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Back in February, we reported on a growing rival to hotel’s success in generating conference and meetings business – the custom-designed business meetings space, run by companies like MWB Business Exchange, which manages 240 in the UK. At a time when hotels were reported to account for 66% of the conference and meetings bookings market, MWB’s chief executive John Spencer revealed his business had more than tripled its turnover in three years, from £3.1 million in 2004 to a projected £10 million in 2007.
“Essentially,” says Spencer, “we discovered that there was a big need for dedicated B2B meeting space which was purely business oriented. Many companies find they get a lot of distraction in a traditional hotel-based conference or meeting setting as these environments are necessarily geared to a wider audience. What we offer is business meetings in a business environment: basically meetings without the distractions.”
Growth despite competition
So six months on, is hotels’ events business still on the up and have they noticed any effects of growing competition from the likes of MWB? “Conference event enquiries in 2007 have increased in comparison to 2006, however, the lead times and sizes of events have decreased,” says Sean Wooden, director of business development at the Hilton Brighton Metropole. In Scotland, both Gleneagles and Edinburgh’s the Town House Company tell a similar story, also reporting that more and more people are coming back once they’ve used their facilities.
“Although conference and event business has grown steadily, more importantly, we are seeing a much higher rate of repeat business,” says Stuart Smith, director of events and leisure at Gleneagles. “Most recently this has been around 66%.”
The Town House Company’s sales and marketing manager Fiona Straus is just as positive. “We have always operated at high occupancy levels for all of our meeting space,” she says, “and we certainly have high levels of repeat business. Also, Edinburgh is a very popular destination for conferences and we have found new and varied events requests keep coming in.” (For further information, please see "Edinburgh venues":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/edinburgh_scotland_venues.asp)
The larger hotel groups also appear to still be enjoying success in the events market. “Association and agents business has been steadily growing,” report QHotels. While De Vere Venues’ marketing director Nick Read confirms: “We have enjoyed and increase in events business.”
Taking the threat seriously
All these comments suggest that hotels have yet to be hit by their custom-designed meeting space rivals, although they are not complacent.
“We feel that there will be some impact. However, we do believe that we will maintain our market position due to a combination of factors including the strength of our brand name,” says Wooden. “An extensive range of added services and benefits that are linked in with our brand, such as Hilton HHonours, Hilton Meetings and Hilton Connections, which others will find it difficult to better.”
Meanwhile, Smith believes the top-end of the hotel market, including resorts like Gleneagles, will be hurt the least. “I believe that although there is some cross-over, for the five star market, it will not affect us considerably,” he says. “The ability to offer the complete package of meeting venue, accommodation, catering and leisure will appeal to certain clients who are looking for that total experience. We have no specific strategies in place to compete with purpose-built meeting spaces, but we will continue to look at our client base and ensure that we are constantly offering a product that exceeds their expectations.”
There are also those, like QHotels, that welcome the competition. “If the quality of purpose-built venues are good then this raises the game across the whole meetings and events industry. which is always healthy,” says Xxxxxxx. “However, while we offer more than just a training room, we have developed many of our own properties by adding purpose-built conference centres on site. We are proud of the quality of our products and services throughout the group and believe that there is no comparison as we are able to offer greater choice and luxury than any purpose-built meeting space. To make sure we continue to compete, our current strategy is to raise the profile of QHotels by promoting a selection of the high-quality facilities we are able to offer our customers throughout all our 22 UK properties.”
If you can't beat 'em…
Perhaps the future is the route that De Vere Venues has taken: running hotels offering events facilities as well as managing separate custom-designed meetings spaces. “Our portfolio ranges from stunning properties like The Mill & Old Swan in the Cotswold countryside that incorporates beautiful grounds and comfortable rooms with state-of-the-art training facilities, right through to our newly launched non-residential meeting spaces in Holborn Bars and West One, both in the heart of London,” explains Read. “As such, we cater for every type of business event, from small, intimate meetings and specialist training courses through to the largest and most lavish business events.” (Related categories of interest see "Business Meeting Venues":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/business_meeting_venues.asp also "Meeting Rooms":http://www.venues.org.uk/searches/meeting_rooms_venues.asp.)