first medical congress to repeat at the venue; as well as corporate events for brands including Adobe, Microsoft, First Capital Connect, Marks & Spencer and LinkedIn.

James Rees, executive director at the venue, says advance bookings for 2015 are 40 per cent up on this time year, something he attributes to clients wanting to secure key dates as soon as possible.

“Generally the events that come to Excel combine a variety of touch points, all within one overall programme, which in turn attracts a larger audience. Consequently we are seeing an increase in enquiries and bookings for this year,” he says.

In the last 12-months, Rees says the venue has seen a trend of corporate brands using a greater proportion of their marketing budget, albeit cautiously, for events, with greater emphasis placed on direct customer and stakeholder contact.

“These forward thinking brands are introducing a different type of event that allows them to convey one key message or product development to multiple stakeholders,” Rees added. “For example,  one event can combine an internal staff briefing, an external client event, an experiential platform for buyers and a launch event for media. These ‘multi-contact’ events allow for a common message to be tailored to individual groups, all within one overall programme.

Rees continues: “Fifty-two per cent of new corporate contracts won at Excel, in the last 12-months, represent a switch from a traditional hotel environment to a flexible venue format, such as our ICC. We’ve seen exactly this transition with organisers who have grown their events to deliver a personalised brand experience in larger creative formats.”

One such example of this, is LinkedIn’s Talent Connect event organised by EMC3. The two-day event included general sessions, three breakout rooms in the North side of Excel, catering for 1,500 people, and an executive track. EMC3 transformed Excel’s event halls into a London scene complete with a traditional pub, road works, a London bus and black cabs for the 2014 event.
EMC3’s Daniel Curtis tells CN the focus was on producing an immersive, experiential conference to keep delegates engaged.

The event has been in London for the last five years, the first of which attracted 250-300 delegates, with the most recent hitting the 1,500-delegate mark. “If the event stays in London, it will stay at Excel ,” Curtis says. “It is the most functional venue for this event. Its blank canvas space means we don’t have to worry about access and pillars, for example.” 

This year is set to be Excel’s biggest for conferences. On the congress side, events include The European Renal Association, The International Orthodontic Congress and EuroPerio. On the corporate side, Excel will welcome back brands including Adobe, LinkedIn and Salesforce, while HP Discover will come to London for the first time in December.

Venue stock
One thing you won’t be short of in London, is venue choice. The capital certainly doesn’t lack in terms of volume of venues, according to Grass Roots’ McLaughlin. “Any business with some empty space to fill  – from cinemas to offices  – is trying to join the market. But there is a shortage of inspiring venues. There are some notable exceptions that have recently opened including the Sky Garden on top of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ in Fenchurch Street, and the Arcelor Mittel Orbit at the Olympic Park which definitely offers something different.”

He is of the opinion, however, that hotels lack real quality and value at both ends of the market and says: “If you don’t mind something eighties, tired and mid-market there is plenty to choose from. On a positive note, we are seeing a rise in boutique hotels with meeting space. The M by Montcalm in Shoreditch is a good example of a hotel that combines functionality within a contemporary setting.”

Specialist venue provider etc.venues is London-centric in its venue offering and MD Alastair Stewart considers the sheer number and diversity of venues on offer and the sophistication of the transport infrastructure to be the city’s key strengths.

“Supported by strong demand, delegate rates have been recovering and we expect to see rates pass their pre recession level during 2015,” he says. “Competition between venues remains fierce, particularly during off-peak periods and clients are rightfully demanding of high levels of service and technology. Specialist venues have benefited from hotels focusing on bedroom occupancy and serviced office groups seeing strong demand for office desks and consequentially reducing their focus on the meetings market.”

Stewarts’ venue provider itself now hosts over 600,000 delegates per annum and grew by 20 per cent in 2014. New openings mean the company is able to offer seven different city locations, with plans for more venues in the pipeline.

Stewart adds that, the fastest area of growth for London is from new larger venues that have been designed to host conferences and exhibitions in an exclusive and purpose-built venue and which have been taking clients away from five-star hotels and some of the more established institutional conference centres where sub-contracting of some of the key service deliveries remains a key client frustration.

