By Lucy Wray

It is no secret that the hospitality industry has suffered at the hands of the credit crunch. However, the extent to which it has been damaged and altered is largely unknown and speculation surrounding the recovery and expected changes is rife. To investigate the situation, free venue finding service Conferences-UK conducted a survey of over 350 venue bookers and managers and can now reveal the outcome in this feature.

Financial concern has been a huge pressure on most businesses over the past couple of years; conference venues, hotels and event organisers more so than most. The result is that venue bookers are searching for the cheapest deals on the market to help keep a lid on outgoings and rein in spending. One discovery was that 65.5 per cent of those surveyed said they always shop around for the most competitive deals and noted that price is at the top of their wish list more than ever before.

It pays off to be understanding during difficult times, as venues that are flexible with rates, cancellation policies and minimum numbers have proved most popular during the recession. Confirming that money is the buzzword on every booker’s lips, over two thirds (68.2 per cent) of bookers surveyed said they had taken advantage of at least one money saving initiative in the last 12 months. Venues offering reduced rates are more favourable than ever before too, as more than half of the bookers surveyed choose venues which offer money-saving deals such as free accommodation for delegates (32.8 per cent), and discounts for repeat or block bookings (32.3 per cent).

Venues that are managing to ride the storm of the recession verified that offering reduced rates and money saving deals is a fail-safe way to entice custom. Three-quarters of those surveyed said customers have cost at the forefront of their minds when booking, so it is in their best interest to provide competitive prices. 59.2 percent also said that people book as late as possible, making the industry an unpredictable one that is keeping event managers on their toes. In wealthier times, people had the luxury of prioritising more idyllic specifications like desirable location (69.3 per cent); outside space (54.5 per cent) and ease of accessibility (24.2 per cent).

It is clear that despite all of the upheaval, in-house events managers are doing all they can to maximise bookings, but with modern technology as the main competitor it is not always that simple. They are more than aware of their need to compete against cheaper alternatives such as web conferences and internal meetings. Nearly two thirds (61 per cent) claimed conference and web calls have lessened their demand for physical space and place this as a reason for the harsh effects of the recession on the industry. 83.7 per cent believe that the financial situation has encouraged businesses to host internal as opposed to external meetings to reduce their need for paid for meeting space.

Over two thirds (69 per cent) of the bookers surveyed confirmed this, saying the credit crunch is responsible for them choosing to host more internal meetings. They also noted that they are more inclined to use a free venue finding service, such as Conferences-UK to save them valuable time and money, enabling them to get the best rate, and fast.

Delegate spend is down on previous years too, with 35.5 per cent of venue bookers surveyed reducing their spend per delegate compared to last year. However, over half confirmed they are spending the same amount as last year, but that it is still less than in previous years, before the crunch took it’s biggest bite.

Proving what a resilient industry it is, standards have not slipped, as hotels and conference centres continue to hold their heads up high to retain values and maintain a cool ‘business as usual’ attitude. The survey found that 8 out 10 bookers think that the service offered is either the same or better than this time last year, which means venues must be doing something right to regain much needed custom. Almost 10 per cent perceive it to have come out fighting and believe the hospitality industry is coping really well with the recession, showing there’s a lot of support out there.

Simon Thompson, Managing Director of Conferences-UK.org.uk comments: “The results of the survey are very intriguing and provide answers that will help us to move forwards. The results indicate that the hospitality industry is an extremely adaptable one. It has managed to cater for the evolving needs of venue bookers so there is no doubt that it will come out on top.”

In regards to the recovery of the conference industry, 40 per cent think that it will be a gradual process over the next two to three years, although around a third think it will be earlier, saying it will be fully recovered by 2011.

This independent survey has revealed that there is a general consensus that the hospitality industry is riding the storm and will be even better as the recession passes over. Despite this, a minority (13 per cent) perceive it to be suffering badly, but this does not mean that they have doubts about it getting back to fighting form in the near future. With the vast changes that have been made to the booking process and the offers that are now available, such as lower minimum numbers and better deals, it is arguably a more flexible and dynamic industry now than ever before. It has broadened it’s appeal and come up with some good alternatives to help it compete against new technology and crunched budgets, so hopefully bookers and venues can continue to work together to come up with the best solutions possible for all.

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