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21 August 2014

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London as a Venue

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Never before has an Olympics been so intertwined with its host city. Organising events will raise a few issues, but with careful planning there’s no reason yours can’t be the 100m Final of the summer season


horseguards - horse_guards.jpgFast-forward to next July. Everything is in place: the venues are built, the athletes are primed and four billion TV viewers are sitting in their armchairs awaiting a spectacle. But what about the poor event organiser? The clipboard’s tucked under one arm, the walkie-talkie’s held in a white-knuckle grip and the BlackBerry is fixed on the TFL website, logging the inevitable delays. Has bringing an event together ever been so hard?
The main issue is that the 2012 Games have been designed to showcase London as a venue. Events will be held right in the thick of town, with sightlines and camera-angles designed to use the London skyline as a backdrop. It’s in contrast to previous Olympic parks. Sydney, for example, was 13 miles outside the city, a positive bushman’s trek from the epicentre. London, its landmarks and people will be in the thick of the action. While the Olympics are the greatest advert a city could have, the million visitors who will descend on London present a conundrum for event bookers.
For example, as you’re reading this, the 31 March deadline to register an event with the Mayor’s Office will have passed. Its Culture Diary is designed as a resource for those heading to London to see what’s on, but it’s also a useful way for Boris to keep track of where groups of people are likely to be.
Don’t start to worry just yet. Only events of 500 people or more needed to be registered and the primary concern will be for outdoor public functions that will require a police presence. For a larger event, we’d recommend giving the Mayor’s Office a call (tel: 020 7983 4000), if only for peace of mind.

No 4 Hamilton Place - 0808_C4HPXA0V0053.jpgNO ROOM AT THE INN
It goes without saying that venues, hotels and staff will be in shorter supply over the Olympic period, but not disastrously so. London will have seen 15 major hotel openings in the build-up to the Games, bringing the city’s bed stock to 120,000. Taking the 52,000 rooms required by LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) combined with the 50,000 projected leisure visitors from the 120,000 total, it leaves 18,000, or 15% of rooms. However, you have to ask yourself whether these will be quality beds. 
It’s a fair assumption that hotels near the Olympic venues (see over) will be booked out, but these are mainly in the east and north of the city. Further out in west London is a good choice. LOCOG has recently released many of the rooms it had initially earmarked in this area, so hotels that were touting ‘no room at the inn’ a few months ago may be keen to take your call right now.
Hotels don’t want to burn any bridges, either. ‘We’ve only released 40% of our bedrooms to LOCOG,’ Mark Anderson, director of sales and marketing, at Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel tells us. ‘We want to look after our regular clients.’
Look at the Olympic timetable. Much of Greenwich Park – which is hosting pentathlon cross country and many of the equestrian events – is in use only for the first week. The Olympic Delivery Committee has promised to return venues back to public use as quickly as possible, so expect business to return to normal shortly afterwards.
It’s a simple case of being canny about event choices. As many of the larger venues will be taken up by one of the 33 Olympic Federations as HQs or ‘Houses’ (see over), think about using smaller venues, downsizing the scale of the event and cherry-picking invitees.

One Great George Street - Exterior_of_building.jpgTROUBLE ON THE TUBE
Part of making London the most sustainable Games ever – its carbon footprint will be 50% lower than any previous Olympiad – means that the already-quaking public transport system will be fit to burst as delegates and spectators swap cabs for the tube.
This affects the two key components of a successful meeting: people turning up on time, and in a positive frame of mind. It’s the event planner’s job to minimise margin for error on both counts as much as possible. Ask delegates to walk where possible (they’ll probably be keen to see what’s going on anyway). Take the Olympic Rush Hour into account and find out which roads, stations and zones will be busy.

