James Varah: Counting the cost

If venues continue to undercut each other, it will be the customer experience that is compromised. James Varah, event sales director at The Brewery, questions how low can you go?

It is increasingly frustrating to see the number of event spaces in London devaluing the meetings and events industry by slashing prices to a level where quality must be compromised. I am a realist and appreciate that, in a recession, competition hots up. Suppliers need to be on their toes to maintain their market share. However, the current trend for unquestionably undercutting competitors must be squeezing margins to a level where the customer experience is compromised.

Clients cannot be blamed for taking the best price available when they are under pressure to reduce costs. My fear is that people are being hoodwinked by a deal that looks too good to be true, and often is. Of course venues and hotels have to be flexible on their offering, however, the dilemma facing venues is that if the current trend for price-cutting continues, the “acceptable” price for meetings and events will stay low beyond the end of the recession. Sadly, these dramatically lower prices will ultimately drag the quality of the capital’s offering down too.

We have enjoyed success over the last year by demonstrating value added, and reassuring our customers that you get what you pay for. The challenge faced by the industry is what happens if the price-cutting doesn’t stop?

The advances made over the last 20 years in the quality of meeting and event product available has been phenomenal. With the rise of the celebrity chef and the explosion of Britain’s “eat out” generation, clients understand and expect more from their event catering and service.

In today’s fiercely competitive market, top hotels and venues are sinking to prices I didn’t think possible. Costs can only be cut so far before the end product is impacted. The high-end events will always exist, but the quality in the middle will very quickly drop if this current trend continues.

Venues that consider themselves to be catering for this part of the market need to hold their ground, and their quality. Without this effort, meetings and events will once again be associated with sub-standard food and surly service.