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Ascot reels in business from race-goers and moviemakers


Sep 17, 2009 | Editors

Ascot is probably best known for Royal Ascot, the world-famous race meeting steeped in tradition, heritage and pageantry. The Racecourse welcomes approximately 300,000 race-goers over the five days, including Her Majesty the Queen, but the events venue has also seen an entirely different set of visitors recently as it has become a location for film and photography shoots

Located just four miles away from Pinewood Studios, the third biggest film studio in the world, Ascot has emerged as an ideal setting for Hollywood moviemakers.

Gary England, sales and marketing director at Ascot Racecourse, revealed that the venue has been successfully promoted as an alternative filming location. With the likes of James Bond, the Harry Potter series and Russell Crowe's latest movie, Robin Hood, being shot at Pinewood it is an intriguing prospect.

In terms of its more regular business, Mr England said that the racecourse saw flat attendances at the world-famous Royal Ascot this year, which will be seen as a good result with the event falling in the midst of recession. In fact, it enjoyed record audiences on Saturday 20th June.

"From a private boxes and hospitality perspective, we saw a 12.5 per cent decline and that was entirely from the corporate financial sector, which I guess is to be expected," he added.

Meanwhile, the racecourse's non-race day conference and banqueting business experienced a decline in average spend per head and a fall of between 12 and 15 per cent in the number of events taking place.

The good news for Ascot is that the business has continued to see an increase in enquiries since the end of April.

"There is still business out there but the lead time is incredibly short and corporate companies are looking for venues to be very competitive on rates," he explained.

Mr England said that Ascot remains a sought-after venue for corporate firms, which are continuing to outsource events to agents, so one of the strategies his team has been working on is developing relationships with production companies, as well as adding value and improving direct dealings with clients.

"We've had a big effort focusing on our local corporate market - Bracknell, Slough and business along M4 corridor within a ten mile radius of Ascot - that's proved beneficial to us," he added.

The distinctive status of Ascot Racecourse as sporting stadium and conference venue has also helped it to survive the recession.

"We are lucky in that a lot of corporate companies are also box holders, so we have a relationship with these companies which extends beyond their conference and meeting requirements," Mr England explained.

"They possibly have a greater loyalty to ascot than they would to a hotel or conference venue, where they use it purely for that sector of their business."

Another area of success for the racecourse has been the re-use of the temporary infrastructure built for Royal Ascot. The facilities are available to hire for private parties until the end of July.

"It tends to be a very popular venue for summer parties because it's a quintessentially English venue," Mr England explained.

"Many companies like the idea of having a summer party but they can't afford the infrastructure of building a marquee for one night so it's a great opportunity for them to be able to use a luxury marquee where it doesn't cost them any more than the room hire and the hotel would."

Ascot has also been developing its online presence, working with online partners to offer special rates or added value, which Mr England said has "really paid dividends".

The sales team has been more rigorous in the way it deals with in-bound enquiries so as to better understand their clients' objectives and the kind of budgets they are working to so that they can overcome any objections a customer might have.

"We have also done quite a lot of familiarisation and educational trips with the local corporate market and we are continuing to work with key business groups in the local area," Mr England.

The idea is to showcase Ascot to a wider audience, such as the Windsor and Thames Valley Chambers of Commerce.
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