There are occasions whereby holding a conference at a venue in a far-flung destination is worth the effort and suits the conference more than holding it close-by out of convenience. But playing the away card raises the question of how to get delegates to destinations further afield?
The transport to a conference is the first experience delegates have of their trip, and Claudia Stephenson, VP of business development for Freeman XP, says: “Travel is key to ensuring a smooth and stress-free arrival in good time for delegates to find their bearings ahead of an event.”
“When the meeting is the main focus of the event, no one wants to be late, therefore traffic and routes to meeting spaces (if not already in the hotel) are often a priority consideration,” says Alex Mildenstein, senior sales support executive at Ashfield Meetings and Events.
London is a key hub for transport by train, and as long as you can get there, you can reach many more UK destinations, often directly.
London’s main stations, Paddington, King’s Cross St Pancras, Victoria, Waterloo, and Charing Cross all operate direct rail services to destinations throughout the UK, including Bournemouth, Reading, Swansea, Glasgow, and Manchester, and getting from A to B within London should be no problem with around 370 stations.
In the far southwest, Plymouth Pavilions sweetens the psychological pill of distance travel by offering delegates discounted rail travel through Great Western Rail.
Kim Downer, sales executive at Plymouth Pavilions, insists that Plymouth is “very accessible” to other UK destinations and that “trains run direct to Paddington (London)”.
Let’s remember there are destinations a lot nearer the capital, but that require awkward changes. Harrogate being one example.
The ICC Birmingham works alongside Virgin trains to offer it’s delegates a 25% discount on rail fare.
James Elston, sales director at ICC Birmingham, reports: “The newly developed New Street Station – the UK’s largest interchange – has nine train companies connecting to most of the UK.
“The city offers regular trains to London from New Street and Birmingham’s other two stations – Moor St. and Snow Hill – which are easily accessible to the ICC.”
York train station also offers services running up and down the country providing access into London in only two hours and two and a half hours to Edinburgh.
Jeremy Brook, director of sales and marketing at The Royal York Hotel, said: “The hotel’s accessibility is one of its greatest attractions for event planners looking for a city location within a hop and a skip from the train station.”
Delegates take to the skies
Mildenstein suggests that airports play a big part in the orchestration of transport planning, “ease of flight access and costs are a huge consideration.”
Leeds Bradford Airport is easily accessible from a number of UK destinations including Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Guernsey, Jersey, London, Newquay, and Southampton, with direct flights to each.
St George’s Centre, Leeds, quotes Involve, the AV design specialists, saying: “We have held many events at St George’s Centre and would certainly recommend it for its central location, facilities and excellent service.
“It is in the city centre and easy to reach by public transport.”
Correspondingly, Birmingham and Plymouth’s conference centres are also accessible via airports as Birmingham Airport is just eight miles from the ICC and the airport serves more than 14- direct schedules and charter routes and offers an additional 280 possible connections worldwide.
Plymouth’s nearest airport is Exeter International and flights from London to Exeter takes approximately 55 minutes.
What about budget?
Obviously, with travelling further afield, comes extra cost, and organisers may be halted in their tracks by budget restrictions when planning a conference.
Emma Hinde, account director at TRO, says that in her experience “1%-5%” of a client’s budget goes on transport costs, and that “it can sometimes be a challenge to ensure the right amount of budget is set aside for creating the right impression with the right form of transport.
“Often the transport ‘experience’ can be a valuable way of launching a theme, setting a tone or introducing content.”
The type of event you take further afield “is dependent on the client’s brief, objectives, budget, and where delegates are travelling to and from,” adds Freeman XP’s Stephenson.
Alternatively, Jo Harris, project manager at CWT Meetings and Events believes that not much of the organiser’s budget goes on travel, as “there are plenty of low cost airlines flying across the UK.”
Taking your conference away from your regular stomping ground might seem like effort, but it takes them away while adding extra to their experience.
To Mildenstein, “It’s important to offer the unexpected, to enhance the event and to fulfil the delegates expectations in every way.” Alternative forms of transport, such as planes and trains, can make this happen.
Transport doesn’t have to be a restriction for organisers, it’s a matter of finding out the best travel discounts available while also accommodating delegates, and meeting hosts’ expectations, both at the conference and socially in the most effective and attractive way for them.