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    Off the beaten track

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    A unique venue can embody your brand, be a great draw for delegates and could even cost less than you think. Nicole Holgate talks to those in the know.

    If your company hasn’t yet ventured beyond the hotel chains in order to host its events, it may be high time to think about it. “It’s about making the venue part of, and integral to, your event,” says Moya Maxwell of Unique Venues of London, adding that an appropriate setting “raises it from an ordinary experience to a truly memorable occasion”. If there is something unusual about your venue, people will sit up and take notice. Jo Austin of Lime Venue Portfolio adds that a corporate function will always be “enhanced by where you are”.

    Finding a property that hasn’t been used for events before also attracts a lot of attention. “A new and unique location generates real buzz ahead of a big event, and these venues will always want to make a good first impression with the booking public,” explains Ed Poland of Hire Space. You can also astonish your boss by finding a space that doesn’t simply appear on the first page of a search engine. “If somewhere is hard to find online, the chances are it will impress the client – provided it looks the part,” adds Poland.

    There is no end to the choices available, and even the more unusual buildings provide the standard facilities you would expect of any first-class conference venue. “In the summer, boats and rooftops come to the fore, while in winter people tend to choose places of historical significance such as museums,” says Poland. Austin comments that her company has seen the greatest growth in the hire of museums and castles, and while these are best suited to large-scale events, there are options for everybody. “We can meet the terms and conditions of clients with venues that they never thought they’d use,” she says.

    “Any property should meet the criteria for your event, including being value for money,” she continues. Looking off the beaten track can be both rewarding and money-saving. Venues that offer spaces you wouldn’t normally expect access to, such as theatres and schools, can be more flexible with cost and the creation of bespoke packages for clients. In many cases the profit earned from hosting these business events and seminars goes back into maintaining the venue, enhancing the corporate social responsibility benefit for the hiring company.

    Even in these austere times, corporate budgets have begun to pick up, especially at this time of year. “People are happy to be seen investing in entertaining, but are savvy as to how they spend their money,” says Maxwell. “Companies are still having to justify their expenditure,” she continues. To this end, value-added tactics such as all-inclusive events are proving to be popular. “This is where less established venues can capitalise,” says Poland.

    They can often offer curated talks, backstage tours of unusual spaces and money-can’t-buy experiences. “People are looking for different attractions to make sure they hit delegate numbers,” explains Maxwell. It is part of the allure of a unique venue to involve the core attraction of the setting in order to enhance your occasion, give more prestige or simply provide added interest, for instance hosting an engineers’ event at Tower Bridge. “You’re not buying four walls and a ceiling, but an experience,” she says.

    Poland sums up the optimism and future prospects of the industry when he concludes, “People are always looking for something new.”

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson