London: Infrastructure Developments Are Invigorating the Venerable World Capital

Skyview Thames

As one London-based writer once put it, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Even as recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels threw European travel into disarray, London, a bystander in the international fracas, quickly emerged from softening demand with all its allure intact.

With a diverse portfolio of hotels and such stand-alone venues as ExCeL, the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, the Barbican, the Olympia London, and more, London is especially attractive to the meetings market. To help source meetings, Tracy Halliwell, MBE, director of business tourism and major events, London & Partners, says, "We have great relationships with hotels across the capital and can work with clients to negotiate group discounts and deals. Our Convention Bureau team are London experts; they will provide free and impartial advice and assistance to event professionals. We can help with all aspects of event planning, from handling RFPs to providing visitor information for delegates."

These things matter because London has always been a pretty pricey town, and planners need every edge they can get. The truly savvy ones can help their attendees enjoy London by offering information about free museums, walking tours of neighborhoods, and a dine-around at the Borough Market, which, according to Halliwell, "is London's oldest food market and home to traders from all over the world selling both British and international produce." It also offers several original event spaces, she notes.


Culture, Culture
"Thanks to our partners," says Halliwell, "we can help organize private viewings in our great museums." These can include private viewings of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London with cocktails and canapes (in tandem with Historic Royal Palaces); Barbican Art Gallery, where the Strange and Familiar exhibition offers a glimpse of Britain from the 1930s up to current times; and EXHIBITIONISM, the first major exhibition on The Rolling Stones, which recently opened at the Saatchi Gallery. For event organizers, the latter is a ground-breaking event that "offers a unique entertainment platform for hospitality events, providing private access to one of the most anticipated exhibitions of the year.

"Looking ahead to this summer," she adds, "the new Tate Modern is opening in June, and later in the year the Design Museum will be opening on Nov. 24 in its new Kensington home and will offer fantastic event space."

There is more: According to London scene-maker (and U.S. expat) Jane Cahane, development on the Greenwich Peninsula, opposite Canary Wharf, is scheduled to create a 430,500-square-foot film studio, a new luxury hotel, and a new North Greenwich transport hub (including a ferry jetty and London's first cruise terminal) in proximity to the O2 Arena. Right now the Peninsula is a favorite with artists and audiences that enjoy pop-up happenings and spectacle. Still an exciting development to the area, notes London & Partners' Chris Lynn, is the Emirates Air Cable Car operating between O2 & ExCel via North Greenwich and Royal Victoria Dock. Open since late 2012, the cable car offers an exciting aerial transition.
Food That Sustains
The London food scene is one of the most vital and exciting in the world. From fine-dining to gastro pubs to street food, the range and complexity of food being served is astounding. London's food scene is ever expanding, says Halliwell. "The city caters for all tastes." Among the continuing food trends is vegetarian/vegan, and catering to this is the recently opened Farmacy, a West London venue committed to sourcing all food from local, organic U.K. farms. The Alchemy Bar, which is part of the venue, sports cocktails and mocktails made with flaxseed and cannabis oil -- among other ingredients.

Jenise Fryatt, an independent California-based meeting professional who assisted in planning the first EventCamp Europe in 2011, recalls sustainability being a big trend. Perhaps it has something to do with being a small island, but now as then, sustainability remains a viable trend in London, especially in the meeting industry. Even large meeting venues like Queen Elizabeth II Centre have a sustainability policy. QEII Taste, which oversees the food served at the Centre, incorporates local seasonal produce into its menus, and states, "We are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which means our seafood comes from fisheries that are committed to sustainable fishing practices. Our coffee and tea are Fairtrade [Foundation-certified], and we will provide you with One Water mineral water, all the profits of which go to funding better access to clean water in Africa."


Plan Soon, Plan Often
"Our popularity as a destination can prove challenging when looking to secure hotel availability for large events, as London's occupancy rate averages 82 percent," admits Halliwell. Relief, however, is on the way: In November last year, London & Partners worked with AM:PM to compile data on London's hotel industry. "The results showed that the numbers of hotel rooms in the capital were expected to grow by 12 percent over the next three years," says Halliwell. The increase is expected to be driven by budget and five-star hotels. These new properties and hotel extensions will add 17,769 more rooms across the capital over the same period, up from 138,769.

Laura Maria Gabrielli, U.K.-based strategic events project manager at PHASE II event services, adds another caveat: "Regarding London as a meeting location, availability can be limited, especially in some times of the year. For example, some companies book the venue for their Christmas party starting from August, therefore finding a venue (or even booking a dinner for a group) in December at short notice can be an issue."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]  



This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

Sky Calling
In fact, whoever said the sky's the limit hasn't been to London in a while. "With London's skyline evolving, more and more sky-high venues are available to meetings planners," says Halliwell. Airy venues for hire include the Sky Garden, which "opened a little over a year ago," offering three different restaurants and breathtaking views of the City; The Shard's viewing platforms, available for up to 400 guests; and Searcys The Gherkin, located on the top two floors of the iconic 30 St Mary Axe, which is available for up to 140 people or 260 guests for standing receptions. Finally, on the grounds of the Olympic Park, The Orbit, the U.K.'s tallest structure, offers event space with fantastic views for a private dinner. "This May," says Halliwell, visitors will also be able to go down The Orbit in a slide designed by Carsten Hoeller.

