Unique venues gain stronger favour among planners

The recent integration of non-traditional venue sourcing platforms into larger specialised meetings organisations is underscoring a growing demand for unique venues among corporate clients and the business value of providing such options.

WingsOverAsia's Hangar66 private garden rooftop and lounge
  • Demand for authentic experiences and participant interaction fuel growing hunger for unique venues
  • Hidden costs and logistics among many considerations planners must take
  • Stiffer competition between conventional and unique venues, but partnerships possible
WingsOverAsia’s Hangar66 private garden rooftop and lounge

The recent integration of non-traditional venue sourcing platforms into larger specialised meetings organisations is underscoring a growing demand for unique venues among corporate clients and the business value of providing such options.

In October 2019, HotelPlanner, a global provider of online hotel reservations services for group event planners, acquired online venue marketplace Venuexplorer. The latter specialises in a variety of event venues – presently more than 100 in Singapore but with plans to expand that to 300 by end-2020, from conventional spaces such as conference centres to non-traditional spaces such as the F1 Karting Circuit.

Following that, in January this year, Aventri partnered US venue specialist VenueBook to bring the latter’s direct booking technology and database of 1,500 non-traditional venues onto the former’s enterprise event management software platform.

Although Aventri’s latest move brings greater venue variety to only its network in the US, it answers a rising interest in unique venues, which Brad Langley, vice president, channel and partner management, said is present worldwide, including in the Asia-Pacific region.

In an email interview with TTGmice, Langley explained: “The venue is one of the most important drivers for attendance and attendee satisfaction. Attendees today are looking for unique cultural experiences, and planners are finding that non-conventional venues are a great way to deliver on this promise.”

Christopher Lee, co-founder of Venuexplorer, noted that demand for unique venues among corporate clients has risen by 30 per cent year-on-year, driven by the need to maintain an “element of surprise” in their events, something that repeated use of the usual hotel function rooms fail to do.

Langley believes that this trend is “good news for event professionals” in Asia-Pacific, where there are “stellar non-traditional venues”.

Lee: noticed demand for unique venues rising, driven by the element of surprise

In Aventri’s 100 Top Event Venues in APAC, a guide published in January to capture the top-rated 10 meeting and event cities in the region, venues such as restaurants; art galleries; museums; bars and lounges; historic landmarks; speedboats and sailboats for group excursions; renovated mansions; theatres; as well as spaces in botanic gardens, parks, aquariums, towers, zoos and more came up tops.

“The Asia-Pacific is a booming market for Aventri. Given the region’s world-class venues and sophisticated infrastructure, we see tremendous opportunity here,” said Langley, adding that the company intends to continue growing its database of unique venues, especially in fast-growing global markets like this region.

Destinations playing it up
This week, the annual Asia Pacific Incentives Meetings Event (AIME) opened with a VIP gala dinner at the historical State Library Victoria, where the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall had its usual silence broken by a lively dinner party.

AIME, which is owned by the Melbourne Convention Bureau, has always been a vehicle for the city to show off some of her most unconventional venues through the tradeshow’s well subscribed social events.

Some of the more savvy CVBs have worked the promotion of unique venues into their destination marketing campaigns, as a means to stand out in Asia-Pacific’s competitive events marketplace.

Korea Tourism Organization launched the Korea Unique Venues collection in 2017 with 20 select venues, which it then trimmed down to just 11 before boosting the list further in November 2019 with 19 more.

Last year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau debuted the Tokyo Unique Venues service desk, making the city’s slew of unique venues easily accessible to event planners. A series of special trade events were conducted to demonstrate the versatility of a few of the most unusual unconventional venues.

For instance, the serene temple street of Shibamata in eastern Tokyo was transformed one October evening into a lively festival that featured traditional street performances and street food prepared by local merchants. Daikyoji Temple, at the end of the temple street, was dressed up in colourful projection lights, providing a memorable photography backdrop for participants.

Drawing a specific segment
Both Langley and Lee agreed that unique venues tended to attract events with shorter duration.

Lee observed that standalone, unique venues would often be used for events with a maximum duration of three days, while traditional venues in convention centres and hotels usually lasted one to two weeks.

Venuexplorer typically sees greater interest in unique venues among planners who are producing product launches, corporate networking parties, seminars/workshops, gala dinners, corporate dinner and dance, media events, offsite meetings and teambuilding programmes.

Langley found that planners looking to host “meetings within meetings” tended to gravitate towards unique venues.

He explained: “Let’s say you want to entertain customers during a large international conference at a convention centre. Hosting a meeting at a unique venue nearby is a great way to deepen connections and provide a richer and fuller cultural experience.

Langley: change it up with traditional and nontraditional venues for an interesting programme

“Attendees like to get out and explore their host destination. Switching up the venue to a favourite local restaurant, boat excursion or vineyard and winery, for example, can provide a refreshing change of pace and a look at the distinct flavour of the destination.”

According to Langley, other factors driving the need for unique, standalone venues include the rise in experiential events, where planners look to venues to allow them to deliver unforgettable, immersive experiences; the millennial workforce, which value opportunities to broaden their global perspective and experience different cultures firsthand even during their business activities; a growth in small meetings, which favour smaller, unique venues that encourages two-way conversations, feedback and bonding among attendees; and transformative venue sourcing technologies, which facilitate seamless venue search and booking processes.

Careful considerations needed
While the use of unique venues opens up creative event possibilities and may even help stretch limited budgets, Lee warned that event planners need to pay greater attention to helping guests locate the venue.

“A common downside for most unique spaces is their location. Clear directions to the destination are very important,” he said. “Alternatively, event planners can consider providing transportation for their guests to tackle the shortage of parking space.”

Lee also emphasised the importance of a site visit before securing the venue, to ensure a clearer image and impression of the space.

Other critical considerations, advised Langley, include taking into account the required audience experience; the venue’s noise restrictions or curfews for sound; and all possible costs that may be incurred, such as labour for equipment setup and breakdown, rentals for tenting and décor, and F&B catering.

Visitors may arrange for a tour of the WingsOverAsia’s Hangar66 facility

Stiffer competition among venues
Traditional venue providers are already feeling the heat from the growing market presence of unique venues, observed Lee.

And it appears that the customer will walk away triumphant from the battle, as traditional venue providers defend their territory with flexible event packages and facility renovations to offer improved look and feel, shared Lee.

In Langley’s view, however, traditional and nontraditional venues can work hand-in-hand to provide the event organiser a mix of spaces that suit a diverse programme.

“The fact is, when thousands of attendees converge on a city for large-scale events, you may want to change things up with smaller, supporting events. From concerts and wine tastings to dinners with key clients at iconic restaurants, unique venues help you deliver the unexpected,” he emphasised.

“After being inside a hotel or convention centre all day, it’s fun to change things up with off-site events at unique venues,” Langley added.

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