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Conferences return as sector keeps pace with inflation

The events sector is seeing conferences catching up with meetings, according to the latest data from Venue Performance.


Peter Heath, managing director, Venue Performance, said: “We can see a definite increase in interest in conferences in the second half of the year. For the first six months, the guts has been meetings, with people nervous about conferences, holding off during the Spring conference season.


If you look towards the Autumn and the second traditional peak of conferences during the year, you can see conferences catching up with meetings in terms of volume.


Between January and June this year we saw, on average, 50 meetings per venue and, on average, 25 conferences, so meetings were twice as popular as conferences in the first half of the year. In the second half of the year, for events booked to date, we can see an average of 13 meetings and 15 conferences. With lead times being so short we expect that to shoot up dramatically but at this point in time, conferences seem to be more popular than meetings.


In January to June, meetings had an average lead time of 56 days, with conferences 90 days (a 60% longer lead time). So we expect there to be masses more bookings in the second half of the year, where we are seeing a bounce back in confidence and a larger spread of events. We’re seeing more summer parties and Christmas parties and more weddings being planned.


Looking back at performance for the first half of the year, booking went crazy in January, February, and March, but we saw a drop off in April. Disaster? What's happening? Are we all panicking? Well, no, because we had Easter.


Easter is always an issue, because at Christmas, everybody takes a holiday at the same time. But with Easter some people will take a holiday the week running up to Easter and some people will take a holiday the week after and that’s two weeks where, as in the summer, you see a dip when either people are away, or there is the expectation that the majority of people are away and there is no point in planning anything. So we can attribute that drop to Easter.


We are still seeing very short lead times, it’s still relatively low in terms of confirmations the further out you go, because people have become used to flying by the seat of their pants. What is still happening is the swing between feast and famine, with the feast at the moment. It needs to settle down at some stage, because we can't go from feast or famine all the time. But at the moment, we still are in feast and famine mode.


With confidence returning, the question for the sector is rapidly becoming one of the impact of inflation and whether it will have an effect on bookings. In the hotel sector, a hotel can change their rates day by day to keep up with rising costs, but when you are booking a Christmas party in May, the operator has to take a view on how much they’ll have to charge to maintain their margins and lock in their price now.


The price squeezes we are seeing in the meetings and events sector can at the moment be attributed to overheads and the same across the whole of the industry hospitality industry, certainly in Europe and the US. People are looking for higher wages to stop them leaving the sector or going to the competition. That’s one cost that is nibbling into the margins. And then food costs are starting to kick in as well.


Venues will need to talk to suppliers, in particularly food suppliers who, with the war in Ukraine and other factors, are not able to confirm what their prices will be in six months’ time. The dynamic of food pricing fits the dynamic of food cost, and so the need to be right on top of your pricing is crucial, because if you get your pricing wrong, you could be taking a bath. And if you get your price wrong, you could be turning away business that goes somewhere else. So pricing is the most crucial element of forecasting at the moment.


If we look at F&B for January to June, the average price per head is £96, for all event types, all event sizes, all events which are already booked. Let's go to the end of the year, where you can see that, in July, the price per head has gone up to £103, which is a 7.2% increase - just under inflation. And no drop off in demand, indicating that the sector is so far bearing the increase.


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