London 2012: Capital choice

Organisations are being urged to think seriously about their 2012 events, as Olympic interest in the capital’s venues continues to rise. Mike Fletcher writes…

The confirmation in April that French Olympic chiefs would be taking over Old Billingsgate for the duration of the London 2012 Games sent a clear message to the capital’s 1,000-plus events venues, as well as to any company harbouring event aspirations for two years time. Many of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), representing the 205 participating teams, are already here and the front-runners in the race for venue tenancies have left the starting blocks.

Visit London has been working with various nations, Olympic partners and team sponsors for the past two years, helping them to locate the right type of venue to use as a National House or hospitality hub. The richest nations have budgets of up to £10 million to spend. Site inspections and venue show-rounds have increased in regularity during the past few months and contracts, which look set to boost the UK events industry by more than £120 million, are now finally being signed.

According to agency Added Dimension, corporate events departments are sitting up and realising that they also need to get in the game in order to cement their venue plans for 2012. The agency has experienced such an upsurge of enquiries around the Olympics that it has formed a dedicated team, headed up by director Edwina Dowling, and has been assessing 2012 availability in the capital.

“On average, nine out of every 10 venues we speak to has seen an increase in 2012 event enquiries during the first half of this year,” says Dowling. “The Olympics will offer the perfect platform for companies to reconnect with their clients and employees and Added Dimension’s dedicated team is on hand to not only ensure that events run smoothly, but also to offer advice on how to successfully budget your 2012 event into this and the next financial year.”

Generation game

Over the summer, a spate of venue contracts are expected to be signed as the larger nations such as Russia, Germany and Brazil secure their National Houses. NOCs recently spotted doing the London circuit of large-capacity venues have included Jamaica, Holland and the United States.

 

Old Billingsgate will be converted into France House offering French cuisine and entertainment for up to 2,000 guests a night but, according to Visit London head of event solutions and UK sales Zanine Adams, not all the National House concepts will follow the same formula.

 

She adds: “Some Houses will be used purely for team and VIP hospitality. Others such as Ireland, Germany and Holland will create a party atmosphere for local people and visiting fans and act as a meeting point. Holland is best known for its Heineken House concept. The venue that secures Holland’s National House can expect up to 20,000 visitors a day passing through. Germany is arranging one House for business VIPs and a separate fan zone where the public can enjoy the country’s speciality food and beer.”

During Added Dimension’s research, Battersea Evolution in the west and Forman’s Fish Island, adjacent to the 2012 Stadium in the east, both reported strong Olympic interest from NOCs, sponsors, corporates and television companies.

Greg Lawson, managing director of Smart Hospitality which runs the semi-permanent structure in Battersea Park comments: “People are planning special events throughout London’s Olympic year and not just during the period that the Games are being staged. Companies are wishing to harness the good feeling that the Games will generate and use it to help deliver strong conference messaging or simply as an excuse to celebrate company achievements.”

Forman’s Fish Island director of events Arthur Somerset concurs and adds: “2012 will see a massive take-up in corporate hospitality packages as the whole country will want to be in London to experience the Olympic atmosphere whether they have a ticket for the Games or not. Companies and brands are waking up to just how massive this event will be and they will wish to create their own bespoke event environments. You only get one Olympic Games per lifetime so we need to make the most out of it coming to the UK capital.”

 

Instant access

Visit London’s Adams advises any venue or unique space yet to throw its hat into the ring to first sign-up to the 2012 Fair Pricing Charter. This voluntary code of practice, promising not to inflate prices in the lead up to the Games, is regularly distributed to all NOCs and sponsors.

Duncan Reid, portfolio director of Confex Group agrees and flags up the opportunities for corporate venue bookings: “At the moment companies can secure event bookings around the Olympics at 2009 prices. If you look at the Sydney and Athens Games, prices increased dramatically in the lead up to the event and during the Olympics. London has worked hard to sign venues up to the London Fair Pricing Pledge to ensure rates remain at a responsible level but the recession has presented a new opportunity where clients can buy events at 25 per cent less than 2008 prices. My advice to clients is to get in now and secure some great venue deals but always ensure that the contract is water-tight so that the venue can’t sell it on later to a higher bidder.”

Adams continues: “Most importantly venues need to have their pricing structure in place now. If a nation or sponsor sees something they like, they’ll want instant access to rates and availability. We’re urging venues to base their pricing on inflation for the next two years and consider it as high season but not to get silly. NOCs and sponsors have been doing these kinds of negotiations at host cities for years and they have strict budgets they need to abide by. Visit London works hand in hand with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and we regularly offer advice to a host of enquiries so if there’s a unique offer we don’t know about, we need to be told so that we can get it onto the 2012 radar.

“The Olympic circle is very tight so they all know each others intentions and plans. Smaller nations may only wish to take over a restaurant or small property close to the park for their accommodation needs so if someone’s knocking on the door of a venue then we advise that venue to negotiate a suitable price and book them in. Don’t hold out for a bidding war because it’s not going to happen.”

Added Dimension’s Dowling advises corporates with 2012 event ambitions to engage with a dedicated agency as early as possible to ensure that the right venue is secured and value for money is guaranteed. “We’re offering a team of producers who really understand the needs and requirements in an Olympic year,” she says. “It’s important in order to ensure that the core conference messaging is not lost amongst the furore and excitement of the Games but the key objectives are delivered in an engaging and stimulating fashion. We’ll look after a client’s 2012 activity from inception to completion but the advice is to talk to us early.”