Changing times means an academic venue solution

Venuemasters the consortium representing academic venues, has completed a full review of its operations culminating in the announcement of a 12 point strategic plan that outlines their direction for the next five years. During the last six months Venuemasters have consulted the MICE community, their members and other academic venues to develop a strategy and a range of initiatives which will give them an innovative edge and to become a key voice in the events industry.

The 12 point strategic plan focuses on:

  • Review Brand, Business Plan, Vision and Mission
  • Leadership and Specialist Team
  • Industry Leading Website
  • Membership Recruitment Focus
  • Membership Engagement Focus
  • Great Value for Money Fee Structure
  • Innovative Marketing Products
  • Proactive Sales and Exhibitions
  • Enquiry/Referral Sales Process
  • Partnerships with other key organisations
  • Preferred Supplier Programme
  • Learning and Development Academy

Some of the team behind the plans, including General Manager, Natalie Williamson and a new Sales and Membership Director Rachael Bartlett, have wasted no time in putting these plans in motion. Rachael brings her experience of her time working in the hospitality and higher education sector with skills in negotiation, sales, hotel management and business development. She joins Natalie, who became General Manager last year who has extensive experience and a deep understanding of the academic venues sector, having worked at the consortium since 2006. With their Chairman Steve Crawford, they will be presenting the new brand identity - Academic Venue Solutions – and celebrating the launch of their new website at the Conference and Hospitality Show in April.

An important outcome of the review has been the need to focus on membership recruitment and engagement. As budgets have tightened during the last 10 years so have the available resources that venues have to spend on marketing activity. Venuemasters is focussing its efforts on increasing its membership to 90 members by 2022, whilst improving engagement with its current members. Bartlett comments: “My role is twofold. Firstly, to improve communication with our members and the opportunities open to them and how Venuemasters can support them. Secondly, to develop relationships with potential members across the whole academic venue spectrum.”

One of the key facets of membership is the opportunity to take up a vast array of marketing opportunities and the strategy focuses on improving on an already successful range of activities.

At their recent annual conference the appetite for collaboration was evident both between members and other partner organisations such as the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO), and also media partners. Williamson explains: “Event organisers benefit from the academic venues sector’s culture of collaboration, as we pride ourselves in referring business within the sector, often suggesting to event organisers other academic venues. It’s essentially a win-win situation. Referrals are an important part of how we want the membership to be collaborating more closely, and we are looking at how we can support this.”

And finally, for the members’ one of the most important elements of the plans, is a Learning and Development Academy, to include a variety of educational opportunities. Nick Akerman, Sales Manager for the Fire Service College, who has recently joined the board understands fully the importance of such a development – “We are a niche part of the sector, but one that can provide insight into how to support this development, from both an operational viewpoint and from that of a delivery partner. It will be an excellent addition to the membership package.”

National and International Collaboration
Collaboration will be an important aspect of the plans as they look to the future, and a complimentary collaboration will be with VisitBritain to work on targeting international conferences, ambassador programmes and bid writing. The group have identified an opportunity to bring together venues and VisitBritain to work on how they can share their capability of hosting large congress events, and attracting academic conferences from around the world. In turn this will open up to member venues the opportunity of winning large complex events into a destination, that may or may not have this skill within their own city or local business tourism support.

Kerrin MacPhie, Head of Business Events for VisitBritain said: “VisitBritain recognises the important contribution academic venues play in the UK’s international business events offering, not only for the high quality conference spaces but its world-leading academic community. We are committed to supporting the business events sector to be internationally competitive, growing the UK’s share of the global market and its economic contribution. We are delighted to include Venuemasters as one of our partners through its learning and development programme.”

One such example of this collaboration is an initial agreement between the partners to work on a series of learning and development workshops covering ambassador programmes, bids and international business development.

Steve Crawford, Chair of Venuemasters added: “This is the type of collaboration we need to be aiming for. A partnership that benefits both – on the one hand through joint learning, and on the other through bringing business events to the UK.”