Emily King examines some of the options for corporates feeling emboldened to push the boat back out into the hospitality waters this spring and summer
Corporations use venues for their conferences and business meetings, but after a few years of austerity, there is evidence, ancedotal at least, that they are increasingly boosting the incentives and hospitality side of their event bookings.
Corporate hospitality is a huge market for the events industry, and teambuilding away-days can be real motivators.
Dan Gill, managing director of Dine, event and wedding planners in Leeds, claims corporate hospitality is as popular as ever, with businesses investing in their employees by hosting high quality events. He does see a qualitative leap, however. “Companies have to be more savvy and creative when holding client events or away-days to incentivise staff and bolster client relations,” he says.
Gareth McTiffin, marketing and events manager at Merlin Events London, also perceives the trend. “Nowadays, when offering an incentive the event needs something extra, something that will elevate the experience further, providing somewhere that is full of atmosphere and set in an unusual backdrop,” he says.
Oulton Hall, one of QHotel’s hotels in the UK, Leeds, has plenty of fresh ideas for incentives and teambuilding.
Corporate delegates can channel the Downtown Abbey experience and take full advantage of the hotel’s unique Butler Dining Experience. The package includes a full consultation with the head butler and executive chef so that organisers can create a bespoke menu for their event.
“The service we offer is something really special, and is extremely rare outside of London. Our consultations make sure that we’re creating a unique package for every company that decides to try out Butler Experience, and our service can really make a difference when it comes to special events, such as corporate parties,” says Peter McMahon, head butler at Oulton Hall.
The Hilton Cambridge City Centre also boasts it can tailor party packages for individual requests.
“We’ve found that companies are choosing to host one large annual party, rather than several smaller ones throughout the year. Because of this, they have large guest lists and want bespoke packages that make their event stand out,” says Alicia Garner, the hotel’s events and sales manager for Hilton Cambridge City Centre.
Tales from the crypt
Adding to their line-up of storytelling experiences, Merlin Events London has opened the doors to its newest feature, the Tavern pub at the London Dungeon.
This experience is available as part of the group’s corporate package and the Tavern claims to transport guests back to 1896. In true Victorian fashion, where Jack the Ripper is on everyone’s lips, guests will be met by scoundrels, villains and working girls propping up the bar.
The Tavern experience includes an actor-led Dungeon tour and includes a drink on arrival. There is also a visit to Mrs Lovett’s pie shop and a bottle of gin fizz in the Ten Bells pub before rustic platters featuring a selection of pub classic bowl food options and dessert canapés, developed by Food by Dish.
McTiffin believes the London Dungeon offers some of the most engaging audience participation events: “The Tavern is a great addition to our corporate offering, allowing guests to interact with the actors as well as each other, it certainly becomes a talking point for visitors.”
Dine’s Gill notes that although companies are still keen to provide staff and clients with the ‘wow’ factor, they prefer to keep it on a more modest scale in 2016. It seems this is still very important for corporates not to be seen to be extravagant in their hospitality and teambuilding spend.
“We have hosted some magnificent events, including an Alice in Wonderland themed party, however an increasing number of businesses are also coming to us with more of an emphasis on value-for-money,” adds Gill.
And, with a big summer of sport ahead, a sports package may take your corporation’s fancy. There are plenty of packages, both physically demanding and those more on the spectator side, to float your company’s hospitality boat.
Lord’s Cricket Ground will host NatWest T20 Blast matches on Thursday evenings throughout the summer and its events team has produced two corporate hospitality packages designed to bring the sporting event’s magic into the corporate hospitality realm.
The premium hospitality package includes drinks and a summer buffet for guests to tuck into while they enjoy the game. Lord’s also offers the venue’s grill stations.
Alistair Turner, managing director of events industry specialist PR EightPR, says: “The summer party market remains an important one for the unusual venue sector, and one where that is seeing increasing creativity and dynamism from customers.
“This market was one of the last to recover, behind training, and Christmas parties, but still one that corporations see as an important rewarding and motivational exercise for staff.”
Staying on the theme of corporate sports events packages is The Brewery, in the City of London. This Grade-II listed building has unveiled its corporate screening packages for the European Football Championships this summer.
LCD screens, LED lighting and state of the art projectors are part of The Brewery’s promise to groups of corporate colleagues wishing to get the ‘big’ viewing experience.
Sparkling wines, a three-course meal created by food director, Tom Gore and his brigade of chefs are part of the Brewery package’s experience, as well as three hours of unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks. This package is £95 per head.
“The Euro 2016 screenings are a great opportunity for groups to indulge and enjoy some world class football in surroundings fit for the occasion – come rain or shine, win or lose. For an added extra, and the complete summer experience, guests can incorporate the outdoor courtyard marquee for pre and post event entertainment,” says James Varah, commercial director at The Brewery.
Turner claims that the corporate hospitality market is still a “tough” one as “budgets are hard to justify with uncertainty in the economy for many corporates, and lead times in this sector making planning and pricing for venues incredibly difficult.
“Lots of venues are trying to counteract this with early booking incentives and promotions so I’d encourage planners to engage early to get these offers,” he says.
Budget is a major consideration of course, but money isn’t the be all and end all of planning a special event, of course, and Gill says: “Although companies are looking for value for money, this mustn’t be led by choosing the cheapest option. Bad service and bland food reflects badly on your company and can easily deter prospective clients from signing that lucrative contract or de-motivate staff.
“Invest time in your food, choose bespoke menus, to set you apart from your competition and achieve the event’s objectives.”