Festive outlook for Christmas party sales

Last Christmas was a tough time for venue sales teams. The potentially very lucrative autumn/winter period coincided with the beginning of the recession and many businesses reacted quickly and dramatically, cancelling their parties and corporate events.

A year on and we are still in a downturn, but increasingly positive forecasts are emerging, suggesting that we could rise out of the recession within months.

So how are sales staff faring now as they try to fill up their party space for the coming festive season? We spoke to Ramada Jarvis' director of hotel sales, Joanna Fisher, to find out what the outlook is for Christmas party markets this year.

"It was a slower start earlier on, with people not necessarily thinking about it as early, especially private parties," she revealed.

"However, having looked at our results recently, we've seen that pace pick up and it's back in line, if not a little ahead of last year."

Re-bookings were down this year, as businesses and private groups were not keen to commit money 12 months in advance in such an uncertain climate.

Ms Fisher's view is that bookings are picking up again this year and she believes that there are various possible reasons for this.

"It could be an improvement in confidence in consumers," she suggested, speculating that media reports of economic recovery are helping to buoy businesses.

"Last year, everything was so doom and gloom and as the recession gathered speed towards the end of the year, companies were having to cancel bookings when it was seen as not necessary, not business critical to do.

"What I think we need to be careful of in the industry is not creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we report that things are bad then that knocks confidence and certainly we haven't seen a big decline in interest for Christmas," she continued.

The other possibility is that companies are now looking to give a little back to their hard-working employees.

"That's the big thing I'm banking on," she said. "I think big redundancies have been seen the worst phase and companies have been making savings differently this year, not replacing people, generally scaling back on everything.

"Whatever company you're in, to be a success you've got to keep people motivated and if they didn't have a party last year, then this is a great opportunity to say thank you to people," she added.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ms Fisher reported that there have not been lots of big deals and offers on the market. Venues have instead focused on keeping pricing realistic and adding value to their events packages, with Ramada Jarvis offering a bundle deal where clients can get a discounted party when booking their end-of-year meeting.

"What I have seen is an increase in online promotion of Christmas," she revealed, with third parties looking to use the festive season to add to their revenue streams.

The company is also working on its own web presence in promoting the festive season, training staff to deal with online enquiry handling.

All in all, Ms Fisher is pretty optimistic for the Christmas season. She anticipates a flurry of bookings as people that may have held off organising their event until closer to the time suddenly decide to get into the festive spirit.

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