The X Factor; independent venues USPs

Venue Representatives at the #CCMiniExpo

Conference Care is often asked who the largest venue group is that we work with. In fact the biggest group may surprise you – it is not a global hotel chain, but independent venues. Around 35 – 40% of our clients’ business each year takes place in these fantastic venues, from bars to castles, academic venues to boats, and part of maintaining our high standard of service is ensuring we stay up to date on what’s hot and what’s new.

One of the key factors to our success as a business is communicating openly and working in partnership with venues, so in 2012, we started a series of mini expos specifically to connect and build relationships with key independent venues. Events were so beneficial to both our team and the venues who attended (and of course subsequently our clients!) that a programme of events now take place every year.

This week’s expo began (after the all-important cup of coffee) with a brief overview of the company’s history by Director Andrew Deakin followed by an open and honest Q&A session. One of the recurring points which came up during the discussion was how venues can stand out when working with a venue finding agency; in a competitive market what is it that gives them the X Factor when responding to an enquiry? Team Manager Jayne Turnor said that it’s always important to highlight at the start what really sets you apart from the crowd; the trend to seek something innovative, unusual and unique continues – unless we know a venue’s unique selling points we can’t share them with the client!

With that in mind, here is a snapshot of things you might not know about the venues who attended this week…

 

University Arms, Cambridge

The oldest hotel in Cambridge is currently undergoing building work to transform the University Arms Hotel. The work is led by John Simpson, a world leading architect whose previous projects include Buckingham and Kensington Palace! The venue will reopen in 2018…

Trinity Park

Set in 350 acres of parkland, Trinity Park is a unique, purpose built conference and events venue. Home to the Suffolk Agricultural Association, not only does Trinity Park host the Suffolk Show each year, but all profits from their commercial activities are ploughed back into supporting the Association’s charitable programme.

Oxford Abingdon Hotel

This venue is currently undergoing a 12 million pound refurbishment programme. Due for completion by October 2018 it promises to make the hotel one of the most modern hotels in Oxfordshire, it will reopen as the Hilton Garden Inn Abingdon Oxford.

Ellenborough Park

Ellenborough Park is the only five star hotel in Gloucestershire. Set in 90 acres of land it is a historic hotel with meeting facilities for up to 120 delegates; an indulgent 15th century country estate which has evolved into a 21st century retreat.

Revolution Bars

The Revolution Bars group has over 70 venues across the UK with five new openings this year. Every venue is different with the majority being listed buildings such as churches, post offices and banks.

The Caledonian Club

This private members club brings a little bit of Scotland into the heart of London. Adjacent to Hyde Park corner, the club offers an amazing array of malts, stocking a selection of over 80 whiskeys.

Deer Park Country House Hotel

Set in 80 acres of grounds is this 18th Century Georgian mansion. A micro cider producer, they also have a gin distillery, a tree house and can even pick you up from the station in one of their eight classic cars…

Cameron House

A beautiful five star resort set on the banks of stunning Loch Lomond, Cameron House not only offers spectacular views, but also has its very own sea plane and cruiser!

The SSE SWALEC

Famous for hosting some of cricket’s most prestigious events, their true strength lies beyond the boundary; here you are guaranteed a truly warm welsh welcome…

Conference Aston

Birmingham’s largest residential Conference Centre, Conference Aston has 163 bedrooms and 27 conference spaces. It is also home to a fantastic sports centre complete with Birmingham’s oldest working swimming pool, beautifully set in original Victorian features.

KCOM Stadium

Home to Hull City & Hull FC this venue has been part of Hull’s City of Culture celebrations this year. The stadium offers free tours of the venue as part of meeting packages over 20 delegates and you can even utilise their changing rooms as a meeting space.

Harbour Hotels

A collection of contemporary southern hotels, each hotel features award-winning restaurant concepts, the ‘Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant’ and ‘The Jetty’. The Southampton Harbour Hotel is a stunning contemporary hotel with a striking super-yacht design and rooftop destination bar.

Countrywide Hotels

A diverse portfolio of individual venues in key locations across the UK, the group includes Victoria Warehouse; a historic, flexible and completely unique space perfect for corporate events with an industrial urban edge.

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For more information on these or any other venues do feel free to give our expert team a call on 02476 369720 or email us sales@conferencecare.com.

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QA with a PA; The Conference Care Way

Name: Fiona Macpherson

Job Title: PA to Marketing & Digital Director

Company: VisitScotland

 

1.      What type of meetings or events do you get involved with as part of your role?

I work within the Marketing and Digital Directorate at VisitScotland which comprises around 130 people, and my role involves organising a number of different events. We regularly hold “Away Days” to ensure team cross-collaboration on our projects which helps us to refocus on priorities and reconnect with each other. I also arrange ad hoc meetings, private dinners, and assist with events for our Marketing Academy which includes sourcing venues, and organising speakers, catering and transportation.

 

2.      What top 3 things are most important to you and VisitScotland when arranging a meeting or event and why?

When choosing a venue it is important that it is of the right calibre. Being in the public sector we do have to be smart when it comes to budget, but of course that doesn’t mean we are willing to compromise on quality or health and safety. Easy access by public transport, plenty of car parking and a good in-house support team at the venue is essential for any event. Good quality catering is also hugely important – it always seems to be the one thing everyone remembers!

 

3.      What do you look for in a venue, do you have any particular favourites?

We tend to choose venues which match the event’s purpose, and being in the marketing department, we’re always open to trying something a little different to energise our events. Ultimately we like something light, bright and airy to inspire our delegates and encourage positivity and engagement. Once we’ve made our selection, having event staff and particularly an AV technician on hand on the day is helpful too for those last minute changes or potential hitches with presentations. We recently held an event at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh after Conference Care helped us with our initial search and negotiations, and their events team were very helpful, enthusiastic and supportive.

 

4.      What are the biggest challenges for you when organising meetings or events?

I would say time is one of the biggest challenges. PAs handle many tasks simultaneously, and organising an event on top of your day to day routine can really have an impact on your workload. I was asked to organise a large event shortly after joining VisitScotland, and I was very conscious that I needed to make a good first impression, so the pressure was on! Luckily I picked up the phone to Conference Care and within 24 hours I had a comprehensive list of venues to choose from that were perfect, available and in budget.

 

5.      Do you find you plan events well in advance or do you find yourself dealing with last minute requests?

Events tend to be planned fairly well in advance but of course nothing is set in stone; PAs always expect the unexpected which is why having Conference Care on speed dial is essential!

 

6.      How did you find out about Conference Care’s venue finding services?

I met Pauline Beattie, Conference Care’s Head of Sales – Scotland, at an Edinburgh PA Networking Group event a couple of years ago.  It struck me how personable and knowledgeable she was, and I could see myself easily working with her. Then one of my colleagues at VisitScotland recommended Conference Care’s services to me after having used them herself, so I decided to find Pauline’s business card and email for advice. Their support throughout the whole process saved me so much time and a considerable amount of stress.

 

7.      Having had the experience of Conference Care, what really made the difference to you when working with us?

What really stood out for me was the standard of service, high level of experience and great communication from everyone I came into contact with at Conference Care; I was able to draw from their extensive knowledge and had total confidence my event was in safe hands. They took care of everything, providing me with a fantastic selection of venues, negotiating rates, adding value and accompanying me on site visits and assisting with negotiation of venue contracts. The follow up support after the event was also invaluable.

 

8.      Would you recommend Conference Care to your peers? How would you describe the benefits or working with us to others?

Yes I would definitely recommend Conference Care’s services – in fact I already have! As a PA, building personal relationships is a very important part of your role. Working with Conference Care was just so easy, everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful; they almost felt like an extension of our VisitScotland family. If you have a last minute request, need a venue, want to save time and money and want a hassle free, zero cost venue finding service then give Conference Care a call!

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For more information on VisitScotland see www.visitscotland.org

Call our expert team for your next event on 02476 369720.

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Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside; Seven Super Seaside Destinations

Stripy deckchairs, bustling piers and colourful carousels – we can all conjure a vibrant image of the great British seaside, even if we can’t always picture the sun! It’s part of our heritage and culture as much as newspaper wrapped fish and chips. However from an event planners’ perspective seaside resorts have become more associated with leisure and family holidays in recent years, with the big cities overtaking towns such as Blackpool or Brighton as the go-to locations for conference and events.

