Our series of Talking Points allows industry professionals to discuss topics that affect them and invite readers to comment. This week's contribution is from Clive Basche, Sales and Marketing Director, Wyboston Lakes.
Thereís a continuing debate about what venues should be communicating to organisers. Given the over-riding need to keep costs down, should they simply be presenting their best rates? Or should they be presenting all-inclusive packages where thereís no risk of expensive add-ons? Or should they be communicating absolutely everything they have to offer, so that the customer can actually make a comprehensively informed decision?
My venue, Wyboston Lakes, is the largest privately owned single site specialist conference and training provider in the United Kingdom. On our 350 acre rural estate between Cambridge and Bedford, we have pretty much everything an organiser could want: three distinct conference centre offering a choice of styles and packages; extensive leisure facilities including an 18 hole golf course; food options that range up to AA rosette standard: and a great deal more. Our client base is massive, ranging from small associations and charities to FTSE 500 companies and Government departments.
So we constantly have to assess whatís best to communicate to our current and our potential customers. Clearly, some place an absolute premium on minimising costs; but for many others, while value is of course significant, their priority is an event which achieves their objectives without compromise.
Weíve developed a two-fold approach. First, we donít believe that itís right for the client simply to offer our best room rates. That would create an optical price that may look very appealing, but is actually misleading. Is any professional organiser actually taken in by the superficially incredible rates that you can see regularly in the conference and related media? Bet on it, if you see a rate of £10 or £15 a delegate, itíll be an hourly rate which excludes virtually everything that even the most basic event requires Ė room hire, equipment, refreshments, technical support, paper and pens. The real rate will therefore be far higher
We believe the responsible standard for venues should be to provide all-inclusive packages, which include everything thatís needed for the event, so that the customer can be entirely confident that there will be no unexpected add-ons to inflate the final invoice. We make it absolutely transparent whatís included, and we re-confirm this if and when we enter into the planning stage with our clients. To us, and to many of our fellow venues in the specialist venues sector, itís extraordinarily depressing to see other providers, particularly hotels, tarnishing the image of the venues sector overall by offering rates that are pared down quite cynically, because they only result in a disappointed, and an angry, customer.
On that platform of all-inclusiveness, we build a range of packages, because as Iíve said you mustnít assume that every client has the same priority. As long as they are transparent, and of course as long as they optimise value for money, thatís what we find our customers want.
Then there are the optional extras. There is a school of thought that venues who offer clients such options as cordon bleu cuisine, fitness centres and golf courses are somehow confusing the proposition. Some people even go as far as suggesting that such options actually risk denigrating the event by distracting guests or delegates from the fundamental purpose of communications.
We donít feel that a venue should presume to judge such things on behalf of its customers. Our experience is that customers are more than intelligent enough to decide their parameters: the job of the venue is to extend their possibilities as far as it can. It goes without saying that every event is unique: the parameters for an internal training event will be different to those for a sales launch to key customers. Of course customers want focused facilities and switched on, experienced support services: but the vast majority of them at least want to consider additional opportunities to distinguish their event and make it memorable.
Itís not a question of Ďif youíve got it, flaunt ití, but it is any venueís duty - not only to its clients but to itself - to make clear to customers what it can do for them. Venues are different, and itís basic business sense to communicate that differentiation. It doesnít cloud the issue: todayís customers are more sophisticated and informed than ever - certainly well able to see through superficial offers and unnecessary add-ons to decide precisely what they want.