Terry Billingham, Venuemasters CEO, reviews them for ITCMTerry Billingham is CEO of Venuemasters, so he has responsibility for the marketing of 72 venues. They are all in colleges and universities, mostly in the UK, and in every part of the country.
I met him at International Confex 2015 in London, where he outlined for me some of the many advantages of academic venues – and some of the disadvantages from a marketing point of view.
‘All the premises’, he began, ‘have the express purpose of instructing and teaching. They have state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment with highly specialised technical staff. And we have about 2,000 different meeting spaces to offer of every size and variety.’
Yes, those are obvious advantages.
Then he goes on: ‘Add to all that the fact that we have a total of 67,000 bedrooms. And don’t think in terms of the kind of accommodation you may have experienced when you were a student’. (Obviously, he noticed that I had been a student some long time ago). ‘In today’s academic establishments, almost all the rooms have ensuite bathrooms or showers and superb catering facilities that can feed any number of delegates, rapidly with quality cuisine.’
Quite a lot of advantages, then. Anything more?
‘Yes. We can generally guarantee we have a price advantage over commercial venues. Across the UK our Day Delegate Rate is on average about £39, and up to, say, £50 in London. Our 24-hour rate averages out at £95, varying from £55 to £150.
Outside business from the MICE sector is a contribution to running and overhead costs. We can be very competitive. Which leads to a further benefit for our association and corporate clients. Using an academic facility ticks the box for Social Responsibility. Venuemasters is a not-for-profit organisation. Our member venues pay an annual fee for our services and we don’t charge any commission. The surplus funds derived from commercial business, about £2.6m per member on average, are invested back into the academic facilities for teaching and training and for the health of the youth of today.’
Mention of the health aspect leads on to the fact that universities can now offer some of the world’s best and most comprehensive sports facilities. ‘We have, for example, locations that are complete with Olympic-sized indoor swimming pools.’
Is that the end of the list of important advantages?
‘Not really’, says Terry. ‘You have to bear in mind that these are all establishments designed to handle the comings and goings of large numbers of people. Ease of access to and from the locations and circulation within the buildings are important benefits.
‘Also, so many of our members are in iconic, world-famous locations, the renowned university and cathedral cities. They are all well worth visiting and have a host of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and museums and parks that are very attractive to delegates from any part of the world’.
Now, turn to the disadvantages.It seems there is only one.
‘In our marketing’, says Terry, ‘we have to face the obvious problem that these remarkable and excellent facilities are not available for commercial clients during term time. We are restricted to the periods of time when the students are on vacation.’
Venuemasters welcomes enquiries of all kinds for conventions, meetings, incentives and exhibitions. Apparently, 60% of events booked into the venues are for less than 100 attendees, with some as small as 20 or 30 delegates. Others are association AGMs for thousands. Venuemasters can identify the most suitable of six venues for each event and usually can offer a shortlist of six facilities to a potential client. The venues deal direct with the clients from there.
For the past 15 years Venuemasters has organised the annual Academic Venue Show. The next one will be held on May 20 at the Ilex Centre, Earls Court, London. There will be up to 50 exhibitors and as many as 350 visiting organisers will be discussing the needs of their events to see how many of the advantages will be relevant to making their own occasions successful and cost-effective.