Whilst a big city undoubtedly has a number of selling points, these ‘traditional’ conference destinations have plenty to offer the discerning event planner; flexibility in rates, free parking, breath-taking scenery and a more leisure orientated feel – we’ve hand-picked seven seaside destinations just for you…

  1. Eastbourne, East Sussex

Gateway to the new South Downs National Park and home of Beachy Head, a filming location famous for being used in Hollywood blockbusters such as Harry Potter, James Bond and TV series including Luther, Eastbourne’s seafront consists largely of Victorian era hotels, a pier and a Napoleonic fort and military museum. The Grand Hotel is the most luxurious hotel here, indeed it’s billed as a ‘Palace by the Sea’, but we rather like The View Hotel, which offers a purpose built conference and events centre, and also provides activities such as a BBQ with stunning pier views or a treasure hunt on the beach to complement your event.

2. Brighton, Sussex

Approximately 20 miles west of Eastbourne, Brighton is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city. Home to the annual Pride parade it is kitsch, cool and fun with a good mix of traditional and modern venues. The Grand Brighton is one of the landmark destinations on Brighton’s famous seafront and is currently undergoing a restoration project, due to be completed in Autumn 2017, which will see the beautiful Victorian building restored to its former glory. The Jury’s Inn Brighton Waterfront is just minutes from the pier, has 210 stylish and comfortable rooms, and has a lovely high glass ceiling in the Atrium Bar and Lounge.

King Deluxe Room, Grand Brighton

  1. Blackpool, Lancashire

According to Visit Blackpool, over the last five years Blackpool has been the beneficiary of more than £400m worth of investment in regeneration projects – and by 2020 that figure will have risen to over £500m. The Pleasure Beach, Blackpool Tower (home to the Skywalk if you’re feeling brave) and the famous illuminations, this resort on the Irish Sea is renowned for the sheer volume of B&Bs and hotels to choose from. A state of the art conference and exhibition centre is being built at the Winter Gardens Blackpool. Due to open in Spring 2019 the space will be based at the Leopold Grove side of the complex and will have a double height entrance foyer, with exhibition space on the first floor. Already popular for its crystal domes, theatres, gardens, fountains and promenades this will bring the venue’s capacity for conferences up to 7000!

  1. Skegness, Lincolnshire

Skegness, or ‘Skegvegas’ is home to one of three Butlins resorts, is where Butlins began in 1936, and is the biggest resort of the three with capacity for any team from 10 to 7,000. A short hop for Midlands businesses (two hours from Nottingham), the venue offers charming New England-style accommodation and conference facilities which can be hired out exclusively at certain times of the year. Whether you are planning a board meeting for a dozen people, or a product launch for thousands, the resort has onsite team building activities from treasure hunts and fairground challenges to high adventures. Butlins is a great option for a one stop shop that’s full of energy and fun.

  1. Bournemouth, Dorset

The jewel of Britain’s South Coast, Bournemouth is a vibrant and colourful resort with miles of sandy beaches and panoramic views of the coastline; majestic period hotels perching on the cliff tops overlooking the sea have become synonymous with Bournemouth. The Highcliff Marriott Hotel is a typical example with panoramic views over Bournemouth Bay to inspire vision and help drive creativity. The Dorchester Suite can host up to 350 people, or if you need more space the Bournemouth International Centre is conveniently adjacent and has a range of meetings spaces up to 3,700 theatre-style in Windsor Hall. A little further out The Sandbanks Hotel is situated on the glorious Sandbanks beach and offers six versatile suites with Sea or Harbour views.

Sandbanks Terrace

  1. St Andrews, Scotland

St Andrews is a place of history, learning and culture and is a wonderful coastal resort. Known for its many golf courses, including the Old Course, with the landmark Swilcan Bridge at the 18th hole, there is also the ruins of St. Andrews Castle, with its medieval bottle dungeon and of course the University of St. Andrews. The five star Old Course Hotel overlooks the famous links courses, the West Sands Beach and the beautiful Scottish coastline and boasts 144 rooms, 35 suites and a variety of meetings spaces from the cosy Captains Room to the Hall of Champions. Alternatively Hotel du Vin & Bistro St Andrews has been lovingly transformed into a stylish, boutique hotel, has lots of nooks and crannies in which delegates can take time out and is the perfect base from which to explore the old town’s historic buildings and medieval streets.

