Hospitality: Packages to make pulses race

Steve Hemsley tracks down the corporate hospitality venues that pride themselves on being more thrilling than the industry norm.

ALTON TOWERS

For companies keen to mix a bit of business with pleasure and love the fun of the fair, Alton Towers is one venue which will shake clients out of their usual routine.

The Staffordshire theme park has been slowly building up the corporate side of its business in recent years and for 2005 it has refurbished its hospitality suite in the centre of the park. In addition The Ruins area of the park, surrounded by landscaped gardens, is available as a hospitality venue for the first time.

A company's clients can take their families along for the day and join them in the theme park when business has finished. For daring guests there is a new rollercoaster called Rita - Queen of Speed which delivers a 0-100kph experience in 2.5 seconds, building to a G-force of 4.7.

The funday packages include reduced admission, a private venue within the park, a variety of menus and a private bar. Optional extras include children's or cabaret-style entertainment and goody bags. Companies can also hire individual or groups of rides for exclusive evening events.

Individual rollercoasters can be reserved for one hour from around £2,500 plus VAT.

"We can accommodate anything from 25 to 10,000 people. Often a company's staff and clients will arrive in the afternoon, have a barbecue while we close to public guests and then enjoy exclusive use of the rides from 7pm," says corporate account manager Katie Hunter.

Prices vary depending on the package booked, but as a guide the 24-hour residential delegate rate for a corporate event starts from £145 per person and includes room hire, complimentary car parking, entrance to the theme park and Cariba Creek waterpark, overnight accommodation, cooked breakfast, morning and afternoon refreshments, buffet lunch and three course evening meal. Day delegate packages are available from around £35 per person.

For an additional price, guests can enjoy a thermal spa, including steam and clay treatments.

ROYAL ASCOT

It was Queen Anne who in 1711 saw the potential for a racecourse at Ascot.

The first races took place on 11 August that year and today the Royal Ascot meeting is a magnet for companies looking for a sophisticated way to entertain clients. However, fans of the event must think differently this year because a £185m course refurbishment has forced the race meeting to move to York temporarily.

In response, live event management company The European Group has decided to bring the glamour, style and tradition of Royal Ascot to the heart of the City of London with an event based on a five-acre site at the Honourable Artillery Company Gardens.

There will be a live feed of all the races from Royal Ascot at York on giant screens, full betting facilities, VIP hospitality with a menu created by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and entertainment throughout the day.

European Group director Jane Wade says: "A lot of corporate hospitality is location-dependent and it is a reality that numbers do suffer if you move away from the south east. We are offering everything corporate clients get from Royal Ascot - just without the actual horses."

The gardens can accommodate up to 2,200 people each day and companies booking packages receive a reserved table, hostess service, morning coffee, live entertainment, copies of the racing papers and afternoon tea with strawberries and cream.

Packages in the Carriages Suite cost £249 per person for 14 and 15 June rising to £269 for Ladies Day on the 16th and on the 17th. This price includes a five course gourmet lunch, wine, complimentary premium brands bar, a gift and the Royal Ascot magazine. Clients can be entertained in the Paddocks Suite for £199-£209 per person and this package includes a four course lunch.

There are still some packages available for Royal Ascot at York but many corporate areas at the northern track, including most private boxes, are sold out. Rates per person for The Pavilion tented village at York start from £275, which includes a grandstand ticket and a four course lunch.

TWICKENHAM

A major redevelopment is taking place at Twickenham to create more opportunities for corporate entertaining and to improve facilities. Work to refurbish the South Stand will start in June and increase the capacity of the stadium from 75,000 to 82,000. There will be more corporate boxes and an additional 5,000sqm of function space as well as a purpose-built conference and performing arts auditorium for up to 400 people. A 165-room four-star hotel with leisure club is also being built.

There are four main hospitality facilities at the home of English rugby, with packages priced at £200-£700 per person, plus VAT, depending on the package booked and the profile of the match.

