LONDON VENUES: City of choices

For London Arena, the Dome's future provides uncertainty. One of the bidders for the site in North Greenwich is Anschulz Entertainment, which owns ice hockey team London Knights and has a 50% stake in the Arena.

It wants to transform the Dome into an entertainment complex and speculation is rife that if successful, the US company will not want two similar venues so near to each other.

London Arena director of sales James Rees has witnessed the regeneration of the Docklands over the past eight years and has seen considerable change with the development of Canary Wharf.

"When I first arrived here the area was in the doldrums. But the complex has now really come of age and benefited from the development of Canary Wharf,

he says.

"I think it would be foolish to speculate on the Dome's future. All we can do is continue to monitor the situation".

TRAFFIC TROUBLES

Transport is a big issue in London and the state of the capital's gridlocked roads is never far from the minds of venue managers. Many boast that venues have good access but others recognise that traffic jams can cause headaches, particularly for visitors.

Harrods banqueting and events sales manager Inga Haltermann says: "People know that you will have heavy traffic wherever you are in London. From this point of view it's not an advantage or disadvantage for any venue."

London Arena director of sales James Rees suggests venues should be more realistic about the state of London's roads and encourage visitors to use public transport instead. "It is foolish to suggest we don't have traffic issues. We work with organisers to get them to promote public transport. With roads busier than ever, it makes sense for visitors to use it,

he says.

One area being monitored by the capital's venues is Mayor Livingstone's proposed congestion charge for vehicles driving through central London.

Earls Court and Olympia are outside the proposed zone, but ECO halls director Jon Sellins worries that the scheme could branch out.

"We are watching with interest,

he says. "Both our venues are outside the congestion charge area but no one knows what the real impact could be. It may be extended to our location in the future and it's a debate we are monitoring."

Location can make the difference between getting a booking or losing out. Philip Chadwick gives the low-down on locale as London venues look beyond their facilities in the battle to win business.

With so many London venues boasting quality facilities, the final decision for organisers can lie in location. What the surrounding area offers can appeal to exhibitors who are staying in that location and could pull in more visitors to a show. Other considerations include the ease of access; a difficult thing in the crowded metropolis of London.

Prime importance

According to the Royal Horticultural Halls (RHH) & Conference Centre managing director Rene Dee, a venue's situation is of vital importance for organisers. "Location is of prime importance and is key to the success of any event,

he says. "From our point of view we are in an attractive area. We have St James' Park, Pimlico and Victoria underground and railway stations within an eight-minute walk from the venue. There are also plenty of parking spaces as well as free parking at the weekends. Many visitors do travel here by car."

Wembley Exhibition and Conference Centre sales and marketing director Peter Tudor agrees that where his venue is based is important for clients.

"It is the location that makes it. The advantage for us is that we are on the edge of the centre of London,

he says. "It's very accessible for people coming from the Midlands and there are good links from airports such as Heathrow and Stansted. We have all the right demographics."

For the Barbican, its central London location helps attract most event business from the city. "Geographically, we are very close to offices in the City,

says the Barbican head of corporate sales Gary England.

"It's an ideal location to attract clients such as financial institutions and IT companies. We are accessible by road and rail. We have on-site car parking spaces for delegates at £12 a day.

"Access by public transport is good as we have Moorgate and Barbican underground stations nearby, while Liverpool Street station is only a five-minute walk away. And a shuttle bus service comes to the Barbican every 15 minutes from City airport,

he continues.

London Arena director of sales James Rees adds that although location does make a difference, what the venue itself has to offer is of equal importance. "It is a combination of location and venue,

he says. "The venue has to meet the requirements of the event organiser. If that is not right then the event is a non-starter no matter how good its location."

Earls Court & Olympia (ECO) group halls director Jon Sellins agrees.

"The location of the venue is absolutely paramount but it is essential to be a great modern venue,

he comments. "We have invested £60m in the venues over the past five years. We have also worked hard on our customer services. It really isn't enough to just have a good location. You need the venue to go with it."

Hubbub on the doorstep

ECO boasts that the west London location of Olympia and Earls Court gives them an edge over other venues. "We pride ourselves at being in the heart of London and that we have the hubbub of the capital on our doorstep,

adds Sellins. "An exhibitor's experience of a show is not just being in an exhibition hall. They want to have the social experience of London at the end of each day."

Sellins says the two venues are easily accessible for anyone coming by road, rail or air. He puts this down to good motorway links with the M1 and M40, and Earls Court underground station being "on our doorstep" with its direct links to Heathrow airport.

"We want visitors and exhibitors to have an untraumatic journey. Convenience is our watchword,

says Sellins. "Organisers hold events here because exhibitors like our location. It would be foolish if organisers didn't listen to their markets and the west of London is more accessible than the east."

