Unchain my heart - why independent, unusual and one-off venues are winning more business

Twelve months ago, 92% of meeting planners said that events were more likely to be booked outside of a hotel than they were five years previously and that the use of non-traditional venues would increase by 4% during 2019.

At Capita Travel and Events, we’ve seen first-hand evidence of this trend as meeting planners vie to create enticing, audience-friendly experiences that provide the most suitable space and the best brand fit.

Chain to non-chain venues

In 2019, 31% of meeting bookings went into independently owned or small chain properties. Independently-owned venues outside London – a swing of 10%. More telling still is that 31% of event bookings now go into non-chain hotels.

Outside London, events booked into independently owned or small chain properties rose by 4%. These include the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon, The Derby Conference Centre & Hotel and Park Regis in Birmingham.

In London, bookings into venues without any group affiliation were up by a staggering 27%, with Landmark, The Bridge – YWCA Club and Bishopsgate Institute leading the way.

Spend by meeting and event planners across independently owned or small chain properties rose by 4%, year on year, during 2019. 71% of bookings and 33% of spend amongst venues in this category were shared amongst the top ten properties – a 23% increase in bookings and 22% increase on total spend in just twelve months – which included:

  1. MK Community Properties

  2. Milton Keynes Wesley Hotel, London

  3. ExCel, London

  4. Ardencote, Warwick

  5. Meet-Up, York

Sporting and unusual venues

We’re also seeing more outdoor spaces being used for events. Sports stadiums and parks for non-sporting events are growing in popularity, attracted by the unique environments, opportunities for delegate participation and positive association with wellbeing.

During 2019 we saw a 45% up-lift in bookings for museums, football clubs, and other sporting stadia and arenas. We have also booked great venues like Lord’s Cricket Ground, the Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Chelsea Football Club. Away from sport we have housed successful events in castles like Warwick Castle and at tourist attractions such as the National Memorial Arboretum across the UK.

In this group, sports stadia have seen the biggest increase in bookings, with 49% of sports stadia activity centred on the following five venues:

  1. Amex Stadium, Brighton

  2. DW Stadium, Wigan

  3. Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington

  4. AJ Bell Stadium, Manchester

  5. Bet365 Stadium, Stoke on Trent

Amongst sporting stadia, football clubs have proven most popular, with bookings up by 7%. This is partly explained by more competitive pricing on the part of the clubs: - on average, room hire was 26% cheaper in 2019 and day delegate rates 10% cheaper, compared to 2018 rates.

Finally, museums remain a popular alternative to hotels for meeting planners seeking a unique environment or delegate experience. Our three most popular museums in 2019 were: -

  1. Museum of the Great Western Railway,

  2. Swindon National Railway Museum,

  3. York Cider Museum, Hereford

So, what are the trends behind these figures? The appeal of unique and unusual venues is strong. Corporate planners want to hold their events in unusual or quirky venues because the conventional, brand-standard product available from many chains does not provide the ‘wow’ factor they require.

There’s also sufficient competition in the market to enable them to pick the space that’s absolutely right for their events.

Pressure is on the venue sector to delight, and to come up with new ideas and concepts that make events more varied and experiential. The non-standard venues listed in this article are delivering that feeling of freshness.

Whilst they continue to do so, the pressure will remain on chain-owned properties to maintain market share.