London has become one of the hottest meetings destinations in the world as indicated by its No. 6 position on International Congress and Convention Association’s 2014 world rankings list. Nowhere is the flurry of event activity more prevalent than at ExCeL London, an ADNEC-owned exhibition venue.
Poised to host more than 350 events and welcome 4 million visitors this year, ExCeL has played a major role in the city’s popularity among international meeting and event organizers, which have booked events at the venue up to 2022.
This past April at the annual Exhibition News Awards, ExCeL won the ‘Best Venue over 100,000m²’ for the second time. The venue was honored primarily because of the extensive support its staff provides meeting planners. One of the facility’s specialties is tailoring messages and services to different segments of event organizers.
Meeting planners from North America represent 25 percent of ExCeL’s event business, and since 2010, this business has increased by 15 percent. After these organizers inquired about leasing event space, ExCeL followed up – usually within 24 hours — and began demystifying the event planning process in London.
“For North American meeting planners, staging an event in London provides access not just to Europe but to markets globally. Geographically, London is one of the best connected cities in the world and can be reached by more people, in less time, than any other global city. On average, events that come to London see an 18 percent to 20 percent increase in delegate attendance,” stated Andrew Swanston, head of sales, Conferences & Events, ExCeL London.
In the non-unionized environment of London, international organizers will find cultural and industry differences. With ExCeL being a privately owned facility — as opposed to city- and government-owned institutions in North America — the venue often provides many of the services offered by Convention Visitors Bureaus. Additionally, hotels in London don’t penalize meeting planners for guestrooms that aren’t used as they do in North America, according to Swanston.
ExCeL spells out society, industry and facility differences in informational and marketing materials adapted for meeting planners from Canada and the U.S.
“We recognize that we don’t always speak the same language! For example, in the UK, we talk about square meters, classroom styles, lifts, cloakrooms and car parks. We have, therefore, adapted our marketing materials so that they are relevant for North American meeting planners including creating a specific guide outlining the differences between staging events in London and North America,” Swanston added.
The facility also aims to make sure meeting planners don’t feel abandoned after signing their leasing agreement. Each organizer is assigned a member of ExCeL’s event support team who acts as an extension of the planner’s team throughout the life of the event.
“Our clients’ success is our success. We want to ensure that we deliver the best possible guest experience,” he stated. “ExCeL London’s brand promise is to ‘take every event to heart.’[This] is not just our brand statement but underpins how the venue operates and how we set ourselves apart from our competitors.”
The venue also sets itself apart by continually investing into projects that benefit its clients.
“Every year, ExCeL has a significant budget for capital expenditure, which enables us to listen to clients’ feedback and continue to invest. In 2014, ExCeL invested $6 million in the venue, with a further commitment of $22.5 million in 2015,” remarked Swanston.
One event at ExCeL could comprise of several sub-events, such as internal staff briefings, external client or buyer meetings, and media launches. With this came the demand from organizers to have flexible event space to tailor their corporate message to each group. ExCeL listened and spent $750,000 on a suite of six executive boardrooms.
The venue also upgraded its free Wi-Fi to allow 16,000 concurrent users, and added The Sunborn Yacht, one of the seven onsite hotels. These hotels offer 1,600 guestrooms, and another 10,000 rooms are available nearby.
“We have one-to-one relationships with all of the key decision-makers and general managers of both onsite and city-wide hotels. We work with all of our clients on negotiations with hotel rates and allocation, prior to a city announcement, to achieve desired room rates,” added Swanston.
Additionally, ExCeL often acts as an intermediary between its clients and other decision-makers and suppliers within the overall city, not just at the venue.
“We have developed close working relationship[s] with our local stakeholders by creating a networking group called ‘The ExCeL London Supporters Club.’ This allows us to work with local partners to provide a ‘London welcome’ for events held at ExCeL,” he explained. “The Supporters Club includes over 120 bars, restaurants, transport providers, attractions, hotels and off-site venues. All supporters are sent a monthly newsletter, and then twice a year we stage an off-site networking event. This brings together ExCeL clients and supporters, providing them with an opportunity to network and discuss ways they can work together.”
Whether meeting planners develop partnerships solo or with the help of ExCeL London, Swanston assured that their clients always have the venue’s full support.