LONDON VENUES: Capital adjustments - Many London attractions make a great setting for events. Philip Chadwick looks at how despite some strict regulations, most are keen to win a slice of this lucrative off-peak business

Think of London and some of the first venues you may think of are

London Zoo, Madame Tussaud's and the BA London Eye. They may also be

some of the first places that are being chosen as venues to host live

corporate events.



Lucrative opportunity



For a venue that is a tourist attraction the opportunity to have clients

booking up during an off-peak period is a lucrative one. London Zoo, for

example, uses part of its grounds to host Christmas parties and has

linked with event management company Fortesqueue's to organise them.

This year's theme is "Atlantis - the myth and the legend".



"We use the zoo's lawn area in the quiet period of December," says

Fortesqueues managing director Scott Balfour. "For our Christmas parties

we are having a two-tier marquee, which is quite unusual for that time

of year. Last year was busy as we had 13,500 people through the

doors."



The company chose to launch its Christmas party package in July, a time

of year that should have ensured sunshine. But the unpredictable British

climate decided to unleash rain on to the launch. A marquee was set up

to keep the guests dry as they enjoyed their Pimms and canapes.



"We were aware of the weather about 48 hours in advance but it was a bit

in the lap of the gods," adds Balfour.



"We did make allowances for having enough dry cover and making everyone

feel welcome."



As well as having to contend with the weather, the launch also had to

take place when the venue was at its busiest.



"We had many vehicles and 35 people involved to put together the event.

Everything had to be coordinated and managed quite carefully," explains

Balfour. "We had to start early. The area we worked in was cordoned off

preventing anyone from walking in the working area.



But the number one priority for London Zoo is the paying visitors."



Fay Sharpe, sales and marketing director at venue finding agency IBR,

warns that tourist venues can be inflexible. "You have to bear in mind

that they need time to close and clean the venue before your event can

start," she says. "Museums, for example, have strict rules about

smoking."



Robert Wright, managing partner at venue marketing agency Davies Tanner

thinks this reflects a difference in attractions where access is free

and those where it isn't.



"The staff that are employed at venues with paying customers tend to

come from a commercial sector background," he says. "Those venues that

have free entry are more likely to have people from an art and heritage

background. But it's a difficult balance as public visitors are an

overiding priority.



A different dimension



"Event organisers are always looking for something different and

unusual.



Tourist attractions tend to have a different aspect and dimension on the

event," Wright adds.



Sharpe adds: "But they can offer a fantastic backdrop for large dinners

such as the Natural History Museum. Other tourist attractions include

the BA London Eye, which offers a fantastic view of London. Dinners at

Madame Tussauds are also very successful."



"We appeal on the basis that we are totally unique and incredibly

popular," explains Madame Tussaud's corporate and special events manager

Robin Parker.



"The main point is that we are the only venue like this in the

country.



Madame Tussaud's can be used for any event whether formal or informal

and all the events take place in an exclusive area."



Clients get the chance to have cocktails in the garden party area with

waxworks of film and TV stars. Then they can move into the grand hall

and dine with models of politicians and heads of state.



"Most people are well behaved around the exhibits," says Parker. "They

are interested in the waxworks and we don't move them out of the way as

they are an important part of the venue."



Something different



"The corporate market is always looking for something different," agrees

Fortesqueues' Balfour. "You want to take guests somewhere different - a

themed environment. With the underwater theme at London Zoo this year,

we're bringing the theatre to them.



If you can get the guests to say 'wow' then you've done it."



IBR's Sharpe adds: "It makes more impact if you do something extra. You

want to inspire people and create a different setting."



The London Studios is another venue that on a day-to-day basis is not a

setting that would immediately spring to mind as a place to host an

event. But when not recording programmes such as Have I Got News for You

and Blind Date, the venue is able to use its facilities for any client

wanting to host an event there.



"We can do anything with the venue," explains London Studios head of

business communications Cathy Schulz. "For example, the lighting we

offer can transform a flat and dull surrounding into a beautifully lit

event."



Clients that have used the venue for events and product launches include

British Airways, Prima, which held its High Street Fashion Awards there

in May, and the Conservative Party, which used the facilities for a

general election rally in June.



Client requirements



"It all depends on the client's requirements," says Schulz. "For the

Prima awards we had space for a large catwalk while for other special

events audience seating can be brought in. The green rooms can also be

used. They are quite small and are used more for catering and as holding

rooms for the press, celebrities and VIP speakers."



A new alternative venue for the capital is set to officially open in

December. The London College of Fashion's (LCF) Rootstein Hopkins Space

will occupy 446 sq m of space at its John Princes Street building at

Oxford Circus. It will be able to offer catwalk, conference and

exhibition facilities and host a range of live events.



"We will start pro-actively marketing the venue in January but it is

primarily a LCF resource," explains LCF head of communication and

marketing Heather Lambert. "I think it will be in great demand because

it is based in the centre of London and the venue is very flexible."



To accommodate its various uses the space features retractable tiered

seating, a mobile catwalk and "state-of-the-art" lighting and sound

systems. Movable sound proof walls will allow for smaller rooms to be

set up within the venue.



With Christmas fast approaching established venues will all be using

corporate events to boost their revenue. With that in mind, attractions

in London will almost always be willing and able to adapt their

facilities accordingly.



CASE STUDY: DALI UNIVERSE



One of the more recent additions to the London venue market is Dali

Universe at County Hall on the South Bank. The gallery, which exhibits

the work of surrealists Salvador Dali and Picasso, opened last

summer.



"People usually expect an art gallery to be white and clinical but Dali

Universe is dark and sexy - not something you would expect from an art

gallery," says Dali Universe event manager Michael Aldridge. "But

anything by Dali will always be something completely different."



In July, IBR used the venue to host a cocktail party for about 40

clients.



Guests were greeted by Dali lookalikes and treated to a Spanish tapas

menu. They also enjoyed a private viewing of the exhibits, which include

the sofa shaped like the lips of Mae West (left) and elephants with

stilt-like legs.



"Everyone's heard of Dali," adds Aldridge. "Many people have an image of

a Dali sculpture that springs immediately in their mind."



The venue was set up with the idea that it could host live events as

well as being open for members of the public to pay and see the

exhibits.



Dali Universe has no natural daylight but has its own sound system and

plasma screens.



"The artwork can be the central feature of the event and could help if

someone is launching an unusual product," says Aldridge. "From a

corporate event point of view we have had an excellent year. Bookings

have been very strong."



CONTACTS

- Fortesqueues: 0870 9010 203

- The London Studios: 020 7261 3632

- London College of Fashion: 020 7514 7427

- Madame Tussauds: 020 7487 0224

- BA London Eye: 020 7654 0864

- Natural History Museum: 020 7942 5434

- Dali Universe: 020 7620 2765




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