It’s so alluring, to be the new kids on the block. The up and coming market, the disrupter, the future. It's maybe for this reason that the unique and unusual venue market is, in many circles, still seen as a ‘new’ force within the venues market.
To think this is to really kid ourselves, and actually do our sector down in terms of its wider contribution to the meetings and events industry. The fact is, that for over 10 years, this sector has been creating incremental growth for the events industry. Its ‘arrival’ is still happening, and new venues are constantly entering what is a diverse and exciting community. For our own part, Lime Venue Portfolio is now a £40m+ business with a portfolio of 90+ venues.
It’s for this reason though, that we should now reappraise our role within the venue landscape; we’ve arrived, we’re here, and we make up a significant part of the market; both in terms of its volume and its value. We’re no longer the cherry on top of the cake, we’re a massive slice of it.
In short, we’re mature. We’re all grown up and we now need to approach our sector’s influence in a different way. We can still be vibrant, dynamic, creative and disruptive but, in an industry that has evolved into every one of those things, we should no longer see ourselves as different.
To be mature is to establish a new role for the unique and unusual venue market. We’re now no longer following others but setting a new standard of our own. We’re no longer just providing incremental growth, but real market leadership. We are no longer a novelty, we are the norm. Our market has evolved where creative is the standard, and unique and unusual fits right within it.
This market report is a reflection of this maturity and one that Lime Venue Portfolio is delighted to lead on. It’s a chance to understand the impact of unusual venues in a vastly changing industry, and to understand its success and look towards its future.
We hope you enjoy it, but also that this starts a conversation within the venue community. One that shows our industry’s desire to create amazing experiences, in venues that genuinely inspire.
The Future of the Industry
The ‘UK Conference and Meeting Survey’ (UKCAMS) provides crucial market intelligence on the UK meetings, conference and business events sector. The research has been undertaken annually since 1993, and has established a high profile for the integrity and consistency of its findings.
Unusual or unique venues are a major contributor to the UKCAMS research programme, representing an estimated 33 per cent of the universe of 3,500 primary conference and meeting venues used as the basis for the research. Participating venues cover a broad spectrum of unusual venues, such as guildhalls, wineries, sporting stadia, zoos, ships, theatres, castles, racecourses, visitor attractions, museums, distilleries, and many more.
While, by definition, conferences and meetings are not the main business focus of unusual venues, they are nevertheless major players in the meetings sector, typically staging around 20 per cent of the estimated 1.34 million conferences and meetings taking place annually in the UK. They are second only to hotels in terms of their market share, a share which has remained remarkably consistent over the past five years.
Unusual venues are popular for corporate events, accounting for some 51 per cent of unusual venues’ business in 2013-2015, but are also well used by government and public sector bodies (30 per cent of their business) and associations (19 per cent). The average size of events hosted is 120 delegates, which means that unusual venues rank second only to purpose-built convention centres in attracting larger events.
So what is it that makes unusual venues stand out from the crowd? Well, an example from sporting venues may illustrate their particular strengths and appeal:
Nowadays, clients want to know the story and why the story of the venue will align with their brand. When a company sales director wants to motivate her/his team, they have to think very carefully about a venue that will motivate, inspire and encourage their team and that is where successful sporting venues come into their own. Unique venues can excel by being able to provide the little touches at no extra cost: views, pitch-side barbeques, sit-in-the-stand lunches, motivational speakers associated with the club, branded sweetie bags for the drive home. All can serve to make the event a memorable experience and one which is that more likely to achieve the ROI objectives that have been set for it.
This report is built around specific data found in the UK Conference and Meeting Survey, using its most recent report (July 2016), as well as previous historical data.
The UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS) seeks to:
- Measure the key characteristics of the UK business events and conference market from a venue perspective
- Provide the best possible estimates for volume and value aspects of the market
It is worth putting into context the findings found in this report by picking out some of the wider market trends taking place across the industry.
OF DIRECT EXPENDITURE GENERATED BY CONFERENCE AND MEETING DELEGATES
Business Event Days
Business Events in the UK
Estimated number of delegates, 2015
In 2015 there was an estimated £19.2bn of direct expenditure generated by conference and meeting delegates in venues and wider destination spend
In 2015 there were an estimated 1.34 million business events in the UK. This was up on 2014 and at its highest level since 2008
There was an average of 383 events per venue in 2015 – this was up on 2014 (366 events) and 2013 (356 events)
A third (33%) of events in 2015 were organised by a Professional conference organiser (PCO), event management or venue finding agency. This was on a par with 2014
The corporate sector accounted for over half of events (52%). The next most significant group was governmental and the public sector (31%) – up in 2015. Associations accounted for 17% of the market
There were an estimated 94.1 million delegates attending meetings and events in 2015, accounting for approximately 143.6 million business event days
The majority (61%) of events were held in hotels with a further 20% held in unusual / multi-purpose venues
IN 2017 ARE YOU MORE OR LESS LIKELY TO USE AN UNUSUAL VENUE THAN IN PREVIOUS YEARS?
