The road less travelled

There was a time when impressing delegates meant going big – and that meant organising events in large cities. Now, there’s been a slow but steady change and PAs are wising up to the benefits of booking regional centres, says Cora Lydon.

You certainly can’t fault city centres for their offerings but moving out to regional destinations presents something extra special that really can add value to events – in fact, the Australian Regional Tourism Network reports that around 46 cents of every dollar spent on tourism is done so in regional locations, and business is following suit worldwide.

As Cvent’s Top 25 Meeting Destinations in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for 2017 were revealed, big cities realised they needed to be prepared for some stiff competition. Larger regional British cities, in particular, saw a rise in popularity here, with Birmingham moving up three places from the previous year to number 19, and Manchester jumping up two places to 21 – and the biggest increase of all was for Bristol, which rose a staggering 22 places to number 39.

“Meetings and events are critically important to the economy of cities of all sizes across the globe,” said Kevin Fliess, VP of Marketing for Cvent’s Hospitality Cloud. “While London has once again retained its number one position in this year’s top 25 EMEA list, it’s clear that competition is becoming fiercer. Ten years ago, regional UK cities would have had to fight very hard to compete with London, but a combination of large investment into state-of-the-art conference and event facilities, city regeneration and far better infrastructure has propelled the popularity of cities like Birmingham and Manchester within the international MICE community.”

Over in Australia the decentralisation of business events is a hot topic – particularly important given the size of the country and the distances that can be involved for your average corporate gathering. According to Business Events Council Australia, the majority of delegates at the 400,000 plus yearly corporate events, live within the conference state, whilst interstate delegates count for 20 per cent and international delegates accounted for a mere three per cent.

The perception is that regional events are often hampered by poor infrastructure when compared to metropolis areas – however, regions are investing heavily in bringing up standards so that they can offer competitive rates with no compromise on standards or facilities.

Need further convincing that your next event should be on the road less travelled? Here are five reasons why PAs should go regional:

  1. Memorable events
    Location is key when organising events but often the experience a venue can deliver really matters, too. Delegates are demanding events that offer something different and by selecting a regional venue you should find that the only thing limiting you is your imagination.
    Regional centres mean plenty of outdoor space – so you can open up the gathering to more people and plan all kinds of activities to support your aims. You’ll also benefit from breaking away from homogenous venues crammed alongside each other – regional venues know their visitors often have to do more than leap on a train to get there, so they work harder to make sure the impression that’s left is one well worth any journey. Many offer unique experiences which can prove to be extremely cost-effective when delivering key messages – and for getting bums on seats.
    PAs worldwide are seeking anything but conventional – and to find that gem of a location or venue, you could think outside the city. Away from the typical urban offering, imagine planning your next event in a remote cliff top castle (just think what the seclusion could do for your next Board meeting), a boutique winery (a tasting would help loosen up your guests) or a family cattle ranch (now there’s a teambuilding experience!)
  1. Security matters
    The topic of security has never been more important, particularly with the recent well-documented attacks and natural disasters. It should come as no surprise that central locations – filled with millions of people – will always be a target for extremism where the maximum number of people can be affected. So, by moving out to the suburbs you already reduce any security issues – a relief for you, but also for any nervous delegates.
    That’s not to say that you can sit back and relax – due diligence must still be undertaken. This could mean thoroughly checking and re-checking for any possible travel issues (such as strike action); tracking the weather forecast and adjusting plans accordingly; and having measures in place with the venue for what will happen in the event of an emergency. Full ID checks should be in place for the companies you work with as well as the delegates arriving for the event.
  1. Captive audience
    Take your delegates to a regional spot and you can pretty much guarantee a captive audience – with none of the distractions of a big city, which could see your guests skipping sessions in favour of hitting the shops, or delays associated with rush hour. Instead your delegates will be fully focused on one thing – your event. You’ll be able to plan a truly immersive experience; one that leaves them ready to absorb the information you’re disseminating.
    Plus – unlike in big cities where you may need to transport the group to new locations in order to complete your plans – at a regional venue everything can take place in the one spot. There’ll be space for everything from al fresco cocktail evenings and large gala dinners to outdoor teambuilding activities. You’re also less likely to find interruptions in the form of traffic noise or the emergency services whizzing by, when you’re tucked away.
  1. Budget efficiencies
    As with many things in the meetings and events industry, one of the key drivers of change is budget. The 2018 Meetings and Events Future Trends report shows costs are rising globally – with a 3.7 per cent increase in hotel costs and a 3.5 per cent rise in airfares projected for the year ahead. But how many PAs can report a similar rise in their event budgets?
    Escalating costs are already making their mark on the industry as people opt for locations and venues more affordable than their central counterparts. Not only will you find regional venues are cheaper, but many associated costs will also follow suit. Parking usually comes at a premium in any large city (if you find any at all) but with a regional site there are usually plenty of spaces on-site for no additional cost to either your budget or the delegates.
    Plus, on that topic, delegates will appreciate being able to park at the event itself without having to negotiate a busy car park, a bustling train and then a bus or walk to their eventual location. Stress-free parking all adds up to delegates ticking yes on the RSVP.
    And, if you opt for somewhere that comes with a stunning panorama, you can keep themeing and dressing to a minimum – let the surroundings do the talking.
  1. Go local
    But we don’t mean looking no further than what’s on your doorstep. With many corporate events it’s convenient to hold them in a city spot – but in the midst of the hustle and bustle, the beauty of the locality and all its offerings is lost.
    When you book regional, there’s space to really appreciate what the local area can bring to your event – whether that’s serving up the speciality, bringing the local history to life with your choice of venue or curating the best local experiences for delegates to try for memorable experiences. ‘Wish you were here’ will be the key phrase.
A PA-in-the-know
“For our quarterly UKMEA Water Management Team meeting, the aim was to be away from the office; to set a different ‘tone,’ being away from a usual environment and its distractions. The venue we chose in the end was relatively close to a train station so that suited those coming from other offices, but was easy to get to via the motorway network too.
“We had everybody in one location as a ‘captive’ audience. We had to make sure those travelling by train could get there easily and it wasn’t too out in the sticks – we didn’t want to have to put on minibuses. The venue was stunning and the room had amazing views over the expansive grounds – the greenery was uplifting!”
Sue Spink, PA, ARUP