As I write this in early October 2022, the economic future of the UK looks bleak. High inflation, interest rates rising, a cost of living crisis and a government in disarray. Across the hospitality industry we are already feeling weary from the hammering we took during Covid. For some, 2022 has not been the panacea we hoped for. Rising food and energy costs and staffing problems have all hampered our recovery. If you are running a venue or thinking about starting a new venue then you will be right to be concerned and considering how you can attract venue bookings from clients who maybe feeling the pinch. But before YOU take a U-turn please do read on.
I am not an economist or a politician, nor do I have a crystal ball but like you I am a business owner and I do not believe there is ever a perfect time to start a new business (unless you happen to have a time machine or can see into the future). The political and economic landscape right now maybe troubling but we live in a state of constant flux so the outlook today may look very different tomorrow. I believe that if you have the opportunity, determination and a sound strategy then success is possible at anytime.
I have worked in the events industry for long enough to know that whatever is happening in the world, people still want to hold weddings and events. Indeed, the wedding and events industry contributes over £80bn to the UK economy. £14.7bn of that is generated by weddings alone.
We are not impervious to crisis as the last few years will testify. Covid had an overwhelming impact on the events industry costing us billions in lost revenue. However, we are resilient and 2022 has seen a resurgence of postponed weddings and delayed festivals. And even during Covid we adapted. We reduced numbers, we moved outdoors, we stepped up our health and safety processes and we even stepped foot into the world of virtual events.
Because, whatever else is going in the world, we still want to get married, we still want to meet our friends and colleagues face to face, we want to celebrate and we want to be entertained.
It might be harder to attract new venue bookings right now but if you plan well, do your research, evaluate, invest wisely and have a policy of continuous improvement then there is still a market for weddings and events.
There will be some of us who will fall by the wayside but I predict that these will be the businesses who have not adapted, who have not done the research and continue to offer run of the mill, lacklustre, functional, unappealing spaces with little in the way of customer service. The businesses that do listen and develop and make wise decisions that offer fresh, unique, inspiring, extraordinary venues with their focus on delighting the customer will emerge stronger and maintain their venue bookings. They will also benefit the industry as a whole by encouraging more people to host events.
Your venues are significant for the whole events industry. For the caterers and florists, for the dress makers and food and drink producers, for the local taxi firms and photographers, for your staff and, most importantly, for your clients.
Before any real planning can begin wedding couples and other events organisers need to secure a venue. Choosing the right venue is crucial. The venue is more than just a place. It sets the scene and creates an ambience for the whole event. It helps attract an audience and inspires creativity. It offers comfort and a warm welcome.
And because of this significance, and most importantly for you as venue owners, this means that a sizeable portion of the event budget is spent on venue hire.
In 2021, the average spend by couples on their wedding was over £17,000 with a significant 40% (£7,000) being spent on the wedding venue*.
Price has always been a primary factor in helping clients decide on their venue. Now more than ever budgets will be tightened but this doesn’t mean that couples are on the hunt for the cheapest venue they can find. The venue still remains important so will still command a high proportion of the overall budget. What they will be looking for is best value for money and cheap does not necessarily mean good value.
Consider the couple deciding to marry at home. A ‘free’ and meaningful venue perhaps but not necessarily good value for money. Without a dedicated event space they will need to spend significant sums on a marquee, decorating, hiring furniture, lighting and sound equipment, power and toilets. A dedicated, purpose built events venue on the other hand might cost them several thousand pounds in hire fees but they will save time and money from not having to build and organise their own venue at home.
How can you provide good value for money and attract venue bookings?
You need to focus on two things; offering great customer service and facilities that best serve your ideal client.
Great customer service is about communicating well with your clients. Listening to their needs and responding promptly and considerately. If you can’t directly supply what they need, explain early on in the planning process and if possible help them source it from elsewhere. You might not be the right venue for them but they will remember you for your helpfulness and perhaps recommend you to a couple who ARE your ideal client. Be as flexible as possible. Clients want to enjoy the event planning process so help them avoid stress and even save them time by giving them all the information they need to have a successful event at your venue. Don’t forget you are the expert so your input will be extremely valuable and save them time in the long run if you can help prompt questions and provide solutions early on.
You might have the most beautiful palace but is it equipped for events? What infrastructure do you need to deliver weddings and events that will best serve your ideal clients? Anticipate the needs of your client and invest wisely in the things that they want and need the most. What can you supply that will make their life easier? An outdoor wedding or event will need a field which is easily accessible with well-drained ground in good condition. They will need a temporary structure. They will need power and water. If you can’t supply these directly then direct your clients to other local and reliable suppliers.
If you are converting an existing building into a dedicated space for weddings then bear in mind that, on average, most wedding parties are now in excess of 100 guests. How many guests can you accommodate? Do you have different spaces available for the ceremony and dancing? Do you have an attractive outside space for outdoor wedding ceremonies? How long is your hire period? One day or the whole weekend? Do you have a wedding licence? Do you offer a bar service? Do you have sound and lighting installed? Do you have a kitchen for the caterer or can you supply the catering in-house? Do you offer a wedding co-ordinator? Can you recommend other local suppliers? Do you have accommodation available on site? What furniture can you supply?
The more services and facilities you can supply the more perceived value you will present to wedding and events organisers and the more likely they are to book your venue. It may also offer additional income. Overnight accommodation or an in-house bar service are a good way to add value but also accrue income. And remember to be explicit in telling prospective clients the value that you offer. Keep an up-to-date list of what is included in the hire fee. Share this list on your website and brochures. Talk about your service and facilities when clients come for site visits.
Don’t forget to do research before you invest in services and facilities. Talk to your competitors. What services and facilities are they offering? How much are they charging? Listen and notice what your clients are asking for. What is important to them? Do they need additional accommodation? Do they need state of the art audio visual equipment? Do they still need furniture for an extravagant three-course wedding breakfast or would they prefer a more low-key buffet table or outdoor barbecue? Discuss what is happening elsewhere in the industry with your suppliers. What are they noticing? The more information you can gather the more informed your investment decisions will be, the more value you can add for your clients and the more venue bookings for you.
For more information about how I can help you plan your venue for success, take a look here.