WHEN ORGANISING AN EVENT, HOW IMPORTANT IS THE QUALITY OF THE FOOD?
DO YOU THINK THE UNUSUAL AND UNIQUE SECTOR IS NOW A MORE VIABLE OPTION FOR EVENT ORGANISERS?
AS AN EVENT ORGANISER, DO YOU BELIEVE UNUSUAL VENUES ENHANCE THE GUEST EXPERIENCE?
FOR WHAT TYPE OF EVENT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO CONSIDER AN UNUSUAL VENUE?
Of course everything is unique, no two things are exactly the same. At Lime Venue Portfolio, what we define as unique is something that stands apart from convention. Our portfolio is recognised for how different it is from ‘the norm’ - the classic purpose built conference centre or hotel group - regardless of how exceptional their standards are
Unique to us is something arresting, with individualism and personality, something outside of convention, defined by its difference. A place apart from others.
In our mind, the unusual is always a good thing. In a world of disruption, extra dynamic markets and creativity, we’re increasingly attracted to the unusual. Unusual is also rare, pleasantly surprising, and rewarding. Unusual is often unique and vice versa.
Every year millions of people come to the UK. We remain an enticing and enriching place to visit because of the depth of our culture, our history, our heritage and our country’s ability to surprise, - almost effortlessly - at every turn of every street corner; in villages, towns and cities across the country.
We’re a nation that celebrates our culture through museums and galleries, country houses and castles. There are globally identifiable icons everywhere. However, as a member of the UK’s events industry I take great pride in the ownership I feel for these icons; to many these are attractions, to me and the rest of the industry they are venues.
How lucky we are in Britain to have seen the opportunity so early to turn wonderful attractions, stadia and cultural experiences into hosts for our events. Every day and evening wonderful buildings are transformed and bought to life in a new and exciting way by creative event organisers. From weddings, to conferences, live experiences and exhibitions, to brand activations.
Not only does our industry show a new way for people to engage with these spaces, they also contribute to their upkeep and progression. They provide added income that can be reinvested into the legacy of these experiences.
For me the unique and unusual venue market has almost become one that we take for granted. It’s performed so well that we see it as part of the daily fabric of the UK events scene. I’m therefore delighted that this report gives it a little more credit, time and respect and allows us the chance to remind ourselves just how lucky we are to have these venues within our reach.
The UK competes for major international events every day. It’s an incredibly competitive market and one within which we need to be at our very best. For me, the unique and unusual venue market is part of our very strong armory to help us win these events. Because, for both delegate and planner, they remain a compelling reason to have an event in the UK.
Looking back to our foundation 23 years ago, it’s hard to believe that the unique and landmark venues sector would grow to become such a key player in a thriving meetings and events industry.
Now unusual and heritage spaces are as much in demand as purpose built spaces across the UK and are available for everything from board meetings to banquets. Corporate and private bookers can now access spaces which would have been unavailable a quarter of a century ago.
As pioneers within this niche, ever growing sector, we have had an unrivalled vantage point from which to view how much diversity exists within the UK’s venue mix. From royal palaces and stately homes to world-famous museums, galleries and performance stages; bookers are spoilt for choice with a huge variety of different period styles and architecture.
When we set out our original aims and objectives, a cornerstone of our vision was to unlock both well-known national treasures and hidden gems. From the grand and striking to the elegant and discreet, the unusual UK venues sector has unrivalled breadth and is certainly one of the most interesting in Europe, if not the world.
One of the strongest aspects of an unusual venue is the added value that they can offer bookers, often without any extra costs. With more and more corporate and private clients looking for not just a return on investment, but also a return on experience, unusual venues have the capacity to add a unique touch whether it’s a ceremonial display, a curated tour of a priceless collection of art and sculpture, or simply enjoying breathtaking interiors and landscaped parklands designed by history’s most-regarded designers.
Unusual buildings play an increasingly important role within the UK venue stock, with more interesting and original spaces opening every year across the country, bookers are being inspired by the variety on offer to them.