  1. Lake Windermere , Cumbria

Ok – so it’s not technically the seaside, but we think it’s worth an honourable mention. Lake Windermere in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park, is the largest natural lake in England surrounded by mountain peaks and villages. Bowness-on-Windermere, Lakeland’s most popular holiday resort, is an excellent centre for boating activities, is home to The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction and a large selection of Adventure Activity companies. Our top pick is The Belsfield Hotel, which sits on the Eastern shore in the picturesque village of Bowness. Set in six acres of landscaped gardens this boutique hotel offers unparalleled views over Lake Windermere and has 62 designer bedrooms, an award winning restaurant and six stylish conference suites which can accommodate up to 120.

Belsfield Hotel, Lake Windermere

There’s more to Britain’s seaside destinations than buckets and spades! If you would like more information about the venues we have mentioned, or would like to explore these destinations further for your next event please do get in touch with our expert team on sales@conferencecare.com or 02476 369720 – we’re here to help!

 

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The secret to successful site visits…

Noun1. site visit – a visit in an official capacity to examine a site to determine its suitability for some enterprise.

A site visit or inspection, is an often undervalued part of the decision making process when choosing a venue for your event. Once you have nailed down the requirements, and shortlisted potential venues, the next step is an accompanied site inspection – but why are they important, and how can you ensure you are really getting the most out of them?!

Site visits are an opportunity for you to get a look and feel of how your event will run; from venue suitability and their unique selling points, to the space proposed, location and accessibility. Whilst personal recommendations, online research and past experience assist, nothing beats actually standing in the space you want to use and experiencing it first-hand. A conference room that looks bright and airy might in fact be much smaller than it appears, a venue that’s tucked away in the countryside might be too tricky to get to for your delegates – a site visit is the perfect opportunity to ‘try before you buy’.

So, you’ve got your options (carefully and creatively sourced by Conference Care of course). You’ve narrowed down your shortlist and are now going to spend some of your precious time having a look – what does a perfect site visit really entail? We asked some of our experts what they look for when accompanying clients to potential venues:

Cover the three C’s…

Capacity, Cancellation and Catering are all high on the agenda for Head of Operations Louise Harwood. Capacity is all about the venue being the right size for your event; however, we don’t mean just maximum numbers. Does the space suit the event or are there logistical challenges to overcome?! Can the venue comfortably manage the delegate numbers or will your event be competing with or overshadowed by another client’s requirements?

Cancellation

Terms and Conditions or the small print can be a minefield to negotiate for events. Most events are moveable feasts; delegate numbers go up and down and you want to be able to manage your budget effectively. Visiting a venue is a perfect opportunity to discuss these terms face to face, share what works for you to secure more favourable terms.

Catering

Food has a lasting impact on you wherever you go and this element can really make or break an event. If a venue can offer you Lunch or refreshments during a site visit you can not only sample their produce but also experience the service provided, so you know the standard to expect. For large events and Dinners a ‘menu tasting’ visit is highly recommended!

Don’t forget the AV

New Business Manager Scotland, Gary Hutton advises that Audio Visual is an important factor to explore on a site visit; a room can look very different with a full back projection set and stage than it does when it is set up for a dinner or an empty space – seeing them in situ will really help you get a grasp of how it will work.

Timing is key

It might sound obvious but ensure you allow plenty of time for your visits; you’re unlikely to take everything in if you are rushing to get there. When booking in a visit our Events Consultants check accessibility, motorway links, car parking facilities and the nearest train station/airport before you go. This not only helps you plan on the day, but also provides useful information for your future delegates. They will ensure the visit takes place on a day you can actually view the space you’ve been quoted for – very little point in viewing something you can’t have or is in use by another client. Our Account Managers prepare a checklist, so that you can compare like for like post site visit.

Check out the facilities

Details such as: are there sufficient and accessible toilets? Do they have a secure cloakroom? What are the proposed staffing levels for the event? These are detailed questions you can ask when onsite.  Account Development Manager, Nicola Webb says these elements can be over-looked but can be pivotal to whether your event runs smoothly. The devil is in the detail – look closely at the standard of cleanliness, clarity of signage, standard of soft furnishings and listen carefully for noise.

Future proof your event

Nicola also reminds us that some venue visits will take place well in advance (in some cases several years) of the actual event taking place! If this is the case conducting a site visit can help you look into the future, you can ask details about any refurbishments or building works that are scheduled to ensure they won’t adversely affect your event. This is relevant to where the venue is situated too – is it in a development area? Are there major road works planned?