Back on the ground, in Nine Elms (just across the river from Chelsea), Halliwell says that the new U.S. Embassy is due to be completed at the end of 2016, "along with two new Tube stations, Nine Elms and Battersea, to open in 2020." What of the old embassy? In London, one of the popular methods of preserving significant architecture is to convert it into hotels. It has been done to palaces, banks, jails, and now, the former U.S. Embassy in Mayfair. Plans are under way for this Grade II-listed Chancery building to be converted into a 137-room luxury hotel with five restaurants as part of a billion-pound development of Grosvenor Square. There is also expected to be a spa and ballroom for 1,000 guests.

This month, another repositioned property, the five-star, 200-room London Marriott County Hall, is expected to complete a multimillion-pound renovation of its guest rooms and public spaces, with a "quintessentially British" theme selected by RPW Design firm. The renovation of this property, which is located next to the London Eye, follows on the heels of the Marriott-Starwood merger that was approved by the companies' stockholders early last month.

Together, Marriott and Starwood have 35 properties in London, some of which -- including Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, and the Sheraton Skyline Hotel London Heathrow -- feature some of the largest hotel meeting space in the city. Also expected in 2018 is the launch of Crossrail, which, according to Halliwell, "will revolutionize travel within London and allow visitors to travel across the city from Heathrow in the west to ExCeL London in the east in 42 minutes, drastically reducing the time it currently takes" to get to and from England's largest and busiest airport.

Navigation has always been a big issue for planners, as Halliwell knows: "London is a big city, and it can be perceived as difficult to navigate." One of the more thrilling alternatives to coaches or the Tube is the number of RIB boat companies operating on the Thames. Not only are they being used for high-speed sightseeing, these boats can also convey attendees to their venues.


More Hotel News
Who can get enough of Harry Potter? Not AccorHotels, which will be hosting a Wizardry Wins-themed party at the Novotel London West in June, as part of The Meetings Show at the Olympia Grand. (Wizardry Wins is the name of Accor's Potter-themed incentive program.)

Says Dana Lewis, director of MICE and leisure, AccorHotels UK and Ireland, "We are optimistic about the success of this campaign which aims to keep AccorHotels front of mind among agents and drive sales." Planners might inquire into other Potter-related events, such as "a summer Quidditch tournament and a fam trip with a 'magical' pop-up cinema showing Harry Potter."

Late last year, Edwardian Group London relaunched itself as Edwardian Hotels London. According to Paul Mansi, chief operating officer from Edwardian Hotels London, "This rebrand is very important to us; as we grow at a rapid pace we want to make sure that our guests know who we are and what we stand for. Our hotels are at the center of everything we do and we pride ourselves on our several decades' worth of hospitality knowledge. We want to ensure that our guests experience the Edwardian level of excellence and that in the multiple touch-points they encounter our unique sense of flair." The hospitality group, which owns and operates 12 hotels, including The May Fair Hotel in London and Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester in the city's Free Trade Hall, is also sending its employees to the Imperial College Business School. Over a decade-long development program, the hospitality group has committed to training more than 250 of its employees.

LOCAL CUSTOMS THROWDOWN with the Bard
With 2016 being Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, planners can push the Shakespeare Insult Generator to attendees' smartphones before a play at Shakespeare's Globe ("a Jacobean theater rebuilt the way it would have been in Shakespeare's time," says London & Partners' Tracy Halliwell). It's a great ice-breaker that is sure to make the language of the Bard more accessible (and fun).


Sky Calling
In fact, whoever said the sky's the limit hasn't been to London in a while. "With London's skyline evolving, more and more sky-high venues are available to meetings planners," says Halliwell. Airy venues for hire include the Sky Garden, which "opened a little over a year ago," offering three different restaurants and breathtaking views of the City; The Shard's viewing platforms, available for up to 400 guests; and Searcys The Gherkin, located on the top two floors of the iconic 30 St Mary Axe, which is available for up to 140 people or 260 guests for standing receptions. Finally, on the grounds of the Olympic Park, The Orbit, the U.K.'s tallest structure, offers event space with fantastic views for a private dinner. "This May," says Halliwell, visitors will also be able to go down The Orbit in a slide designed by Carsten Hoeller.

Back on the ground, in Nine Elms (just across the river from Chelsea), Halliwell says that the new U.S. Embassy is due to be completed at the end of 2016, "along with two new Tube stations, Nine Elms and Battersea, to open in 2020." What of the old embassy? In London, one of the popular methods of preserving significant architecture is to convert it into hotels. It has been done to palaces, banks, jails, and now, the former U.S. Embassy in Mayfair. Plans are under way for this Grade II-listed Chancery building to be converted into a 137-room luxury hotel with five restaurants as part of a billion-pound development of Grosvenor Square. There is also expected to be a spa and ballroom for 1,000 guests.