Lisa Hatswell, General Manager, Unique Venues of London
Unique Venues of London is a marketing consortium consisting of 86 unique venues all based in London
They don't care about events
Forget any misconceptions you have that unusual venues don’t really care about the events industry. After 10 years in the market, many unique venue businesses have sophisticated and innovative teams of event professionals working with event professionals every day. They hired to ensure the product and service is of the highest standards.
They are not event businesses
These businesses are also entirely recognized within the wider operation as fully formed and established businesses in their own right. They will often have their own P&L, HR strategy, investment plan and sales and marketing operation. They are real businesses and operate professionally
They are Often not Open
A common misconception! Of course there will be times when ‘the other’ business side disrupts, home matches at sporting stadia, consumer entry at museums and attractions etc. But this is not as frequent as one would think. The average premier league stadium will have at most 30 games on a Saturday every year, that’s another 330+ to play with. They are most certainly open for business
They are great for evening, not for day …
One of the big things that has happened to the unusual venue market is its diversification from parties and receptions to conferences and small meetings. The idea that delegates only need to be delighted in a relaxed occasion is long gone, event organisers want inspiration throughout the day
They don’t ‘do’ Food
Far from it and again indicative of a mature industry that understands its product. Many venues will have in built or recognized spaces for large catering and work closely with on-site teams to create outstanding menu’s for business events. It’s one of the reasons to come to a unique venue
Infrastructure isn’t there
Again, it’s often thought that just because the venue is not a conventional hotel or conference center, the operation has not thought about access for rigging and high production. The opposite is true! Most of these venues live everyday with high production values, you’ll be surprised by what is already in there, as well as what you can bring in
Access is a Problem
Again, quite the opposite, the very nature of most of these venues means that they are incredibly sharp on ensuring that delegates can get in and out swiftly and easily, regardless of motor ability or disability. This is, if anything, a very good reason to consider some unusual venues
Many of the UK’s iconic venues look amazing when they are lit up at night; their huge central rooms make spectacular event spaces allowing you to maximise their impressive backdrops to create real drama. As event organisers, it is important to make the most of this.
When working with these venues, time limitations are a major consideration especially if your event is to occur within a primary visitor area of the attraction; for example, an evening event in a museum will mean a tight turnaround from closure to the public to your guests’ arrival time. Check you can achieve everything that needs doing within time frame and make sure your catering and production partners are on their game. Also, a common mistake is asking guests to arrive too early. Invites requesting a 6.30pm arrival in a venue that does not close its doors to the public until 6pm means, on a rainy night in autumn, the space won’t be clear until 6.15pm and you will have a scarper on your hands.
Other things to consider include checking whether facilities like power and rigging are available, whether you can black out sections if need be and whether it is possible to move or cover bulky fixtures; for example, if a large registration desk is in the centre of a gallery space, consider how it might work within your event plan or whether it should be omitted entirely.
Engaging an event production company as early as possible will make your life easier. Iconic venues often require a lot of technical production to see them at their best; you won’t know just how much is needed until you have an experienced production partner working with you. After all, if you are holding an event in an iconic facility, it would be a shame not to unlock its full potential.
Specialising in design innovation and technical precision, Event Concept produces over 900 events per year and is an accredited production supplier to over 30 premium, grade-listed venues throughout London.
The unique and unusual venue market attracts a great deal of warmth from event professionals; why wouldn't it, it encompasses the UK's heritage, its culture and its hobbies. And, despite the fact that hotels and conference centres hold the volume, its this sector that holds the value, and that remains the promotional focal point for the country's meetings and events industry.
So maybe its time for this sector to grow in confidence, grown in stature and continue to grow its dominance within the events industry. Its no longer a 'nice to have', its now a 'must have'. Its no longer a plucky contributor, its an integral part of the venue landscape. Who knows where the industry would be without unique and unusual venues? They give new reasons to have events, they stimulate creative organisers, they sell the industry and they provide a contemporary image of it.
Great people are working within unique and unusual venues every day; important event professionals are commenting on them, and holding them up as examples of best practice, many are in this report.
At Lime Venue Portfolio we'll continue to play our role as one of the big supporters in this sector. This report is the just the begining and we'll continue to provide updates and more insights from senior commentators in this industry. Until then, please let us know your own thoughts; submit video, blogs, comments and opinions and we'll add them to the report and share them with our community.
New data is released later this year, so look out for more updates!Thanks for reading