Ultimately a successful site visit will help you choose the right venue for your event. Conference Care have conducted many a site visit in our time, so if you need help with this or any other aspect of your event do get in touch with the team on  02476 369720 or email us – our experts will support each element of your event from planning to payment!

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Birmingham Conference Venues; Five Smart City Centre Choices

Birmingham, or ‘Brum’ as it is affectionately known, is the second largest city in the UK attracting 34 million visitors a year. An hour and 25 minutes from London and home to the UK’s third largest airport, Birmingham can be reached by 90% of the UK population within four hours – ‘the’ central destination.

Europe’s youngest major city is an eclectic mix of contrasts between old and new, and its event venues reflect the variety of culture. With more miles of canals than Venice, sleek modern developments like The Cube reside alongside restored industrial heritage buildings, Michelin-starred Restaurants draw as many visitors as the city’s famous Balti Triangle, and live events, festivals and a stylish shopping centre make Birmingham an attractive location.

Just like its culture, Birmingham’s venues are many and varied; it can be hard to know where to begin when searching for the perfect venue for your event! One of our expert Event Consultants, Sally McNamara, spent the day recently visiting some of Birmingham’s conference venues, and shared with us her experience…

  1. Austin Court

This waterside meeting and conference venue is located just behind the International Conference Centre, in the heart of the city centre. You might be forgiven for thinking it is a standard conference centre but on visiting you will see it has some really interesting space. Austin Court has a courtyard, a tiered lecture theatre and the waterside, which is really lovely area that can be used for catering, exhibitions, drinks receptions and launches. The glass panelled frontage lets in streams of light and the upstairs function spaces have wooden beams and arches, which inject some welcome character.

Austin Court

  1. Canalside

Hotel Indigo, Marco Pierre White’s and now Canalside, a brand new function space, are all located at The Cube; three venues in one! Canalside is large contemporary room with a small Restaurant which can be used for breakout space if required. It is a blank canvas space which leads directly out onto patio, canal and an outdoor terrace which is particularly lovely in the summer months. If you want to combine venues for your event Marco Pierre Whites has three private dining rooms at the top of the Cube with stunning views of the skyline, and if you require accommodation you can utilise Hotel Indigo’s 52 bedrooms.

Canalside Birmingham

  1. Crowne Plaza Birmingham City Centre

Close to Broad Street, Paradise Circus and walking distance from central Birmingham train stations this hotel is finished to a good standard. The largest meeting space can take up to 300 guests and all of the meeting space is on one dedicated floor, which is ideal if you need lots of small breakout areas.  Depending on your event’s programme this floor works really well for a variety of breakout or catering spaces and there is also a private dining room at the rear of the Restaurant which is a great alternative for Dinner if you are using the largest room for your event during the day.

Crowne Plaza Birmingham City Centre

  1. Birmingham Conference and Events Centre (BCEC)

The Birmingham Conference and Events Centre located next door to the Holiday Inn is huge with a maximum capacity for events of 1000 people. The venue has undergone a massive refurbishment and its largest function room has a pre-function area with two bars. On the ground floor the 25 meeting rooms are very modern and sleek, with glass panels and high tech facilities. There are good breakout areas which can be utilised for add-on meetings or catering – a mix of versatile event spaces ideal for conferences, exhibitions, board meetings, private parties, networking and special events.

Birmingham Conference and Events Centre (BCEC)

  1. Hotel LaTour

A short walk from the landmark Bullring Shopping Centre this modern hotel is a stone’s throw away from attractions such as the Thinktank, Custard Factory, Sea Life Centre, Cadbury World and Birmingham’s International Conference Centre in a re-development of the city. The hotel has 174 luxurious bedrooms and the sophisticated Auden Rooms conference and events floor is designed with comfort and practicality in mind. The modern surroundings ensure delegates can just turn up, plug in and get going with nine separate conference and meeting spaces to choose from, as well as a roof terrace and private dining room. A sleek and stylish option!

Hotel LaTour

Of course we haven’t mentioned Birmingham’s really large event spaces such as the National Exhibition Centre or the International Conference Centre, nor have we covered the more bijoux and unusual venues that Birmingham has to offer – of which there are many! If you have the job of finding a venue in Birmingham for your next event, do give us a call on 02476 369720 or email us. With such a variety to choose from we can help you navigate your way through the options and find the perfect venue in ‘Brum’!

 

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