The River Suite is a luxury marquee opposite the North Stand and includes a Players' Lounge which is a big hit with corporate clients. A private VIP package costing £449-£849 per person, plus VAT, provides guests with the chance to question England players while enjoying a meal. The event is hosted by an ex-international player and up to four of the current England squad will attend after the match.

England players will also visit the North Tryline two-floor hospitality facility in the north west corner of the stadium, where parties of up to 12 guests can be entertained, and the Invincibles art deco-style restaurant in the East Stand.

All packages include an official RFU match ticket, morning coffee, Champagne reception and complimentary bar, four course lunch, wine, post-match refreshments, an official programme and colour television monitor.

Mike Potter, managing director of Twickenham Experience, says: "We have been developing our facilities over the last four years because we understand how important it is to get it right, when entertaining at a sporting venue, those people who matter to your business."

WEMBLEY

If your clients would like to bop to boy band McFly, rock to Anastacia or reminisce at a one-off concert featuring the Bay City Rollers, the Osmonds and David Essex then Wembley Arena Pavilion could be the answer.

Music VIP packages have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among those who want to enjoy a night out with a particular high-profile artist.

Wembley Arena closed in January for a £32m refurbishment and has been temporarily replaced by the 10,000-seater arena-sized Pavilion. It includes a 400-capacity purpose-built hospitality area called The View where clients are catered for before and after a concert. There is VIP parking next to the entrance, and innovative lighting techniques and design features inside The View generate a suitable atmosphere for the artist appearing at the venue.

"Corporate hospitality needs to appeal to clients with different interests so music can be a good alternative to sport," says Charles Webb, managing director of hospitality agent Arena Events. He says packages for the Pavilion tend to be sold as private tables of 10 and tailored to suit the profile of the guests attending, which will vary depending on the act performing.

Bespoke menus can also be arranged.

The package for the band Queen, who appear on 11 May, includes a Champagne reception, complimentary bar and a three course dinner while a Queen tribute band will play for guests after the concert. The price is £299 plus VAT per person. The package for the Bay City Rollers and the Osmonds event is less formal and costs £179 plus VAT.

"These specially created packages will give music fans a truly exclusive night out with premium tickets and, where possible, a chance to gain closer access to the bands with some artists happy to come into The View - although this can never be guaranteed," says Webb.

WIMBLEDON

The Wimbledon Championships have developed from a garden party in 1877 to a tournament with mass global appeal attended by around 500,000 people a year.

Tickets to watch the likes of 2004 ladies champion Maria Sharapova and men's champion Roger Federer always exceed supply, which means this event is one sporting corporate occasion any company's key clients rarely turn down.

In fact, more than half of the businesses that book packages at Wimbledon have renewed continuously for the past 10 years.

The All England Club runs its own 36 hospitality marquees and suites - reduced from 46 in 1994 so more tickets could be allocated to the public - and has appointed two official agents, Keith Prowse and Sportsworld Group. Both offer debenture packages on all days and for No 1 court on the first 10 days.

Most hospitality packages include entry to The Gatsby Club situated opposite the main entrance, private facilities for parties of more than 30 guests, reserved court tickets, Champagne and a complimentary bar, traditional afternoon strawberries and cream and limited car parking.

Prices quoted by Keith Prowse for reserved debenture No. 1 Court start from £475 plus VAT with reserved debenture Centre Court packages rising from £695 for the early rounds to £2,750 for men's final day on July 3.

The All England Club will only quote prices on application.

"Wimbledon remains popular with corporate clients because it is so quintessentially English," says Peter Selby, managing director at agent Keith Prowse. "Foreign clients particularly love the whole occasion while this is one sporting event where clients' partners can and usually want to come, which is important when trying to guarantee numbers for a weekend package. Make no mistake, this is top-end entertaining but how many people get to go to the men's final at Wimbledon?"


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