We spoke to Butlin’s new head of conferences and events, Cheryl Russel, about repositioning the brand, an increased focus on F&B and putting CEOs on dodgems
If you asked anyone five years ago what Butlin’s was, they’d probably say where British families went on holidays in the 80’s. And although the leisure group still specialises in holiday resort experiences, it offers so much more.
First and foremost, Butlin’s has transformed itself into one of the most exciting players on the conference and events scene. With some destination venues across the UK (Bognor Regis
), the group can accommodate an impressive amount of people for events – we’re talking up to 2,500!
Breaking down barriers
But when Butlin’s entered the events world five years ago, certain challenges presented themselves. Butlin’s new head of conference and events, Cheryl Russel, explains: ‘Although Butlin’s is one of the most recognised brands in Britain, and there is a real pedigree about us, it is not mainly events we are known for.’
‘Our biggest challenge, admittedly, is perception,’ Cheryl continues. ‘A lot of people will think they know what to expect from Butlin’s, but actually, when people come to stay, that perception disappears. When we first entered the market, the response from clients was that Butlin’s was not an events and conferencing brand, so we weren’t perceived as an option.’
Changing perceptions therefore became a key strategy to succeed in the conference and events sector. Oh, and the significant investment of more than £175m to make the resorts events-ready. The past five years have been spent honing in on pricing, packaging and enhancing the product offering.
New year, new you
Cheryl joined the company six months ago and certainly seems the right woman for the job. With more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality, conferences and events industry (notably with the Principal Hotel Company and QMH), Cheryl was brought in to improve the strategy, the marketing, the pricing, the project and the delivery.
And she has big plans for 2019. A huge focus will be on the F&B offering, but that is all under wraps, so do keep your eyes peeled.
‘A successful event is often measured on its food offering, so that’s really something we’re bringing our attention to,’ says Cheryl.
Another vital strategy point for Butlin’s is offering unusual and memorable experience-based events. There is, for instance, a fun fair at each of the brand’s venues – who else can say they have that as a permanent feature?
‘Corporate clients love it!’ exclaims Cheryl with a smile. ‘Imagine getting the CEO on the dodgems? It’s a lot of fun.’
Or what about a break-out session in deck chairs on the beach? ‘Not many other venues can do that, so that really plays into the experiential side of events and bringing things to a new level,’ says Cheryl. ‘Our brand is very playful, so we do playful and quirky really well. We’re not your vanilla, big-branded box that you see so much of out there – we can offer something truly different.’
Responding to trends
Both healthy food and experientialism are two major trends in the events industry at the moment. So what about technology, which in many ways has changed the way we deliver conferences?
‘Connectivity is absolutely essential for the delivery of a good event,’ Cheryl insists. But for Butlin’s, technology, a rigorous AV system, impeccable lighting and top-quality sound functions first and foremost play supportive and fundamental roles. ‘It’s there to enhance the delivery of an event, not to distract from it,’ she says.
‘We have top-quality technicians in-house, who will ensure everything relating to technology work optimally at all times,’ Cheryl explains. ‘This is not only a massive cost-saving for clients, but it’s also us showcasing our experience and our equipment to what we can do and deliver.’
With that being said, Cheryl tells me that the brand is looking into enhancing its virtual reality offering, as this is currently a massive client demand.
So has it paid off? Has Butlin’s managed to shake its 1980’s holiday reputation? Cheryl is convinced the group has: ‘We compete on a level playing field with more well-known and established conference brands. We even get clients who normally book Disney World, so we attract a wide range of clients.’
The numbers demonstrate this, too. The company’s conference and events project has grown year on year with an average growth of 5% every year.
‘We’re working really hard to get people onto our resorts, and once they’re there, they are blown away by what we can offer,’ Cheryl beams.
It is clear that Butlin’s is a force to be reckoned with – and so is your CEO on a dodgem. So what are you waiting for?