In the hot seat: Joe Carter

The director of event operations at London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square, talks Mrs White in the Luggage Room with the latest app

What were early career highlights?
I worked in St Albans at the Thistle Hotel for my trainee manager placement from Bournemouth University. It gave me an excellent grounding in hospitality. I later returned to St Albans to work at Sopwell House, a very busy operation. My career highlights from both venues were the large number of weddings that I oversaw, because the gratitude expressed from the happy couples justified the tired feet and long shifts.

Funniest moment in those early years?
At one marquee wedding I was asked to announce the bride and groom into the room. The event manager told me the name was Mr & Mrs White, so I announced for everyone to be upstanding and a big round of applause for Mr & Mrs White. The room fell silent and the bride and groom behind me whispered: ‘It’s Mr & Mrs Dubois’. Now I always double check with the couple before I announce.

Your trickiest challenge and most rewarding experience?

Hosting world-class events at the County Hall Marriott as director of events have been my trickiest and most rewarding experiences. Stand out events include Miss World in 2011 & 2014, ATP Tennis Wold Finals 2008-2014 and, for the London 2012 Olympics, we were Panasonic’s Premier Hospitality Hotel, which meant working nights as all the guests were not back until 9pm.
I subscribe to the philosophy ‘Recruit for attitude and train skill’.

What is the most common oversight from event bookers and your top three bits of advice for making an event run smoothly?
1. If you require a table plan, leave it as a last minute job otherwise you will be on version 17 before you know it
2. When creating an agenda or itinerary, start by planning the end of the day and working back to breakfast. This way you will have more realistic timings and will not over commit your schedule
3. When sending materials to a venue, ensure they are labelled correctly e.g. with the hotel name and not your own, otherwise it could be turned away. Also number the items and name the conference. It can be fraught searching for boxes with vital event content.

What do you hope to achieve over the next couple of years?
I have the opportunity to enhance the use of technology in all aspects of events at London Marriott Grosvenor Square. For example a bank of wireless uplighters, operated via an app that can be downloaded by the event planners to sync and change the lights at the touch of a button to their specific pantone, will be introduced. I’m also looking at in-desk wireless phone charging hubs.

What is the most creative use of space you’ve seen?
At the Bournemouth International Centre where we hosted a dinner for 600 people, while a Cirque du Soleil style performance was performed above the tables.

What booking trends are you seeing today?
In the past few years guests have been selecting the base package, then upgrading various options a few weeks before the event. It makes forecasting the spend of specific events challenging.
What advantages do large hotels have over purpose-built conference centres?
A hotel is a total hospitality solution for event organisers that require service 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I believe the single location and one point of contact to be deciding factors.
The logistics of people and resources are simpler at a hotel as it provides all you need in one location. In particular, at London Marriott Grosvenor Square clients have the choice of Gordon Ramsay Dinning options, as well as The Luggage Room an award winning bar.

How easy/difficult is it to recruit and train events staff?

This has always been the number one priority for any events manager Obstacles that can hinder recruitment on an industry level include huge fluctuations in level of staff requirements from day to day due to the number and size of events booked. This dictates that a proportion of your team will be from an events staffing agency.
Staff training is a lifelong activity to pass on advice, experience and practical skills to the new staff and not forgetting that rarely a day goes by when I have not learnt something new myself.

Biggest trend to watch for the future?
The integration of technology to make the event experience more seamless. I anticipate traditional registration to be soon obsolete and replaced with an app that is downloaded to your smart phone, providing an Online Check-in service with GPS. This would allow event planners to calculate how many people have checked in and how many are at the venue.

Outside of the meetings and events industry, how do you relax?
I have a secret addiction to watching Come Dine with Me.

John Keenan


John Keenan

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