Association Business UK: Venue Finding - A range of options

Organisers now have many resources with which to source appropriate venues. Sharon Greaves outlines some of the most effective approaches.

Help in finding an appropriate venue can come from a number of sources.

Paper-based directories, Internet-based tools, industry trade shows and intermediaries such as professional organisers and venue-finding agencies all have valid roles to play.

To really get the inside track, testimonials and word-of-mouth recommendations are hard to beat. Unlike corporate event organisers who regularly hand over the business of sourcing an appropriate venue to an intermediary, association clients tend to operate on a more personal level.

Stoneleigh sales manager Judith Day explains: "These type of people frequently move around and cross over to other associations. Networking is very important, and through that they pick up personal recommendations. A member then recommends a venue armed with that knowledge.

"Trade shows have quite a tight remit and budget and there is no time to source a new venue, so again it comes back to personal recommendation," she adds.

Repeat events take the headache out of finding a new venue year in year out. The British Veterinary Nurses Association has returned to Stoneleigh on an annual basis for more than seven years, for example, and the British Beekeepers Association comes back every April.

Certainly, there are advantages to this approach. Venues come with knowledge - when an organiser has used a venue and is familiar with the infrastructure it is easier to go there again and pick up on the relationship that has already been built. But Bournemouth International Centre head of conferences, exhibitions and events Clive Tyers warns that every organiser needs to keep the event fresh or they run the risk of making it stale. They may also miss out on other excellent facilities available. He therefore advises a degree of rotation: "Make the conference programme attractive through a different environment and different themes."

To meet representatives from the venues face to face, trade shows such as The National Venue Show, held at the NEC Birmingham in September, plus International Confex at Earls Court, London in February prove effective venue showgrounds.

The National Venue Show attracts more than 300 venues from across the UK, while visitors and exhibitors can talk all year round through the show's interactive website that lists exhibitor details. This year, Confex drew 1,561 association visitors - a 97% increase on 2004. On-site research by CTS found that 75% of visitors questioned said it was likely they would make a purchase as a direct result of attending the show.

Convention bureaus are also willing to take some of the strain. Visit Manchester, for example, offers a free venue location service that has a 24-hour turnaround, together with an accommodation-booking service.

Alternatively, there are many directories and Internet search engines to narrow down the search. The Concerto Group operates www.venueseeker.co.uk, which has a database of more than 1,000 UK venues, and organisers can contact multiple venues with precise requirements at www.venues.org.uk.

On a more personal level there are venue-finding agencies, which receive commission from the venue in which they place a client. Concorde Services account director Sarah Fitzpatrick suggests: "Never work with more than one venue-finding agency at a time; playing one off against another is not good practice." Because they are effectively being paid by the venue, she adds: "You can use them to work for you to get exactly what you want, because if the business goes ahead they will receive high-level returns."

Of course there is more than just capacity to consider, cautions Meeting Point Conferences managing director Rachel Ley: "Organisers need to consider the total venue size and flexibility of the space. The most common advice we give to clients is to think about the true audience size. Look at the whole duration of the event and the space that is needed for an exhibition, catering and a reception, and look at the size of breakout rooms. Is there the possibility of having an exhibition of equal size to the plenary and is there a large foyer for registration?"

Value for money is a recurring theme. Organisers need to look at the bottom line figure and compare like with like on the pricing front when analysing shortlisted venues, and maybe hold the event in a shoulder month to receive greatly reduced rates.

Ultimately, location can make or break an event, particularly if the audience is inbound. And destination perception is important - there may be potential to get the convention bureau or regional tourist office involved.


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