London trends

What does 2015 have in store for London’s event sector? CN asks some industry players:

  • Moya Maxwell, chair of Unique Venues of London: “The demand from clients to build in interactive presentations, as part of their meeting and events, is on the rise. Venues will need to re-invest in their technology infrastructure to keep ahead of the curve. Focusing more on the economics, there has been a marked increase in the degree of business confidence now found in the MICE market. We surveyed our members and found 91 per cent were optimistic about the outlook for 2015, up eight per cent from 2013’s results. The only caveat I would add is the uncertainty of the upcoming election. Overall, there is much to suggest that 2015 will be a positive and lucrative year for the London events market, and with plenty of exciting festivals, landmark events and commercial opportunities there will be no end of opportunities for venues to make some solid revenue. It is not a green light for complacency though.
  • Nicole Leggett from Bankside Venues, which represents venues including the Tate Modern: “We are seeing new booking trends which show the industry is definitely in resurgence. Clients are giving longer lead times, often booking six-plus months in advance and budgets are improving.”
  • Nick Graham, head of sales at Olympia London: “Small to mid-size consumer events work particularly well at Olympia Conference Centre and a trend we are seeing is that they are growing within our spaces. Last year, the London Drum Show, The London Bass Guitar Show and the London Acoustic Guitar Show expanded from one floor to include the Level Two space in the Conference Centre.  We’re also seeing the result of the increasing attraction of London as a destination for medical meetings. More pharmaceutical companies are booking with us. They like the fact we are compliant with the pharmaceutical code and that we offer a degree of privacy and exclusivity.”
  • Nicholas Grimaldi, GM at De Vere Venues West One: “Within London, bookers are increasingly becoming more concerned about proximity to public transport hubs rather than their venue of choice being within a particular postcode or being a particular style of venue. Our main competitors are therefore not necessarily our neighbouring venues but instead, other venues within close proximity to major tube or mainline railway stations.”
  • Daniel Caleb, event spaces manager at The Wellcome Collection: “Trends include longer lead times and regular clients rebooking events, as well as an increased demand for cinematic capabilities in our auditorium for events. Delegates are getting more used to consuming video content at events and in turn clients are looking to have this kind of technology readily available to them. In 2015, I predict the demand for cinematic spec technology will increase as the format of meetings and events evolves to encompass more technology and  interactive content.”

London venue openings

  • The InterContinental London
    – The O2 is set to open in late 2015 and will feature 20 meeting rooms
    and a 3,000sqm pillar-free ballroom for up to 3,000 delegates.
  • Hilton Bankside will open this summer offering eight meeting rooms and views over the Tate Modern towards St Paul’s Cathedral. 
  • The German Gymnasium
    in Kings Cross has been redeveloped to create a ground floor 150-cover
    brasserie and bar with outdoor terraces. The venue will open in the
  • Z Hotel Shoreditch, a 111-bedroom conversion of a former office building will open this year, as will The Gansevoort. The latter hotel will feature 120 bedrooms, a restaurant, bar, rooftop pool and lounge, as well as 557sqm of meeting space.
  • The Wellcome Collection
    will reopen for meetings and events this March following a £17.5m
    refurbishment. With the current expansion, the venue can accommodate up
    to 510 people across its seven spaces.

Case study

Event: Adobe Digital Marketing Summit
Client: Adobe & Taylor Bennett
Venue: Excel London
Date: 14 – 15 May 2014
Number of delegates: 3,800

Client brief: Adobe wanted to grow its delegate numbers at its flagship European event and create a brand experience that reflected its values and creativity.

Event overview: Held over two days, the summit attracts 3,800 delegates from 47 countries. Adobe used Excel’s ICC to host plenary sessions in the Auditorium, breakout sessions in the Capital Hall and an exhibition in the Capital Suite. On the first night of the event there is a summit party for delegates, which in 2014 was headlined by Rudimental. The party was built into Excel’s north event halls and had a festival feel with trees, camper vans, bumper cars, food stands and a grass hill (made out of real grass).

Client comment:
“The Adobe Summit is now the largest digital marketing event in Europe, which is something that Adobe is really proud of. We’ve doubled the size of the summit over the last two years and we’ve outgrown the rest of London. Excel was the perfect choice for us because of the sheer scale and flexibility of the space.” – Emma Chalwin, brand director, EMEA, Adobe Systems Europe Ltd

“As 50 per cent of our delegates come from outside of the UK, Excel’s close proximity to London City Airport was of particular importance to us. The DLR also offers a great service for those travelling from around London and the direct link into Excel is excellent giving us great branding opportunities. The IT infrastructure that Excel has is brilliant, as it made the set-up of our own network so much quicker. This is so important for us, given that we had 3,800 delegates who wanted to be tweeting and blogging about the event, using multiple devices that they want to be connected to at all times. The bandwidth therefore is extremely important and we were delighted that this was available to us. The team at Excel, both during the event and in the run-up, were excellent. We viewed them very much as an extension of our own team and they worked with us to deliver a great event.” – Christine Bennett, partner, Taylor Bennett Partners
This was first published in the February issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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