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Square Meal Venues & Events and Sodexo Prestige check the corporate entertainment pulse with a specially commissioned survey – and discover it’s still ‘game on’ for hospitality. Annica Wainwright reports
The credit crunch may be upon us but it hasn’t yet put companies off entertaining. According to our survey of more than a thousand business professionals, the corporate entertainment industry is very much alive and well, with 78% of respondents claiming they consider hospitality to be an essential part of doing business. Almost half of them predicted they’d be spending the same amount on hospitality as last year, while an encouraging 36% said they’d actually be upping their spend this year – and thankfully, most of that money will stay right here in the UK, with only 15% of respondents planning to entertain abroad.
This is much better news than we had dared to hope for when we first drafted the survey. Run in conjunction with hospitality providers Sodexo Prestige, a main aim of the project had been to investigate how corporate entertainment options could be improved and made more attractive but, as it turns out, people seem pretty happy with what they’ve got. Classic domestic events such as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix certainly all feature highly on respondents’ list of ultimate hospitality tickets (see overleaf for a full report).
It was also thanks to the lure of a free pair of Royal Ascot hospitality packages – kindly donated by Sodexo Prestige – that we had such overwhelming support for the survey. All in all, 1,040 people took part and we were lucky to hear from a near equal number of hosts and guests, including some who receive invitations to more than 30 hospitality events a year. If they’re not the experts, we don’t know who is!
THE SECRETS OF GREAT HOSPITALITY
One of the most surprising findings of the survey was that the hospitality itself was perceived more important than the actual event. When asked to list the top three factors behind a successful event, 78% of respondents ticked the ‘choice of venue’ box, while the entertainment or activity forming the basis of the day came in fifth, after food quality and presentation, quality of service and pre-event communication. These results were further backed by response from the 252 guests who told us the opportunity to visit a special venue would really encourage them to accept a hospitality invitation.
Organisers will be pleased to hear that, as long as they spend money in the right places, there is plenty of scope to cut costs elsewhere. While the great majority (96%) of would-be hospitality guests insisted good food was important to their enjoyment of a hospitality day, less than half (40%) thought a signature chef could significantly enhance the experience, so think twice before lining up Ramsay. With 79% of respondents seemingly unimpressed with celebrity attendance, you can probably cut the speaker budget, too – and don’t bother with the goody bags: only 10% of guests said they’d want a souvenir.
WHO, WHY AND WHERE DO PEOPLE ENTERTAIN?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most hosts use hospitality to entertain clients and state the main reason for doing so as relationship building. By far the largest group of invitees are current customers and clients, whom 85% of hosts put on their guests lists. A large number, 62%, also like to invite potential customers and clients, while 49% ask people who can help generate new business. Forward-thinking companies also use hospitality events to raise their own profile and boost staff morale, with an impressive 38% of respondents listing their employees as part of the target audience.
Traditionally quite a male-dominated world, the hospitality sector has changed dramatically over the past few years and our survey shows that 69% of events are now targeted at both sexes. Golf, which 45% of surveyed hosts use for hospitality, tops the list of most popular events, closely followed by rugby (43%), football (41%) and horseracing (40%). But are we also sensing a new trend here? A third (34%) of the hosts surveyed say they already use the opera, theatre and ballet to entertain and when asked about which events they like to attend regularly, a whopping 84% of respondents listed music concerts.
With an impressive 78% of respondents claiming to be happy to travel any distance for the right kind of event, we were very glad to also have asked everyone what their ultimate hospitality ticket would be. So where do they all wish they were going?
THE TOP TEN
Our request for survey respondents to list their ultimate hospitality tickets resulted in a flood of interesting ideas, from red carpet treatment at the Oscars and tea at Buck House to a trip to the International Space Station, but the most popular events are far more obtainable – as evidenced by this countdown:
10. Henley Royal Regatta
This quintessentially British day out is a highlight of the summer social calendar – and a rare opportunity to wear boaters and blazers. Book with Prestige Experience (tel: 0870 421 4868, squaremeal.co.uk/prestige).
9. Dinner a Deux
You’d be surprised how many people would be happy with just a meal. Most nominations were for the Michelin-starred likes of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (tel: 020 7352 4441) and Guy Savoy (tel: 00 31 1 4380 4061) in Paris.
8. Test Match Cricket
Relaxed and famously jovial, cricket games provide the perfect setting for chilled-out hospitality, fuelled by plenty of food and drink. The ultimate event? The Ashes at Lord’s (tel: 0870 141 3311, squaremeal.co.uk/lords).
7. The British Grand Prix
Silverstone’s finest is the jewel in the British motor racing crown and many multinational companies host hospitality at the event. Read more about it in our motorsport hospitality feature.
6. Participation Events
Not content with sipping champers in their summer finest, an increasing number of guests want to get stuck in with their hospitality. Over half (54%) of respondents said they would rather take part in an activity day than a spectator event, and this was reflected in their ultimate hospitality ticket nominations. Countless golf fans wanted to combine more traditional hospitality with a chance to play a famous course, while others suggested activities such as cookery classes and spa days.
5. Rock/Pop Concerts
As we said on the cover of our spring magazine: Hospitality Rocks. The British music scene is booming at the moment and, as long as you have a vague idea of your guests’ music tastes, you can’t go wrong with a concert invitation. Nominations for the ultimate tickets ranged from ‘any show at The O2’ to the rather more wishful next Led Zeppelin gig.
4. The Monaco Grand Prix
People don’t just dream of going to the Monaco Grand Prix – they want the full experience, complete with helicopter transfers and a yacht moored at the edge of the city-centre course. Combining the glamour of the Riviera with the world’s most expensive sport, this is about as glitzy as it gets. Check your gold card balance before contacting Cavendish Hospitality (tel: 020 8567 3530, squaremeal.co.uk/cav-hosp) for travel advice.
3. Wimbledon Championships
Centre Court tickets for the men’s final at Wimbledon are one of hospitality’s holy grails but, even so, most people who put this event forward as their ultimate hospitality ticket didn’t specify which part of the tournament they wanted to see. And, to your average hospitality guests, we guess it doesn’t really matter. At Wimbledon, it seems you can always rely on plenty of Pimm’s, strawberries and top tennis. Only one thing’s uncertain this year: with British fans placing their bets on Andy Murray, will Henman Hill turn into Murrayfield?
2. City Breaks & Holidays
The first suggestion of a beach holiday made us giggle. Then, they kept pouring in… With a not insignificant number claiming they’d go ‘anywhere as long as it’s abroad’, it is clear that people like to travel. City breaks in places such as Paris, Rome and New York came top of the wish list, closely followed by trips to Vegas and Hawaii. Many wanted to go on cruises, visit vineyards or try sailing, but the most popular activity was skiing. Look out for more info on corporate ski trips in our autumn magazine.
1. Royal Ascot
Seeing as respondents were competing for tickets to this very event, it’s perhaps not surprising that Royal Ascot should come up trumps – but even if a few of them were trying to score brownie points, it did win with a really impressive margin, picking up twice the number of votes of any other individual event. A real highlight of the British social calendar, this is also a world-class hospitality fixture, combining top-notch racing with even more impressive extras, including restaurant-quality catering and service to match. Book your official hospitality on tel: 0870 727 4321 or visit squaremeal.co.uk/ascot for more information.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Summer 2008.