The issue of location has come to the fore recently with a spate of shows moving from Docklands venue Excel to Earls Court or Olympia. The latest example is Reed Exhibitions' Marketing Expo (Event, April). The show, which is being rebranded as the International Direct Marketing Fair, will now take place at Earls Court from 4-6 March 2003.

At your convenience

"Excel is a fantastic venue but it is about matching the location to our visitors,

says Reed exhibition director Tim Huckstep. "Most of our visitors come from the West End and the move to Earls Court was based purely on a convenience point of view."

Despite the losses, Excel chief executive Jamie Buchan remains bullish about the venue's location and its capabilities of attracting new shows - both trade and consumer. He cites the "consumer weekend

at the beginning of March when three consumer exhibitions, the Holiday & Travel Show, The Evening Standard Homebuyer Show and the London Dive Show, attracted about 42,000 visitors.

"It was heartening to see so many people flocking to a venue that was designed initially as a trade show venue,

explains Buchan. "We want to do more consumer shows and tap into that market. There is a lot of redevelopment in the surrounding area with hotels, bars and restaurants, but the venue is for now and not just for the future. This was proved during the consumer weekend with visitors spending a lot of their time here."

Buchan believes one of Excel's strengths lies in the fact that it isn't in the very heart of the capital. "We benefit from the fact that there is an impressive amount of space as opposed to a crowded metropolitan feel,

he says.

Venues in more central parts of London can suffer some restrictions.

They are often based near residential areas and keeping those who live nearby happy is important. RHH's Dee believes this is key if the venue is to succeed.

"We are members of the South Westminster Triangle Association. We are linked with other local organisations and we look at any planning proposals for major developments in the area - anything that affects our venue, residents' homes or business properties,

he says. "It's important because we are in a residential area but we are well set up to deal with any issue. It is also a very effective lobbying body."

Keeping residents happy

Both the Barbican and ECO have to consider local residents when setting up an exhibition - whatever the size of the show. "We have quarterly residential meetings and we always brief them on our activity over the forthcoming months,

says the Barbican's England. "There was a time during the 1980s and 1990s when the relationship was not that good, but we now keep them informed and happy, which is important as they could be future customers."

ECO's Sellins adds: "We exist in a part of London with residential areas and it's important to keep our residents happy. We have agreements with the residents to keep significant vehicle movement at the venues to a minimum after 11pm."

North London venue Wembley also considers the views of its neighbours with a local liaison committee. Tudor believes it is important to have a "two way communication process and ensure that it is on-going".

Future development of the Wembley area hinges on the development of the stadium. An announcement from owner Wembley National Stadium (WNS) is imminent. "The best thing that could happen is a decision in favour of the stadium being built,

says Tudor. "We are working closely with WNS to make sure it works well for the surrounding area. If it gets the go-ahead, then Wembley is going to be an exciting place to be."

Minimising disruption

If the stadium does get the green light the venue will have to work closely with WNS during the building process. This is to ensure there is as little disruption as possible for clients using the Exhibition and Conference Centre. "It was part of the agreement when WNS took over the stadium,

Tudor adds.

Restrictions are common during build-up and breakdown time for shows and events, particularly those at central London venues. Harrods is one such venue that has to consider restrictions when loading and unloading equipment for its corporate events.

"We do have restrictions for when we can move equipment into and out of the venue. We can't do this after about 10pm. Despite this we don't need to set up any dialogue with nearby residents as they have never complained,

says Harrods banqueting & events sales manager Inga Haltermann.

RHH also has restrictions placed on it when contractors need to move into the venue prior to or after a show. During the week loading and unloading can only take place between 7am and 11pm and at weekends from 8am to 11pm.

Dee explains: "We have permission from the city council for contractors to work by our venue but organisers have to be aware that we won't accept events if they require working outside the restricted hours. If they do they can try somewhere else, but similar restrictions apply in central London. These rules are spelt out very clearly for organisers so they know what we offer in advance."

Despite these kinds of restrictions, organisers continue to put on shows in London and location is often the deciding factor. The established locations such as central and west London continue to attract big and small events while the Docklands redevelopment continues apace with Excel now targeting more consumer shows. If this proves to be a success then the choice for organisers in the capital will become more difficult.

RISE OF THE EAST

The future of Docklands is changing and the East End could soon offer an experience to rival that of the West End. Excel chief executive Jamie Buchan says Docklands is becoming a "growing, vibrant part of London month by month".

Bars, restaurants, hotels and even an aquarium are being built close to exhibition venues London Arena and Excel.

"We have opened our first hotels here with five more under construction. The first pub, The Fox at Excel, has opened and we have made considerable progress,

Buchan says . "We want to make this venue a destination in its own right and we will work with organisers to promote that. I think this location has a vibrancy."

One of the biggest opportunities for the area, but also one of the biggest headaches, is the future of the Millennium Dome. Buchan thinks it will provide another draw for people whatever use it is put to.


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