This month, another repositioned property, the five-star, 200-room London Marriott County Hall, is expected to complete a multimillion-pound renovation of its guest rooms and public spaces, with a "quintessentially British" theme selected by RPW Design firm. The renovation of this property, which is located next to the London Eye, follows on the heels of the Marriott-Starwood merger that was approved by the companies' stockholders early last month.

Together, Marriott and Starwood have 35 properties in London, some of which -- including Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, and the Sheraton Skyline Hotel London Heathrow -- feature some of the largest hotel meeting space in the city. Also expected in 2018 is the launch of Crossrail, which, according to Halliwell, "will revolutionize travel within London and allow visitors to travel across the city from Heathrow in the west to ExCeL London in the east in 42 minutes, drastically reducing the time it currently takes" to get to and from England's largest and busiest airport.

Navigation has always been a big issue for planners, as Halliwell knows: "London is a big city, and it can be perceived as difficult to navigate." One of the more thrilling alternatives to coaches or the Tube is the number of RIB boat companies operating on the Thames. Not only are they being used for high-speed sightseeing, these boats can also convey attendees to their venues.


More Hotel News
Who can get enough of Harry Potter? Not AccorHotels, which will be hosting a Wizardry Wins-themed party at the Novotel London West in June, as part of The Meetings Show at the Olympia Grand. (Wizardry Wins is the name of Accor's Potter-themed incentive program.)

Says Dana Lewis, director of MICE and leisure, AccorHotels UK and Ireland, "We are optimistic about the success of this campaign which aims to keep AccorHotels front of mind among agents and drive sales." Planners might inquire into other Potter-related events, such as "a summer Quidditch tournament and a fam trip with a 'magical' pop-up cinema showing Harry Potter."

Late last year, Edwardian Group London relaunched itself as Edwardian Hotels London. According to Paul Mansi, chief operating officer from Edwardian Hotels London, "This rebrand is very important to us; as we grow at a rapid pace we want to make sure that our guests know who we are and what we stand for. Our hotels are at the center of everything we do and we pride ourselves on our several decades' worth of hospitality knowledge. We want to ensure that our guests experience the Edwardian level of excellence and that in the multiple touch-points they encounter our unique sense of flair." The hospitality group, which owns and operates 12 hotels, including The May Fair Hotel in London and Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester in the city's Free Trade Hall, is also sending its employees to the Imperial College Business School. Over a decade-long development program, the hospitality group has committed to training more than 250 of its employees.

ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
ExCeL London Exhibition and Convention Centre (1.08 million square feet)


ROOM TAX
20 percent


Food That Sustains
The London food scene is one of the most vital and exciting in the world. From fine-dining to gastro pubs to street food, the range and complexity of food being served is astounding. London's food scene is ever expanding, says Halliwell. "The city caters for all tastes." Among the continuing food trends is vegetarian/vegan, and catering to this is the recently opened Farmacy, a West London venue committed to sourcing all food from local, organic U.K. farms. The Alchemy Bar, which is part of the venue, sports cocktails and mocktails made with flaxseed and cannabis oil -- among other ingredients.

Jenise Fryatt, an independent California-based meeting professional who assisted in planning the first EventCamp Europe in 2011, recalls sustainability being a big trend. Perhaps it has something to do with being a small island, but now as then, sustainability remains a viable trend in London, especially in the meeting industry. Even large meeting venues like Queen Elizabeth II Centre have a sustainability policy. QEII Taste, which oversees the food served at the Centre, incorporates local seasonal produce into its menus, and states, "We are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which means our seafood comes from fisheries that are committed to sustainable fishing practices. Our coffee and tea are Fairtrade [Foundation-certified], and we will provide you with One Water mineral water, all the profits of which go to funding better access to clean water in Africa."


Plan Soon, Plan Often
"Our popularity as a destination can prove challenging when looking to secure hotel availability for large events, as London's occupancy rate averages 82 percent," admits Halliwell. Relief, however, is on the way: In November last year, London & Partners worked with AM:PM to compile data on London's hotel industry. "The results showed that the numbers of hotel rooms in the capital were expected to grow by 12 percent over the next three years," says Halliwell. The increase is expected to be driven by budget and five-star hotels. These new properties and hotel extensions will add 17,769 more rooms across the capital over the same period, up from 138,769.

Laura Maria Gabrielli, U.K.-based strategic events project manager at PHASE II event services, adds another caveat: "Regarding London as a meeting location, availability can be limited, especially in some times of the year. For example, some companies book the venue for their Christmas party starting from August, therefore finding a venue (or even booking a dinner for a group) in December at short notice can be an issue."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]  



This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.