Don’t Panic!
Just like in Dad’s Army, there’s probably a Lance Corporal Jones in every event team anxiously rallying for calm. Tell them all will be OK. It’s important to remember that the Olympics are only on for a month. While it’s a potentially profitable time for venues, they don’t want to be alienating business for the future.
LOCOG also claims to have learnt from over-pricing mistakes made in Beijing and Athens and has informed venues and hotels accordingly. If prices seem too high for people coming from abroad, it’s easy enough for them to commute from northern Europe using Eurostar; not an option at the last three Olympic Games.
Visitor figures are generally over-egged. Athens received 50,000 fewer visitors per night than expected, Sydney 30,000. No venues want to
be dormant, so you could gamble on making a late move for a great price – it’s inevitable that there will be some over-supply. 
Finally, look for the positives: see the Games as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and discover new venues.


You’re booked!

The land grab for venues in summer 2012 is gathering pace. We run through the latest Olympian goings-on

somerset exterior - somerset_exterior.jpgBe aware: London’s finest venues are under siege from foreign powers. There are 33 national Olympic federations looking for bases in the capital next summer and, at the time of going to press, just seven have announced where they are going to set up ‘House’. Quite a coup for venues such as Somerset House (Brazil), Alexandra Palace (Holland) and Glaziers’ Hall, Southwark Cathedral and Davy’s Mug House (who have joined forces to transform into House of Switzerland). But a minefield for event organisers planning their summer season.
Fear not. Here at Venues & Events we’re constantly updating our London 2012 Venue Register (squaremeal.co.uk/2012), detailing which venues have been booked, which are keen to be booked and which will remain open.
Obviously it’s not an exact science, as some venues will have already agreed deals but are tied by strict disclosure clauses. The ICA and Rich Mix have both received enquiries, but are still available to be booked as national houses. The Barbican is currently ‘in negotiations’, while rumour has it that 30 Pavilion Road is likely to become a corner of Romania next year and The Pavilion at the Tower of London, run by The Ultimate Experience, is apparently having chats with a gentlemen with a Russian accent.
So there are still lots of deals to be done – and lots of venues keen to be booked out by national federations or members of the ‘Olympic Family’ (key sponsors). Many conference centres are keen, such as 15 Hatfields, Church House, Congress Centre and the Mermaid, which must be short odds to be snapped up, with its City location and riverside views. Also in the City, the following Halls declared their availability: Middle Temple, Plaisterers’, Salters’, Stationers’ and Wax Chandlers, along with the City of London Club, One Moorgate Place and The HAC, which has produced a special ‘Olympic House’ PDF brochure for national enquirers.
The following diverse selection of available venues may just suit a particular nation: Royal College of Physicians (beautiful grounds), 86 St James (one of London’s best addresses), Café de Paris (but France have booked Old Billingsgate!), Bateaux London (avoids London’s traffic), Delfina (right by the Jubilee Line), Kia Oval (for a cricketing nation surely), Troxy (big and in the East End).
Glaziers Hall N - 0111_Glaziers_Hall1_(1).jpgVenues that are open to the public during the day, such as museums and galleries, are generally going to be taking bookings as normal, and should be on your shopping list for evening events. This is certainly true of the Natural History Museum and its wide range of rooms (see the Venue Focus feature on p. 108). ‘We are business as usual,’ says the Museum’s Zoe Watts. ‘However, we are offering our West Ground for hire for the duration of the Games. It has a prime location on Cromwell Road with the backdrop of the original 1881 Waterhouse building.’ The West Ground is ideal for a single-storey temporary structure in which Olympic sponsors can create a hub to showcase their involvement.
No.11 Cavendish Square is keen to stress that it too will be operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis. ‘As the HQ of The Kings Fund, we have too many regular clients to be exclusively booked out for that length of time,’ explains commercial director Jonathan Morris. ‘We have already had enquiries from clients of competitor venues disgruntled that their regular venues will not be available during the Olympics. Hopefully they’ll stay with us after the Games too!’
Alistair Stewart, managing director of specialist conference provider etc.venues, tells us: ‘We are still keeping 50% of our inventory aside for normal business use. Our clients need to see that not all meeting space in London has been turned into hospitality suites.’
So the message is, don’t despair. Yes, many venues will have been taken – but equally, many will still be available and after your business.

For an up-to-date listing of venues’ 2012 booking status, visit squaremeal.co.uk/2012


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011


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