CORPORATE HOSPITALITY: A day to remember - There are a wealth of possibilities for corporate hospitality but should it be a competitive event or would a more relaxing day out be in order? Philip Chadwick considers the options

People looking to arrange a spot of corporate hospitality are spoilt for choice. With so many options available, companies should ask themselves if they really want their staff charging around a racetrack like Michael Schumacher, or whether a more relaxed day of wine tasting would be in order.

People looking to arrange a spot of corporate hospitality are spoilt for choice. With so many options available, companies should ask themselves if they really want their staff charging around a racetrack like Michael Schumacher, or whether a more relaxed day of wine tasting would be in order.

'I think it is part of the human spirit to be competitive,' says Mask Entertainments managing director Arthur Somerset. 'People tend to lower their guard on corporate hospitality activities.'

As well as organising parties, Mask also deals with corporate hospitality and goes to great lengths to discover exactly what its client wants. 'We send out questionnaires to the client to find out what their staff are like,' he adds.

It's important to get the right kind of crowd. A paintballing day could be marred if people turned up without the competitive and energetic enthusiasm required. But would the same fighting spirit be welcome at a wine tasting event?



Competitive spin

'We find that it is better if you can put a competitive spin on the event and then everyone can be involved,' says Taste of the Vine operations director Pam March.

Most of Taste of the Vine's corporate hospitality involves team-building of some form. The company offers treasure hunts and tasting events for wine, champagne and whisky. Competitions take the form of guests being seated around tables.

'Our emphasis is on having fun with wine,' adds March. 'Our clients are extremely happy with the way our events are run. Everything we have done works well as it is a tried and tested format.'

For outdoor activities, the biggest worry is the weather. You also need to be clear on what the activity is.

'You need to plan about three months in advance and tell guests at least six weeks before,' says Elegant Days managing director Eddie Hoare. 'Things can also go wrong if correct information is not given. For example, you don't want guests turning up for a day in the country wearing stilettos, a tight skirt or a business suit.'

For an active day out, driving is definitely the in thing. 'Clients want anything 52E with wheels,' says Hoare. Donnington Park in Derbyshire has qualified instructors and offers plenty of activity-based corporate hospitality.

'People can drive a Lotus, single-seater or Peugeot around the circuit,' says Donnington Park Leisure corporate sales manager Julia Bates. 'You can be driven around in a high-speed ride, try skid control or cones precision driving in the paddock area, or drive the four-by-four course. We're very flexible.'

But the non adrenaline-pumping part of Donnington attracts just as much interest. With 150 hospitality suites, race events can pull in the corporate hospitality crowds.

When the World Superbike championship turned up at the circuit in October, corporate boxes bulged with guests enjoying a three-course lunch and all-day bar. On top of that guests were able to walk around the paddock and pits, sit in the grandstand for the races and go to a question and answer session with the riders.

The venue also played host to the Jordan Formula One team when it celebrated its tenth anniversary.

'The day had all the cars over the past ten years,' says Bates. 'The current drivers were there and Eddie Jordan gave a press conference. At the end of the day there was a big concert which included top boy band Westlife.'

Organising corporate hospitality isn't just about finding out who is and isn't active. Hospitalityweb.com is often asked to devise a suitable event.

'We find out about the staff ratio and ask about age and gender,' says the company's development manager Lloyd Fenton. 'We also find out what type of budget the client is on. Then we do some research and go back with a few ideas.'

Organising corporate hospitality means planning for every eventuality but something unforeseen can occasionally spring a nasty shock as Fenton recalls.

'We had some clients travelling back from a rugby match when the train we were on suffered a power cut,' he says. 'But we had a direct line to the train company and we could tell the guests exactly when we would be moving again.

'The most important thing to do if something ever goes wrong is to keep guests informed at all times. Make sure that they know what is happening.'

However, sometimes clients can't help but suggest an activity that is clearly going to end in tears.

'There are times when we have to curb clients' ambitious ideas,' says Julie Page, head of logistics at Line-up Communications. 'One corporate hospitality company set up an activity involving staff walking over hot coals. Most participants ended up in hospital with burnt feet.'



ACTION STATIONS

- Anything involving driving is extremely popular. Off-road driving around a pre-set course could improve driving skills. Alternatively, tank driving could let out some pent-up aggression

- Sailing is starting to catch on with some companies offering a treasure hunt

- Try a country pursuits day. Activities range from clay pigeon shooting to rounding up sheep

- Make sure the event is not too ambitious for staff. You don't want people ending up in casualty



A DAY OF REST

- For people wanting to take things easy a corporate box at a top sporting occasion could be the answer. Popular events range from the British Grand Prix to the Henley regatta and Wimbledon

- Wine tasting provides a good day out and can be as relaxing or competitive as you like

- Events at five-star restaurants or private castles are a popular option and are all designed to be as relaxed as possible

- Golf isn't too active and a round on the links gives people plenty of time to talk business between shots.




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