Small venues win big amid pandemic

  • Strong preference for standalone and multipurpose flexible venues
  • Small venue providers are revising operations, pricing to woo organisers
  • Clear understanding of event T&Cs is ever more important
Smaller and more flexible venues are gaining favour among planners

Continued government limitations on in-person business event capacity have triggered a stronger appetite for small, flexible venues in Asian cities where such activities have been allowed to resume.

In destinations such as Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore, where approved business gatherings can take no more than 20, 100 and 250 people (across five separate zones) respectively, meeting organisers are finding the use of large venues irrelevant.

Sheryn Sethoe, commercial director for client services, 1000Meetings, a venues procurement specialist, said: “The cost of large venues (is) difficult to justify unless there is a requirement for more space to accommodate pre-event tests, such as the Antigen Rapid Tests that are done in Singapore under the business event pilot programmes.”

The use of small venues, which are likely exclusive to the event group, also enables safe distancing from general crowds and passers-by.

Sethoe observed that clients are leaning towards standalone event spaces, with a preference for unique venues within a hotel, raw event spaces or non-hotel venues. Location is no matter, as clients are open to suitable venues in the city or outskirts.

Anticipating an increased demand for small meeting venues due to restrictions on travel, group sizes and safe distancing requirements, CWT Meetings & Events last year launched CWT easy meetings, a direct-booking platform with a listing of over 250,000 meeting rooms in hotels as well as unique venues and event spaces around the world. Through the platform, meeting organisers can also source and book audiovisual equipment and F&B packages while monitoring cost, compliance and employee safety and security.

Petrina Goh, director, Singapore, CWT Meetings & Events, said: “Even as in-person meetings and events gradually resume in Asia, clients are naturally approaching this with a healthy dose of caution. In places like Singapore, organisers are required to have separate zones at events for batch registration, Antigen Rapid Test zones, waiting rooms etc., and so clients are moving away from the ‘bigger is better’ mentality, and are now looking at smaller venues with multiple spaces that they can design their event around.”

Goh finds that convention centres and business hotels remain a popular choice among her clients, as these properties come with multiple small function rooms that are compliant with government regulations.

“While unique, standalone venues remain popular with clients in the fintech industries, we’ve found that many clients are gravitating towards venues that are easily reachable via public transport as accessibility is taking precedence over the uniqueness of a venue,” she added.

Improved client support
Keen to support new meeting needs amid a pandemic, small venue providers have leveraged their agility in making quick decisions to revise their operations and price structure.

Goh said: “While larger hotels and convention venues sometimes struggle with pivoting quickly to meet clients’ needs and the ever-changing regulations, smaller venues with more autonomy in managing their pricing structure and partnership tie-ups have transformed themselves with new go-to-market offerings that are both price competitive and flexible enough to meet client demands.”

Some changes that have come in handy include ready floor plan configurations to guide clients on spacing arrangements, contacts for clinics that provide onsite Covid-19 swab tests and manpower, and new pricing structures in a la carte, add-on and all-inclusive formats.

Goh said these changes make a meeting organiser’s job much easier when considering both budget and logistics before confirming an event.

With the pandemic forcing meeting organisers to get creative with their in-person event delivery, Sethoe said venues that “provide a fresh new look to the workings of small meetings” will stand out.

She observed that venues are making an effort to differentiate their products. A good example, she said, was The Dutch Pavilion at the Shangri-la Hotel Singapore, which is a standalone space with a unique history.

When asked if small venues should go the way of larger competitors that have brought in broadcasting capabilities, so as to compete better for a limited number of business events today, Sethoe said: “Economically speaking, it will be more beneficial for small venues to work with established audiovisual and technology partners to offer more products and services for virtual and hybrid events. Such capabilities require specialised skillsets and operational expertise, and coupled with other associated costs such as storage, it might be better to finance other services such as a robust Wi-Fi network.”

Information clarity is critical
Given that meetings during a pandemic are subject to more considerations and potential disruptions, Sethoe suggested that organisers communicate with venue providers and obtain a good understanding of their cancellation policies, health and safety protocols, F&B arrangements, and existing infrastructure to support safe distancing measures.

“If there is an online component to the meeting, also enquire on network connectivity. There is a tendency to assume that Wi-Fi is never a problem but when it comes to streaming, the load on the network will differ as compared to simple web surfing, for example,” she added.

She recommended detailed pre-event discussions with the operations team to ensure that “everyone is on the same page for the day”.

“A simple case could be coffee and tea arrangements. These were usually self-served pre-Covid-19. Will the venue continue to do so, or will there be a contact-less ordering system in place? If so, how should attendees interact with it? Small as it may seem, such elements are part and parcel of the overall attendee experience,” she explained.

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