by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I won’t lie, I wasn’t looking forward to the trip to London. It was a short 2 night trip sandwiched between two long transatlantic journeys but I could easily have done without it. I was also flying BA to London City airport and staying in the Docklands area around The O2 and ExCeL so away from the familiarity of Aer Lingus and the Piccadilly Line. As it happened, @SuperGreyBeard and I encountered yet another dimension to a city we believed we already knew and discovered some inspiring new meetings concepts and venues.
London City is tight and compact, more like a regional airport than the portal to one of the world’s mega-cities. You deplane by steps and walk to the terminal building and when you walk outside you can see your hotel close to the humongous ExCeL London, the exhibition and conference centre located in the Docklands area. The walk there takes no time at all so from touchdown to eiderdown is no more than 15 minutes. The Starwood Aloft property is one of the many relatively new builds in this burgeoning area of the city and still exudes a certain shine and sparkle. Guest rooms are spacious, there’s a wonderful well equipped desk that you can plug everything into and the shower is man sized and riveting. Staff are knowledgeable, friendly and attentive and you can often get a room for less than £100. What’s not to like?
We visited The O2 and discovered way more than a venue. While The O2’s primary business is music, comedy and entertainment (the venue will shortly host the current U2 global tour), there are a number of venues within the venue that successfully host corporate meetings and events. In addition the venue is targeting the religious and network marketing sectors for large multi-day conventions of up to 18,000 attendees. The infrastructure inside and outside The O2 makes it uniquely positioned to handle this type of celebratory or motivational event where having all attendees together in the one place is central to its objectives. There are few locations in Europe that aggregate so many key elements for the successful delivery of a large scale event including good local transport links. Next year The Intercontinental Hotel will open adjacent to the facility bringing to the campus 400 guest rooms and Europe’s largest hotel ballroom with capacity for 2500, banquet style.
The Crystal Building
The O2 is linked to ExCeL and the other convention infrastructure of the Docklands area by Cable Car. This is both a functional means of transport and a visitor attraction in itself which permits you to survey the entire Docklands area from a glorious height. The journey takes about 5 minutes but leaves you with the sense of a city within a city, a place with its own unique identity and ecosystem linked, inextricably, to London. From our high vantage point we spot an unusually shaped building and decide to explore. The Crystal is a sustainable cities initiative by Siemens and, besides hosting the world’s largest exhibition about our urban future, offers 14 flexible meetings and events spaces including a full height, amphitheatre-style auditorium. The meetings and events spaces are full of light, overlook the water and have great natural flow space. At full capacity you can stage a stand-up function there for over 700 guests. Best of all is the unambiguous commitment to sustainability across the full meeting / event cycle with appropriate technology on hand to obviate the need for paper.
We took the DLR and the tube to Westminster and then walked through the amber, early autumn leafiness of St James Park to Pall Mall and thence to Oxford Street. The first line of Wordsworth’s sonnet “Upon Westminster Bridge” – “Earth has not anything to show more fair” – was constantly in my mind as we traversed a dappled city bathed in a soft October sun. Our destination was Marble Arch to view the recently open Etc Venues facility there.
We know Etc Venues, like Chateauform’ (see previous blog post), from our work with the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) and, like Chateauform’, Etc Venues offer a refreshingly different take on meeting rooms avoiding, at all costs, the “beige wall phenomenon”. The company is twenty years old and is a property management company that turns centrally located buildings, once, perhaps, unloved offices into stunning facilities for meetings and events. As Regional Manager Guy Booth says “We take a rough diamond and polish it up”.
But Etc Venues actually does a lot more than swanky, trendy interior design. The team is entirely focused on designing spaces that enhance the meeting experience for delegates and draws significantly on behaviour psychology to maximise the meeting success. The entire delegate experience is carefully mapped at Etc Venues and pivots around 3 fundamental pillars – bright rooms with natural daylight, appetising, healthy food and AV that works. Interwoven around the three pillars is the conviction that the meeting environment should stimulate, intrigue and engage the attendee hence the pervasiveness of striking contemporary art pieces around the building. It’s as far from beige walls as John Coltrane is from Kenny G and encourages conversation amongst meeting delegates, breaking down barriers and forging relationships. It’s yet another example of how innovation and disruption in meeting design is not coming from the hotel sector.
Our London sojourn drew to an end at the Meetings Industry Marketing Awards (MIMA) banquet held at the recently renovated Queen Elizabeth II centre in Westminster. Launched in 2002 to raise the standards of marketing in the meetings and events industry and to recognise the marketeers, MIMA is organised by Martin Lewis and the team at CAT Publications. It’s always a jolly affair that highlights the wonderful work undertaken by meetings professionals to create demand for their products and services. Over the years the number of awards has expanded in line with the digital revolution. @Supergreybeard and I are thrilled to announced that our clients, The Croke Park (hotel) and Croke Park Meetings & Events (stadium) were among the award recipients in the category Best Social Media Campaign.
Pádraic Gilligan (@Padraicino) and Patrick Delaney (@supergreybeard) are Managing Partners at SoolNua and work with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for The Meetings Industry.